Some recent things have generated much-needed attention to certain societal trends that are hurting America's children and the country itself. Perhaps this will result in some long overdue action on these issues.
Will says Moynihan, then 37, feared the consequences flowing from the fact that then "23.6 percent of African American births were to unmarried women." Now it is 72 percent among African Americans and 48 percent of all first births.
Moynihan identified what Will calls a "tangle" of social "pathologies he associated with the absence of fathers," including "a continually renewed cohort of inadequately socialized adolescent males." This meant, Will writes, "dangerous neighborhoods and schools where disciplining displaced teaching."
"A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority" is, Moynihan said, one that "asks for and gets chaos." We have it today.
For speaking this truth Moynihan met with accusations of racism and "blaming the victim." He overcame these to become a great United Nations ambassador and U.S. Senator from New York. Meanwhile, materialist progressives ignored his report and instead emphasized social welfare programs, some of which further undermined critical family and social structures.
In his 2012 book Coming Apart, conservative/libertarian social scientist Charles Murray examined similarly dangerous developments among America's non-Latino whites over the period 1960-2010. He used quantitative data to show the decline in two "founding virtues" – industriousness and honesty – and two institutions that promote them – marriage and religion.
Marriage has waned among the white working class, and births to unmarried women have risen at an alarming rate. Births to unmarried women among the white working class was 6 percent in 1960, but now nears 50 percent. This matters, Murray argued, because having two biological parents who remain married is the best predictor of a child's success in life.
Religion is also disappearing among these working class Americans. And upper and working classes are becoming more isolated from each other in other key respects, from where they live, to where they go to school, to whom they work with, to whom they marry.
A "new lower class" has emerged. It is comprised of men who cannot keep a job or have no intention of getting one, single women raising minor children, and what Murray calls "social isolates." Individually, these people may not pose a problem, he conceded, but collectively, they evidence the "unraveling of daily life in small ways and large" among the bottom third of white America.
The conservative press recognized the importance of Murray's work, but the mainstream media paid it little heed for some of the same superficial reasons that it had criticized or downplayed Moynihan's report almost a half-century before. Not so the new book Our Kids by Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam, another chronicler of American social decline, but a more acceptable one among the liberal intelligentsia.
Brooks describes Putnam's book as being about "the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America." He notes that "roughly 10 percent of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households," whereas "nearly 70 percent of children born to high school grads so."
His column continues, "High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity."
Brooks says that the first response to such statistics and corresponding case studies should be "intense sympathy," but that is not enough to address "something approaching an anarchy of the intimate life." America needs a return of "minimally agreed upon standards" or "basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically."
"A plague of non-judgmentalism," destroyed these norms, Brooks contends. Restoring them will require once again asserting "that one way of behaving [is] better than another" and "holding people responsible" across the social classes.
This is easier said than done, of course. Yet the social disintegration that these smart people are talking about may be a greater threat to America's long-term security than anything else domestic or foreign.
Our politicians should be addressing this, but saving ourselves ultimately up to us.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)