Skip to comments.The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties Legacy to the Underclass (Social Class)
Posted on 12/25/2002 9:45:19 AM PST by shrinkermd
P>The cover of the 2000 edition of this book states, "THE BOOK THAT HELPED MAKE GEORGE W. BUSH PRESIDENT." No one will accuse either the author or publisher of being modest. It is hard to imagine a book making a man President, but many do believe this book influenced the election. In any case, President Bush said this book was second to the Bible in his thinking about social policy. Bush strategist, Karl Rove, called the book the roadmap to "compassionate conservatism." When originally published in 1993 the book seemed heretical but now it seems prophetic. Regardless of whether it put a President in the White House, this book did change the way conservatives and others think about welfare.
Myron Magnet began his career at Columbia University. He obtained an MA from Cambridge. He received his Ph.D. in Victorian literature from Columbia. After becoming an English Professor at Columbia, he began using literature as a means of exploring the lives of ordinary people and their relationship to society. His first book, Dickens and the Social Order (1985), focused on poverty in nineteenth-century London. Gradually, his interests took him into private endeavors. He became a member of the Board of Editors of Fortune Magazine. Finally, he became editor of City Journal. Professor Magnet has authored a large number of diverse essays on society, economics, corporate issues and literature.
The best way to understand this book is to begin with an overview. Professor Magnet argues that the 1960s radical transformation of upper-middle class mores and morals created an atmosphere where the "have nots" were precipitated into a growing underclass. The change in attitudes towards marriage, parenting and work in the upper-middle class were adopted by the "have nots" with catastrophic results. The upper-middle class could suffer and recover but the "have nots" were precipitated into the underclass. Many "have nots" or working class individuals entered the underclass, became welfare dependent and remained stuck there. Escape out of the underclass became difficult because of faulty personal values and attitudes as well as public policies that fostered welfare dependence. The author does not locate the failings in the poor, but rather in the attitudes the underclass adopted from the educated class. The principal core, dysfunctional values learned from the upper-middle class are unrestrained individualism and liberation from responsibilities. The liberal dream of the 1960s was that unrestrained individualism and a loosening of morals would lead to freer and better society. Instead of the "dream," the 1990s turned into a "nightmare" for the underclass.
The previous attitudes and mores that helped people get out of poverty were denigrated. Hard work, personal responsibility, getting married, caring for the family and valuing education were the values that sustained the middle class. After the sixties, the new underclass values were taking drugs, having children out of wedlock, avoiding work and dropping out of school. The new underclass, primarily of minority status, remains cut off from the value system necessary for them to exit the underclass. The crowning blow is that the government and most traditional charities are reinforcing the social dysfunction by blaming society and the economy instead of focusing on the attitudes and beliefs necessary to exit out of the situation.
Professor Magnet believes it is time to abandon the counterculture and find again the traditional mores and morals of the West. He is sharply critical of welfare programs, job training and quota systems: he feels they do not help. The reason these fail is they are based on false assumptions of lack of economic opportunity and not the true cause that is the lack of a sense of personal responsibility, willingness to delay gratification and traditional Judeo-Christian morals. Racism or economic injustice does not cause crime, drugs, homelessness, illegitimacy and sustained unemployment. To his critics who accuse him of bigotry, he refers to Victorian England where a generation of reformers reduced alcoholism and illegitimacy and replaced social dysfunction with strong families and prosperity. Parenthetically, Theodore Dalrymple, a psychiatrist, writes about the underclass in the UK in the same terms: the underclass in the UK is almost exclusively White. Dalrymple, similarly found in France the underclass is almost exclusively Algerian and Islamic in origin.
The upper-middle class may pay a price for sexual promiscuity, drugs or dropping out, but the price is temporary and it is possible to recover. Unfortunately, when the have-nots or the working class indulge in promiscuity, drugs or dropping out, the price is ruined lives with little or no chance for recovery. Presently, 60 percent of the underclass is Black, 20 percent Hispanic and the other 20% mostly White. Most of the homeless are drug addicts or alcoholics: 89 per cent of the homeless in large metropolitan areas are minorities. In smaller cities, 23 percent of the homeless are minorities. Work is one way people see themselves as useful, productive members of society. The liberal elite and others often depreciate honest and productive effort by referring to what the working class does as "...dead end jobs...hamburger flippers..." This attitude towards work buttresses the underclass's self-defeating behavior and pathological worldview.
Of the approximately 32 million Americans below the poverty line, only a minority belongs to the underclass. Of the chronically unemployed, the underclass may be in the majority. Professor Magnet estimates that the underclass comprises just over 2% of the US population. Only .6 percent of men getting a high school diploma and 2 percent of women getting a high school diploma end up below the poverty line; and, more importantly, the chance of being in the underclass is even lower. Dropping out of high school has ominous consequences, but forty to sixty percent of inner city students drop out before obtaining a diploma. Compounding this is the unskilled workers real income is consistently declining as compared to college graduates.
