Law professors Amy Wax and Larry Alexander wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer that made a commonsense argument: that many of our social problems today stem from a collapse of middle-class cultural norms. Excerpts:
That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.
Did everyone abide by those precepts? Of course not. There are always rebels — and hypocrites, those who publicly endorse the norms but transgress them. But as the saying goes, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Even the deviants rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations.
Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism. However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned. Banishing discrimination and expanding opportunity does not require the demise of bourgeois culture. Quite the opposite: The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups. That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents. A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.
All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.
Read the whole thing. The professors say that embracing old-fashioned bourgeois norms would not solve every problem, but it would help a lot of suffering people have better lives, and improve our common life. How is this even disputable?
Welcome to academia, in which the politically correct mob has formed:
“[White supremacist Richard] Spencer’s incitement of moral panic can find its intellectual home in the kind of falsely ‘objective’ rhetoric in Amy Wax’s statement, which positions (white) bourgeois culture as not only objectively superior, but also under incursion from lesser cultures and races,” a statement from a Penn multicultural group posted on Medium read.
A column in the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, signed by 54 students and alumni, called the ideals extolled in Wax and Alexander’s piece “steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough, i.e., black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.”
Wax teaches at Penn Law School. More:
“People are outraged at me for sort of touting a life script that’s been out there forever,” Wax told Inside Higher Ed. “I’m waiting for them to get there and march against bourgeois values. I’m waiting for that.”
“If they were really being consistent, they would go out there and say, ‘We’re going commit crimes, and get high, and go on strike and go on food stamps, and have a bunch of out-of-wedlock babies, because we want to have nothing to do with these tainted, racist values,’” Wax said. “These clearly aren’t universal values, no one can argue that with a straight face, in the sense that they have come out of a particular time, a particular place and a particular culture.”
Go get ’em, Amy Wax! Hang tough.
It is a sign of the utter stupidity of our times that not only does a piece like Wax’s and Alexander’s need to be written, but that a herd of academics would denounce it as racist, sexist, and the lot.
Seems to me that if you want to have the best shot at building a decent life for yourself and for your children, you’ll do what Wax and Alexander say. If not, you’ll follow the advice of the herd of academicians. Anyway, Prof. Wax is right: her critics aren’t going to come out and endorse anti-bourgeois values, or live by them. But they lack the moral courage and the common sense to affirm what everyone knows — or used to know — to be true.