“You can be at an upper class party and use the word ‘redneck’ and nobody will push back at you. You can talk about ‘flyover country’ without fear that anybody else at the party will say ‘well that’s really condescending.’ Well, guess what, we people who identify with flyover country know what people mean by that, and we don’t like it. We know what people mean by ‘redneck,’ and we don’t like it.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and famous author of “The Bell Curve” and “Coming Apart,” Charles Murray, spoke to students and faculty about the widening class divide between low-income and high-income white Americans.
Murray claimed that white Americans with college degrees and white Americans with no more than high school diplomas are splitting into two distinct classes with different concerns and social behaviors that have caused them to become politically polarized. Murray said that high-income Americans have socially separated themselves from low-income Americans, who have experienced a decline of religion, marriage, and employment since the 1960s.
Hillsdale students affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute brought Charles Murray to campus through Hillsdale’s Executive Council Program, which coordinates events and visiting speakers.
In his 2012 book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 – 2010,” Murray elaborates on the trends he discussed in Tuesday’s lecture.
“I wanted to describe how it came to be that we have a new upper class and a new lower class,” Murray said. “New in the sense that they are different in kind from the upper class and the lower class in any other time in American history.”
Since the 1960s, elite colleges like Harvard have increasingly admitted students on the basis of high SAT scores rather than on the basis of prestige and family legacy as they had done before, according to Murray.
Murray said these trends moved Americans with high IQ’s from their home communities to wealthy cosmopolitan areas, dividing them from the new American lower class. Murray said the “new American upper class” and “new American lower class” have two completely different cultures.
In the new American upper class, “you have radically different norms for how the kids spend their time, with helicopter parenting being very common, where the kids time is programmed intensively they have all sorts of extra curricular activities, whereas the rest of America is more likely to raise free-range kids. They are way, way different,” Murray said.
Murray said this new American upper class is characterized by higher incomes and successful family structures and has separated itself culturally from the rest of the country.
“This developed new upper class culture is way different with mainstream American culture,” Murray said. “If it were accompanied by continued attitude of love of their fellow Americans it would keep us together… instead you have had the new upper class express their disdain… for mainstream America.”
Murray said 40 percent of lower class Americans are born out of wedlock and only 12 percent of lower class Americans have a distinct religious affiliation while one-third of upper class Americans still have strong religious affiliations.
Murray explained that these trends are destructive to patriotism and national unity, and that the new upper class could reconnect with the rest of American by not choosing to separate themselves exclusively into high income communities and schools.
Senior Tim Polelle said that Murray’s diagnosis was correct, but his solution fell short.
“I think Murray’s pessimistic diagnosis of our situation is correct,” Polelle said. “However, for such a bad political, cultural, and spiritual problem, the solution he suggests — hunkering down at the small town and personal level, joining a local club or volunteer group — is insufficient to solve the broader problems he identifies.”
Professor of Philosophy and Religion Nathan Schlueter said Murray’s points concerning the disunity of America’s economic classes were persuasive and that Murray showed proper concern for the alienation of low-income Americans.
“Murray’s remarks are a persuasive and powerful reminder that constitutional liberty ultimately rests on specific cultural and moral foundations, that citizenship requires character and not just knowledge,” Schlueter said. “Moreover, in his diagnosis of polarization he displayed the kind of sympathy, care, balance, and candor that that all liberally educated citizens should seek to emulate.”
During a Q&A that followed the talk, students and faculty discussed with Murray how volunteering and different career choices would help reconnect Americans divided by income and education differences. Murray suggested that graduates join the military rather than attend graduate school and recommended that students work blue collar jobs in the summer and choose to live in areas with Americans of different incomes.