The underclass expresses a consistent pathological worldview in respect to work. In 1980 Richard Freeman found that 75% of the underclass who were unemployed said they could easily get a job, but hamburger flipping, check out clerking and other low paid jobs were not for them. Millions of immigrants, past and present, have used entry-level jobs as a gateway to the American dream. The underclass surely has accepted the educated class's bias against "dead end jobs." Frequently, the underclass chooses crime as an alternative to work because crime is easier and more remunerative. Indeed, when I practiced psychiatry one of my questions to felons was "are you a nine to five person?" Rarely, was the answer in the affirmative. A seldom-accepted premise of the criminal justice system is that many criminals are criminals by calculated choice.
Between 1963 and 1980 the robbery and rape rate quadrupled. In 1950, the Black illegitimacy rate was one in six. In 1983, the Black illegitimacy rate was two out of three. Presently, two-thirds or more of all Black children are born out of wedlock. Many of these Black children are born to mothers who are so young or immature that they have trouble parenting. New York found that in 1990, 87.5 percent of the 5000 children in foster care came from welfare families. Part of the problem with the rising illegitimacy rate is that poor women do not worry about becoming pregnant. Indeed, many young women see this as a way to have "their own apartment" and as a way to escape from parental control.
The big story of the ghettos of America in the eighties and nineties was prompt acceptance and success of Asian immigrants. Unable even to speak the language, they quickly became the small entrepreneurs of many inner cities. Their success and the success of their children caused resentment in many Black communities. The success of Asian immigrants is further proof that the underclass is a function of faulty and self-defeating attitudes and behaviors. To bring the Black underclass up to the success of the Asians, Professor Magnet believes these children need "an authoritative link to traditional values of work, study and self-improvement." Inner city young, Black men have a greater chance of being killed on the street than soldiers in combat in Viet Nam.
In respect to the homeless problem, the first thing the author does is to debunk the idea that the homeless number in the millions. Actually, the figure is close to 300,000 and the homeless population is comprised mostly of the mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals. About 40% of all homeless men have been in jail with 13-26% of the homeless being convicted felons. About 63% of the criminals were criminals before they became homeless. In spite of federal expenditures for the mentally ill going from 1 billion in 1963 to 17 billion in 1985, shelter does not exist for the homeless mentally ill.
In the sixties the liberal elite, American Civil Liberties Union and some mental health professionals radically altered the laws on involuntary hospitalization. Judges decided only patients who were imminently and presently dangerous to themselves or others could be hospitalized against their will. This ruling was followed by another requiring patients be treated in the least restrictive setting. The final ruling was that the mentally ill could refuse treatment. All of these rulings were a catastrophe for both the mentally ill and society.
With these changes in the law, the mentally ill soon ended up untreated and homeless. Both society and the mentally ill suffered the consequences of liberal fervor to free the mentally ill from institutions. Unable to care for themselves the homeless and mentally ill have multiple physical problems, commit crimes and self-medicate with street drugs and alcohol. Public spaces are hijacked and used as latrines and sleeping areas. The state does not enforce vagrancy or other laws since there is no place to take all of the mentally ill. The author suggests solutions including private residential facilities and changes in civil commitment laws including permitting forced treatment. He also suggests reducing or eliminating any program including shelters that permit the mentally ill to continue living on the streets. Finally, he feels public places must be taken back from the homeless and vagrancy and other laws enforced.
Traditionally, society divided the poor into two categories--deserving and undeserving. The deserving poor were comprised of widows, orphans, sober unemployed workers and others and were the proper recipients of public funds. The undeserving poor were drunkards, vagabonds and others who could work but did not. Society ostracized and admonished the undeserving poor. Society believed poverty was an appropriate judgement upon the undeserving poor.
Society's attitude changed towards the poor beginning in the 1840s when Marx theorized the poor existed because of capitalist exploitation. Over time, but increasingly in the 1960s, liberals convinced society that poverty was the result of social and economic forces. Blaming the economic system ended the idea of deserving or undeserving poor. Books like Michael Harringtron's The Other America re-defined the poor as victims. Eventually, those of a liberal persuasion believed the culture of poverty was a self-esteem problem based on income and other inequalities. Egalitarianism became the reigning moral creed and the basis for poverty programs. President Kennedy began poverty programs with an assumption of victimization and President Johnson affirmed this belief by declaring war on poverty. Society now saw the poor as "victims of progress" and anyone questioning this thesis was accused of "blaming the victim." William Ryan even wrote a book entitled Blaming the Victim: a relentless polemical tract that used ridicule and sarcasm to attack any view or person who disagreed with the victim theory of poverty.
