Professors: America paying the price for loss of ‘bourgeois norms’

by WorldTribune Staff, July 22, 2018

Widespread opioid abuse. Inner city violence. Half of all children born out of wedlock. College students lacking basic skills and high school students ranking below those from two dozen countries.

The causes of these phenomena in the United States “are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture,” a pair of college professors wrote in an analysis for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Films in the 1950s and ’60s, such as John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’, starring John Wayne, reinforced the prevailing bourgeois culture.

“That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow,” according to professors Amy Wax (the Robert Mundheim professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School) and Larry Alexander (the Warren distinguished professor at the University of San Diego School of Law).

The script: “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,” the professors wrote.

“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.”

The script “began to break down in the late 1960s,” the professors wroe. “A combination of factors – prosperity, the Pill, the expansion of higher education, and the doubts surrounding the Vietnam War – encouraged an anti-authoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal – sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll – that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society. This era saw the beginnings of an identity politics that inverted the color-blind aspirations of civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into an obsession with race, ethnicity, gender, and now sexual preference.”

The professors continued: “And those adults with influence over the culture, for a variety of reasons, abandoned their role as advocates for respectability, civility, and adult values. As a consequence, the counterculture made great headway, particularly among the chattering classes – academics, writers, artists, actors, and journalists – who relished liberation from conventional constraints and turned condemning America and reviewing its crimes into a class marker of virtue and sophistication.”

The professors asked: “Would the re-embrace of bourgeois norms by the ordinary Americans who have abandoned them significantly reduce society’s pathologies?”

The answer: “There is every reason to believe so. Among those who currently follow the old precepts, regardless of their level of education or affluence, the homicide rate is tiny, opioid addiction is rare, and poverty rates are low. Those who live by the simple rules that most people used to accept may not end up rich or hold elite jobs, but their lives will go far better than they do now. All schools and neighborhoods would be much safer and more pleasant. More students from all walks of life would be educated for constructive employment and democratic participation.”

The professors concluded that “restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture – the academics, media, and Hollywood – to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.”


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