An Equality of Human Dignity: Charles Murray, Bill Maher and Materialism

Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, has been making waves. In the book, Murray argues that America has, over the past 50 years, experienced a new class divide between what he calls an “upper middle class” and “lower middle class.”

I have yet to finish the book (more reactions will surely come), but in observing Murray’s exchanges throughout the media, I’ve been struck by the left’s reactions to his thesis, particularly their rejection of his belief that social decay might just kinda sorta have social causes (as opposed to purely economic ones).

This week at Values & Capitalism, I examine this view, using Bill Maher’s recent interview with Murray as an example:

Maher aptly demonstrates the materialistic assumptions of his progressive worldview, assuming every social problem is linked to some kind of economic inequality.

Here’s an excerpt of my response:

Yet even if Maher were persuaded on this particular data, I trust he’d only get more creative with the numbers, for who can deny the unstoppable, exploitative power of bourgeois prosperity? For Maher and other progressives, this is not about data; it’s about an underlying faith in the evil of economic inequality and the transcendent power of material equilibrium.

Material. Material. Material.

Skyrocketing divorce rates? Follow the money. Absent fathers? Move that money around! Obesity epidemic? Give more funding to public schools. Widespread theft and burglary? Heck, have we tried more government coupons?

Such an outlook ignores what drives us as humans and what makes us prosper. If Maher really wants to repair our cultural divide, he should move beyond the money:

As AEI’s Arthur Brooks argues in his book, “The Battle,” such ideology is driven by “raw materialism,” rejecting those fundamental things that drive human happiness and flourishing: family, charity, self-control and earned success.

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010These features—those that drive human flourishing, and, I believe, build and/or repair the social bonds and networks necessary for restoring our civic culture—are far trickier to channel than the materialistic progressives assume. Achieving social order and healthy economic prosperity is far more difficult and complicated than simply signing Legislation X and ensuring Millionaire Y doesn’t accumulate too much wealth.

It involves contemplating our dreams and vocations. It involves sticking to our commitments and moral obligations. It involves taming our selfish desires and impulses. It involves having a proper moral outlook and ensuring that ethical behavior follows. And, if you believe what I believe, it involves making sure the will of God reigns supreme through it all.

But hey, if you want it to be all about the money, culture will respond accordingly.

What we are lacking, then, is not economic equality, but what Murray calls “an equality of human dignity.”

Bill Maher, Charles Murray, Coming ApartRead the full post here.

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