According to Professor Magnet, the liberals came to believe that society caused poverty and an egalitarian re-distributive state was necessary. John Rawls who wrote A Theory of Justice provided a rationale for the re-distributive state. Professor Rawls, a Harvard Philosophy Professor, made poverty the sine qua non of his philosophical theory. Society can justify inequalities of wealth and power only if they benefit both society and the poor. According to Professor Rawls, to the extent the inequalities are not justified they require remedies by the state. Failure to do so makes the state illegitimate. In Rawlsian theory, all social policies in respect to the poor are now not the fringe but the central concern of a successful society. Professor Rawls died recently. The memorials and other writings by the mass media proved that Rawlsian theories are still the reigning liberal dogma. To the liberal, the condition of the poor trumps overall national wealth, freedom or cultural achievement. The poor are not only not responsible for their plight but the "haves" in society are morally obligated to remedy any inequalities the "have nots" suffer.
It is difficult to separate race, poverty and the underclass in contemporary America. One in three Blacks are poor. Of the long-term unemployed, poor Blacks account for 60-90 percent depending on age. Blacks comprise only 12 percent of the population. The younger the long-term poor, the greater the proportion of blacks. Politicians and pundits at one time or another have recommended reparations, affirmative action, quotas for hiring, more welfare and so on. Welfare benefits have become so rich that, on the average, welfare benefits are $20,000 if one includes food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies. In spite of many efforts, the problem of the inner city poor seemed unsolvable until proven otherwise in 1996.
The author published this book in 1993. The discussion about welfare had a great influence on public policy. After three tries, President Clinton in 1996 signed the Welfare Reform Bill. He was accused of signing the bill in order to insure his election in 1998. Essentially, the bill required people to go to work if they were able-bodied. While states varied in their fervor to implement the bill, in less than four years the welfare rolls dropped by over 40 percent. Even esteemed liberals like Senator Moynihan believed millions would starve. That the reverse proved true speaks well for Professor Magnet's hypotheses and beliefs.
Professor Magnet argues persuasively that criminals lack socialization. The free-floating aggression, weak consciences and detachment from the community are all symptoms of inadequate or faulty parenting. Telling such individuals they are victims or rebels only accentuates their rage and acting out. In many ways, Professor Magnet echoes the individual psychology of Alfred Adler where crime results from a dearth of "social interest."
Chapter 9, The Living Constitution, recounts all the faults and foibles of recent Supreme Court Decisions. The living constitution began in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education. The decision abolished segregation in the schools but it did so by claiming segregation was bad because it made Black children inferior and impaired their learning. Instead of saying segregation was wrong (the right thing to do) Chief Justice Warren said it was unhealthy. Most applauded the Brown decision, but its ramifications included the conviction the Constitution was malleable and a living document subject to change based on changing circumstances.
Gradually, the use of text and precedent fell into disfavor and the judges chose to go where they wanted to go. Helping them in this intellectual effort was Professor Ronald Dworkin of New York University and Oxford. Professor Dworkin believes judges should view provisions of the Constitution as guiding, general principles. The issue is not original intent but what modern conditions require. For example, the framers of the Constitution did not know the death penalty is cruel but we do; hence, the Constitution can prohibit the death penalty as being cruel and unusual punishment. Seemingly, this means that the Constitution could mean anything, but Dworkin evades this conclusion by interpreting the Constitution according to the morality of the age.
With the "Living Constitution" concept, soon the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that resulted in busing to achieve racial balance. This busing proved futile and resulted in white flight to the suburbs and private schools. After all the court decisions, schools were more segregated in 1984 than they were in 1970, Even more troubling, was the assumption that Black children could only learn when White children were present. Soon the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that permitted affirmative action at first to an absolute but then to a limited degree. Now, the Supreme Court is again considering affirmative action because they have previously ruled affirmative action alone is prohibited but it may be used in combination with other factors.
In spite of all the legal decisions, affirmative action for Blacks in college and professional institutions is currently the norm not the exception. Unfortunately, besides being divisive, test data do not support its wisdom. In 1983 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Blacks on the average score 20 percent lower than whites. Of the some 94,000 Black students heading for college in 1983 only 115 scored more than 700 or more on the verbal test. Only 274 scored that well on the mathematics part. At the top Ivy League schools a combined verbal and math SAT of 1300 out of 1600 is average. In 1983, only 600 Blacks scored 1300 in the entire Country. Since then, the SAT was revised (dumbed down) once. In the future, the SAT will have an essay portion making it more of an achievement than an innate ability test. The Educational Testing Service ceased publishing combined SAT scores by race in 1983. In conclusion, to continue affirmative action the Supreme Court has to subvert the Constitution and colleges have to conceal real, racial differences in academic ability.
