The book Coming Apart (2012) by Charles Murray exposes important cultural developments. Today’s elites espouse a weak, hollow, leftist worldview because they’ve lost moral confidence. He points out that Arnold J. Toynbee’s book A Study of History (1934) foresaw what is happening to Western civilization right now:
The growth phase of a civilization is led by a creative minority with a strong, self-confident sense of style, virtue, and purpose. The uncreative majority follows along. Then, at some point in every civilization’s journey, the creative minority degenerates into a dominant minority. Its members still run the show, but they are no longer confident and no longer set the example.
The wealthy and powerful are still in charge, but a once sturdy code of honorable morality has collapsed. Today’s upper class “dominant minority” now share a mushy ethic to just be nice. They practice some important virtues (e.g. marriage and industriousness) but they fail to preach what they practice and instead sheepishly advocate nonjudgmentalism. Murray explains how and why this is hurting people on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
Nonjudgmentalism sounds like the new upper class just wants to keep the good stuff to itself. They know the secret to a happy life but refuse to admit it or share it. But it’s no conspiracy. The loss of a strong code of honor (moral confidence) leads to traditional concepts losing their power to constrain behavior. Murray discusses unseemliness – “not in keeping with established standards of taste or proper form; unbecoming, inappropriate.” Private flaunting of wealth, outrageous CEO pay and, worst of all, obscene Government lobbying and pork barrel legislation are all perfectly legal but they’re unseemly; elites just don’t care about unseemliness anymore*.
Murray’s conclusion is that our hollow elite is as dysfunctional as the growing lower class (most of his book is about those poor slobs) but in a different way. The upper class becomes “successful” by trading on the perks of their privileged positions with no regard to the unseemliness of their behavior. They’ve lost all sense of honor and selfless civic duty. Next week, Charles Murray shows us a brighter future.
* I wrote of this syndrome on 3/13/18 using a 1978 quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: every one strives toward further expansion of the extreme limit of legal frames.