Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

Full piece here.

Belmont and Fishtown are two imagined communities, well-to-do and poor/lower-working-class-white respectively, that Murray invokes in order to stastically argue that many changes have been occurring over the past half-century.   He further argues these changes are coming at a cost to social mobility and the virtue necessary to maintain our unique egalitarian American project.


‘In Fishtown, marriage continued a slide that had not slackened as of 2010, when the percentage of married whites ages 30–49 had fallen to a minority of 48 percent. What had been a 10 percentage point difference between Belmont and Fishtown in the 1960s stood at 35 percentage points in 2010. The culprits—divorce and failure to marry in the first place—split responsibility for the divergence about equally.’

Marriage certainly isn’t what it was, but on this argument, people in Belmont may have a duty to the people of Fishtown to promote religious values, specifically that of marriage.  What if Belmontians are non-religious believers but accrue all the benefits of marriage, which is to some degree, probably what’s happened?  I think it’s easier to stay married regardless of your beliefs if you have a stimulating and rewarding career, money, connections, vacations, good friendships etc.  I also think this is Murray’s argument…religion is being drained away from the stew.

Should we aim to put more social shame on women who have illegitimate children…potentially as it was in the 1950’s?


‘The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness is the increase of prime-age males with no more than a high school education who say they are not available for work—they are “out of the labor force,” in the jargon. ‘

And Murray points out that there are more of them than before.  It would be interesting to note how much of this is due to the continued decline in manufacturing in America (perhaps a lot of IT and technology may be going the same way…getting globally competitive as well, and being outsourced).  There are external pressures that may not have been present before.


‘Furthermore, the reductions in crime since the mid-1990s that have benefited the nation as a whole have been smaller in Fishtown, leaving Fishtown today with a violent crime rate that is still 4.7 times the 1960 rate.’

Are you honest?  Check one:

Yes   No

Why?  Why not?

I see what Murray is driving at, but I don’t know how he gets there with the social sciences alone.  Isn’t that like falling into a David Brooks-like trap?


‘Over the next three decades, secularization did indeed grow in Belmont, where the percentage of de facto seculars grew from 29 percent in the 1970s to 40 percent in the GSS surveys taken from 2006–10. But it grew even more in Fishtown, where the comparable numbers went from 38 percent to 59 percent

And, if true, perhaps many of the functions that charities, churches, and religious organizations perform will be co-opted by the government (the Obama administration certainly seems to be trying).  Interestingly, old-school Democrat, poor Brooklyn kid, and fellow sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan made a similar argument.

Murray notes:

‘The socialization of children in Belmont and Fishtown has become radically different, and everything we have learned about the problems associated with single parenthood forces us to expect that the consequences for the transmission of industriousness, marriage, honesty, and religiosity to the next generation will be profound.

We need not rely on statistics to make these points. The real Fishtown in Philadelphia was chronicled in the 1950s by Peter Rossi, who would go on to become one of America’s most eminent sociologists, and in the 1990s by Patricia Smallacombe, who conducted a detailed ethnographic study of Fishtown for her doctoral dissertation.’

Fishtown, at least, is not imagined.  Is some sort of grand conveyor belt at the heart of American life slowly grinding to a halt without these virtues?  Has Murray made the case?  Would the social sciences ever be enough to make a similar case?

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People..Repost-Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

I’m not sure I’ve understand him properly:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss? From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:

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One thought on “Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

  1. Scholarly evidence continues to point to the enormous benefits of marriage to couples, children, and the society. Released by a group of eighteen family scholars, the latest edition of Why Marriage Matters offers important new findings from the social sciences on the state of marriage in the United States, including why recent increases in cohabitation and family instability pose a risk to children.

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