Within modern memory, religion has lost its importance. Without divine authority our beliefs, morality and values have changed. In our colleges and universities multiculturalism, deconstructionism and politically correct speech codes are the norm. The new sins are racism, sexism and homophobia. Colleges and Universities no longer teach Western culture except as being a source of bigotry and oppression.
Afrocentrism, a variant of multiculturalism, asserts Blacks do not have an American cultural identity but rather a superior African one. Leonard Jeffries, Chairman of City College's Black History Department, believes there are warm, "sun people" (Blacks) and aggressive, cold "ice people" (Whites). Asa G. Hilliard, editor of a major textbook used in urban schools, claims that Western civilization originated in Africa and Blacks discovered America before Columbus did. Others in this movement believe that Egypt was Black and the Greeks stole civilization from them. According to Professor Magnet, "If some Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to devise an educational curriculum for the specific purpose of handicapping and disabling Black Americans he could not do better than Afrocentrism. "
Deconstruction asserts that any text contains more than one message and these messages are contradictory. By this contradiction, any text loses its ostensible meaning. What the proponents of this theory assert is that in any text there is an underlying reigning ideology. The consequence of this theory is to eliminate any consideration of Western beliefs or literature by claiming to find racism, sexism or homophobia as an underlying theme. Besides this, deconstructionists claim there is no such thing as absolute values. Ordinarily, individuals using deconstructionism are in major university English Departments; however, critical legal studies in law schools now teach deconstructionism as well.
In most colleges, political correctness begins with seminars and indoctrination sessions. Once taught, students and staff face punishments up to and including dismissal from school. Just appearing to exclude someone from a conversation, inconsiderate jokes or untimely laughter can initiate administrative action. Berkley censored a professor who said affirmative action discriminated against Whites and Asians. Harvard accused a history professor of racial insensitivity for assigning a text mentioning some dismiss affirmative action as preferential treatment. While we joke about political correctness, it is a "thought crime" in most colleges and universities.
The last chapter of the book is aptly titled "The Poverty of Spirit." The 60s revolution inflicted its worst damage on those least able to lose ground. American culture also suffered. Virtually anyone who lived through the period can document the damage in our major institutions. Perhaps the worst sequelae of the 60s decade is the now current conviction that our actions are not determined by free will but by unseen economic and psychological forces beyond our control. What we need to do first is to recover a sense of personal responsibility in our daily lives.
This is a scholarly book. I expected a conservative screed. The book has a conservative perspective but the author knows his subject and uses inductive reasoning wherever possible. I practiced psychiatry for forty years with the last 14 functioning as the CEO a large residential facility for the mentally ill. I am impressed by Professor Magnet's knowledge of mental health and the law.
Buy this book for three reasons. First, the book mirrors the current conservative thinking of President Bush. Second, the book is a masterful summary of our current social dilemmas. Third, this book changed welfare policy and may change other policies.
2 The Book pages 197-204
The above are the endnotes.
And thank you for doing this and sharing it. I just skimmed it and am printing it off for a serious read later.
He immediately came to mind.
Though we're going to the dogs, merry Christmas.
What is baffling to me is we are importing more of the underclass to this country, and trying to keep them from becoming Americans and Balkanizing this country. - tom
The piece's author refers to a book published in 1993. No doubt the latest census figures would not match his figures.
Further, you wrote - "This may sound Non-PC, but like it or Not Blacks and Hispanics, will and are becoming this Nations Underclass."
The author may agree with you in this regard, if so, he does for different reasons than those you espouse. He doesn't blame immigration, he blames society. Correction, he blames the society of the 1960's. In this argument, the author posits a "trickle down" theory for society wherein the "lower classes" seek to mimic the societal norms and behaviours exhibited by those they believe to be the "higher classes". I agree with his argument.
Do not lament that certain persons are in an "underclass". Lament that they are there because society nudged them in that direction. It appears that all aspects of our society, our media, our school teachers, our mass market entertainment, and our government all share the blame.
Remember that capitalism requires a society with classes of employment groupings. We can't all be doctors, and if we were - who would collect the garbage. The author rightly laments that "the honor of performing your task well" has been replaced by ostracism and the unfair supposition that garbage collectors have been wronged by society.
Then again, I could be wroung ... too much eggnog. Perhaps.
In any case, the book sounds interesting.
You are right. Thank you. Corrected to read as:
He was accused of signing the bill in order to insure his election. (sentence preceeding indicates boy Clinton signed the bill in 1996.)