January 30, 2014

ROSS DOUTHAT: Social Liberalism As Class Warfare.

Now do I actually think there’s some kind of elite-liberal cultural conspiracy to keep the masses in their social place? No, of course not – there’s nothing so conscious and cynical at work. But then again, neither do I think there’s a meritocratic conspiracy to withdraw into walkable-urban enclaves and leave the rest of society to fragment and decay. Yet that withdrawal and its consequences are still important facts for understanding the decline of marriage, just as Waldman says. An approach to life doesn’t have to be calculated to be effectively self-interested, and in the context of a stratified country that self-interest is well worth pointing out.

And the same is true of an approach to politics and culture. Again, I’m not alleging cynicism: Social liberals are entirely sincere in their belief that even self-censorship is unnecessary censorship (or, perhaps, that the internet has rendered cultural standards obsolete); in their conviction that laws banning abortion or restricting divorce are too punitive, illiberal and inherent sexist to be just; in their abiding sense that economic paternalism is morally acceptable but social-moral-sexual paternalism is not. But it is still the case that when we legalized abortion and instituted unilateral divorce, we helped usher in a sexual-marital-parental culture that seems to work roughly as well for people with lots of social capital as it did sixty years ago, while working pretty badly for the poor and lower middle class. It is still a reality of contemporary life that when anyone can get a divorce for any reason, the lower classes seem to get far more of the divorces, and that when anyone can get an abortion for any reason, the poor end up having more abortions and more children out of wedlock both. And it is still a fact that if you tallied up winners and losers from the sexual revolution, the obvious winners would tend to cluster at one end of 1975’s income distribution, the obvious losers at the other.


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