Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture
by Amy Wax & Larry Alexander
Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.
That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.
Did everyone abide by those precepts? Of course not. There are always rebels — and hypocrites, those who publicly endorse the norms but transgress them. But as the saying goes, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Even the deviants rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations.
Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism. However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned. Banishing discrimination and expanding opportunity does not require the demise of bourgeois culture. Quite the opposite: The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups. That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents. A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.
This cultural script began to break down in the late 1960s. A combination of factors — prosperity, the Pill, the expansion of higher education, and the doubts surrounding the Vietnam War — encouraged an antiauthoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal — sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll — that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society. This era saw the beginnings of an identity politics that inverted the color-blind aspirations of civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into an obsession with race, ethnicity, gender, and now sexual preference.
And those adults with influence over the culture, for a variety of reasons, abandoned their role as advocates for respectability, civility, and adult values. As a consequence, the counterculture made great headway, particularly among the chattering classes — academics, writers, artists, actors, and journalists — who relished liberation from conventional constraints and turned condemning America and reviewing its crimes into a class marker of virtue and sophistication.
All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.
Would the re-embrace of bourgeois norms by the ordinary Americans who have abandoned them significantly reduce society’s pathologies? There is every reason to believe so. Among those who currently follow the old precepts, regardless of their level of education or affluence, the homicide rate is tiny, opioid addiction is rare, and poverty rates are low. Those who live by the simple rules that most people used to accept may not end up rich or hold elite jobs, but their lives will go far better than they do now. All schools and neighborhoods would be much safer and more pleasant. More students from all walks of life would be educated for constructive employment and democratic participation.
But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.
Amy Wax is the Robert Mundheim professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry Alexander is the Warren distinguished professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. email@example.com
Published: August 9, 2017 — 3:01 AM EDT | Updated: August 9, 2017 — 4:56 PM EDT
Here we have the inevitable outrage at the thought that there is value in Bourgeois Values, including the heresy that "All cultures are not equal":
To the University of Pennsylvania Community:Note the modification of Wax's text in order to turn it into falsely racist, white supremacist when it previously was not. Note also that 33 professors bought into that deception.
We write to condemn recent statements our colleague Amy Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at Penn Law School, has made in popular media pieces.
In an op-ed published recently at Philly.com, Wax and a coauthor wrote that “All cultures are not equal,” going on to claim that various social problems would be “significantly reduce[d]” if “the academics, media, and Hollywood” would stop the “preening pretense of defending the downtrodden,” because that would lead to “restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture.” In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian about the op-ed, Wax was quoted as saying that “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans [SIC],” because, in the phrasing of the DP article’s author, “Anglo-Protestant [SIC] cultural norms are superior.”
Wax has every right to express her opinions publicly free from fear of legal sanction thanks to the First Amendment, and she may do so without fear for her job due to her position as a tenured faculty member at Penn.
We do not question those rights, or the important role that principles of academic freedom play at our University. But Wax’s right to express her opinions does not make her statements right, nor insulate her from criticism.
We categorically reject Wax’s claims.
We believe the ideal of equal opportunity to succeed in education is best achieved by a combination of academic freedom, open debate and a commitment by all participants to respect one another without bias or stereotype. To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it.
Penn Law faculty listed on following page (titles for identification purposes; names listed in alphabetical order):
1. Regina Austin, William A. Schnader Professor of Law
2. Tom Baker, William Maul Measey Professor of Law and Health Sciences
3. Shyamkrishna Balganesh, Professor of Law
4. William Wilson Bratton, Nicholas F. Gallicchio Professor of Law
5. Stephen B. Burbank, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice
6. William W. Burke-White, Richard Perry Professor and Professor of Law
7. Howard F. Chang, Earle Hepburn Professor of Law
8. Cynthia Laury Dahl, Practice Professor of Law
9. Jacques deLisle, Stephen A. Cozen Professor of Law & Professor of Political Science
10. Eric A. Feldman, Professor of Law
11. Kara R. Finck, Practice Professor of Law
12. Douglas Frenkel, Morris Shuster Practice Professor of Law
13. Jean Galbraith, Assistant Professor of Law
14. Jonah B. Gelbach, Professor of Law
15. Sarah Barringer Gordon, Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History
16. Susanna R. Greenberg, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer
17. Allison Hoffman, Professor of Law
18. David Hoffman, Professor of Law
19. Jonathan Klick, Professor of Law
20. Praveen Kosuri, Practice Professor of Law
21. Seth Kreimer, Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law
22. Sophia Z. Lee, Professor of Law and History
23. Serena Mayeri, Professor of Law and History
24. Maggie McKinley (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe), Assistant Professor of Law
25. Charles W. Mooney, Jr., Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Professor of Law
26. Sarah Paoletti, Practice Professor of Law
27. Gideon Parchomovsky, Robert G. Fuller, Jr. Professor of Law
28. Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights
29. Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law
30. David Rudovsky, Senior Fellow
31. Louis S. Rulli, Practice Professor of Law and Clinical Director
32. Tobias Barrington Wolff, Professor of Law
33. Christopher S. Yoo, John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science
Professor Wax responds:
The Daily Pennsylvanian letter on my recent op-ed, signed by some of my colleagues, puts forth no substantive argument and so requires no response on that score. But it does contain a statement that could mislead members of the Penn community. It says that the First Amendment protects my right to express myself “free from fear of legal sanctions.” But it is important to note that the First Amendment does not protect me, or anyone at Penn, from sanctions by PennNow, about that "open debate" trick speech:
The First Amendment limits the government’s regulation of speech. (It states "Congress shall make no law … ") As the recent incident involving James Damore at Google illustrates, the Amendment does not legally constrain private institutions like Penn.
That fact is of considerable significance to members of the Penn Law School community and the University community as a whole.
Except for professors with tenure or the few staff with specific contractual protections, Penn is free to fire, suspend, expel, penalize, sanction or punish any student or employee for anything that person says or writes. Penn is under no First Amendment obligation to protect free expression. At present, there is no guarantee that they will do so. The University’s Guidelines on Open Expression provide some protection, but they are vague and revocable at any time. The values of free expression they embody (and the scope of the First Amendment itself) are now under relentless and escalating assault from many quarters, including from many within the University itself.
In the current climate, those who depart from received wisdom at Penn are vulnerable.
AMY WAX is the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Professor who argued ‘all cultures are not created equal’ targeted for removal from teaching law class Aryssa Damron - Yale University September 8, 2017 754 71 Share0 4 Group claims instructor preaches ‘white supremacy and cultural elitism’Victimhood: Our Most Important Product!
A law group at an Ivy League university is encouraging the school’s administration to consider barring a professor from teaching a mandatory first-year law course, citing her “segregationist” worldview, “bigoted views” and “cultural elitism.” In a statement posted to the group’s blog, the National Lawyers Guild chapter at the University of Pennsylvania Law School condemned Penn professor Amy Wax’s recent op-ed at The Philadelphia Inquirer, in which Wax, along with a co-author, lamented the “breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture” and declared: “All cultures are not created equal.”
The members of Penn’s National Lawyers Guild wrote that Wax’s comments are a “textbook example of white supremacy and cultural elitism” and alleged she is a “segregationist” with “bigoted views.”
“We call on the administration,” Penn’s National Lawyers Guild wrote, “to consider more deeply the toll that this takes on students, particularly students of color and members of the LGBTQIA community, and to consider whether it is in the best interests of the school and its students for Professor Wax to continue to teach a required first-year class.”
Professor Wax is the instructor for a mandatory course at Penn’s law school titled “Civil Procedure.”
In her op-ed, Wax advocates for the values embodied in the “bourgeois culture” that reigned in mid-20th century America, a culture that stressed getting an education, getting married before having children, avoiding idleness, being patriotic and charitable, and respecting authority.
Wax links the downfall of this culture to the movements of the 1960s, including opposition to the Vietnam War and the advent of birth control pills.
The College Fix reached out to Penn’s National Lawyers Guild for clarifying examples of Wax’s “white supremacy” and “segregationist” views. The guild did not respond. However, in a comment on their Facebook page, the group indicated that it did not give a “point-by-point rebuttal” of Wax’s argument in its statement because other Penn Law faculty had given “thorough critiques” of Wax’s piece.
Wax’s op-ed received significant backlash from within the Penn Law community, with 33 of her colleagues signing an open letter speaking out against her argument. That letter was published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper. Reached for comment via email, Wax told The Fix that she did not view this as a free speech issue: “The first amendment does not apply to employees of a private institution,” she wrote. “I don’t have any other comment,” she added.