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Review of Coming Apart by Charles Murray


Those of you that are frequent viewers of my posts might remember the name Charles Murray. He’s an excellent libertarian scholar that has written books on how American society is changing, the two most famous of which are The Bell Curve and Coming Apart.

The Bell Curve, which I recently reviewed, covers intelligence in American society across class and race lines and how a new “cognitive elite” has developed. Coming Apart, which I just finished, is almost entirely about white America and how the working class has fallen apart while the cognitive and economic elite has become increasingly wealthy.

As some in America have lived well and prospered, many others have seen their standards of living decline because of the utter collapse of public morality and the ravages of the globalist system with which they must contend. Factories, jobs, and churches have disappeared, and Coming Apart is the story of those that have suffered as a result and those that have, in the meantime, prospered. Enjoy the review!

Summary of Coming Apart by Charles Murray

Coming Apart gives a tale of two cities. Not the tale of two states we’ve seen during the Chinese flu pandemic and the government responses we’ve seen during that pandemic, but rather a tale of how one type of town/suburb has prospered, wheres, in the meantime, one type of American city has utterly collapsed.

On one hand, Murray writes about a town he calls “Belmont,” which is really a characterization of the American upper-middle class and its lifestyle. Pretty much everyone is educated, married, semi-religious, involved in their community, and able to hold down a job and further their career. This exceptional sliver of the population, in Murray’s view, represents America’s elite. By all accounts, it is successful, full of people living fulfilling lives, now overwhelmingly liberal, and lives up to the founding ideals (generally, at least).

The other town is Fishtown. It, another amalgamation by Murray, is meant to profile the lifestyle of what he calls America’s underclass. This group of the population doesn’t hold down steady employment, has seen skyrocketing crime in recent years, relies primarily on welfare checks (increasingly seen as a “right”), and isn’t religiously or civically engaged. Furthermore, it’s mostly uneducated and unmotivated. And no, this isn’t him making a comment about “deplorables.” He’s not talking about the middle class or working class, which is what Hillary was referring to, but rather an underclass of criminals and welfare recipients.

Throughout Coming Apart, Murray profiles how those two groups have changed since the ’60s, which he deems the founding of modern America because of Johnson’s War on Poverty. Belmont has stayed remarkably consistent in everything other than wealth, which has boomed. Fishtown, on the other hand, has declined dramatically. More illegitimate children, fewer marriages, fewer people with jobs, and almost not religiosity.

Murray attributes that shocking divergence to cultural changes in America brought about by the welfare policies that Madison and Benjamin Franklin warned about, and how the opening of college to all of mental ability has led to stratification of the cognitive elite. That stratification, when coupled with the IT economy, means that the smart members of society generally inhabit the upper-middle and upper classes almost exclusively, and seclude themselves from everyone else.

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Finally, Murray ends Coming Apart by giving a solution: getting rid of every current welfare policy and instead establishing a Universal Basic Income of the same sort described by Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom.

Analysis of Coming Apart

I loved Coming Apart. Despite my trouble understanding statistics, of which it has many, I found it interesting and informative throughout. Furthermore, I agreed with basically all of Murray’s points. His depiction of some areas collapsing while others prospered is excellent and really drives home the point that only some Americans have benefitted from globalization and the new information economy.

America has experienced a marked decline in work ethic and personal morals since the ’60s. Marriage rates, religiosity, workforce participation, and other factors that mark societal success have all declined. However, those declines are confined almost entirely to Murray’s underclass. The elite has thrived and the middle class has stayed constant. But his underclass of welfare recipients has experienced a marked decline, mainly due to their own choices.

I think that shows that America needs to reevaluate its economic policies. I believe strongly in free markets and capitalism. I always have and always will. But supporting capitalism does not meant that one has to accept the complete economic destruction of one’s country. Our cities are falling apart and our populace slipping into decadence or misery as globalization decimates and upends our economy. We need to work to fix that. Keep jobs at home. Buy American. Do what it takes to keep America’s economy functioning and thriving.

The fact is that right now, as Murray describes in Coming Apart, a large portion of the American population is no longer doing well. Because of both a decline in public morality and a decrease in economic prospects, many Americans no longer are able to take advantage of the opportunity offered by American society. The reason for that is, I think, mainly that we no longer have the factories or other businesses that used to keep America humming along and providing opportunity.

Small businesses have been destroyed by big box stores like Walmart that import mountains of plastic from China and sell it at cut-rate prices. Similarly, Chinese factories and factories in other nations we have certain trade agreements with use cheap labor and horrific working conditions to cut out and destroy American businesses and factories. As a result, we no longer have the small businesses and factories that used to provide good jobs and economic advancement to the many Americans in Murray’s “Fishtown.”

The only thing I disagreed with Murray on was his solution. I agree that all welfare programs should be done away with, they’re unamerican. But, I don’t think they should be replaced with a Universal Basic Income, that would just incentivize laziness and not working. Instead, we should follow President Trump’s lead and use capitalism as a solution to poverty.

Yes, Milton Friedman might have advocated for a Universal Basic Income in Capitalism and Freedom. But, the system he proposed is far different than the one I hear many Democrats advocate for. They want welfare and Universal Basic Income, not just the Universal Basic Income that Friedman thought would work. I’m sure that Murray falls on the Friedman side of the Universal Basic Income question. But, increases in the size of government rarely work out in the way Republicans want. If we implemented a Universal Basic Income, we’d likely end up with both an expensive UBI program and an expensive welfare program.

So, I think we should instead focus on reversing globalization so that factories come back to America and small businesses start thriving again; that would do far more to help the average American worker in a way that builds the economy, rather than creating a situation in which higher taxes drain ever greater amounts of money from the economy to pay for a welfare and UBI scheme. Americans need to be able to work and succeed because they work hard. They don’t need more welfare or bigger checks from the government, which is why I disagreed with the conclusion of Coming Apart. Otherwise, I thought that Coming Apart was excellent.


Coming Apart would be an important book to read even if it didn’t speak to a larger issue. Societal change is important and should be remarked upon. But, it does relate to an even more important issue, America’s shift away from its founding ideals, that everyone in America needs to understand.

When read in conjunction with Who Are We? and Why Liberalism Failed, Coming Apart shows just how far away from the Revolution and its spirit we’ve drifted. Americans used to understand that personal commitment to moral living and hard work were the principal requirements of a republic; without a willingly virtuous citizenry, our system of government can’t work. Instead, we need a Big Government, paternalistic state of the type we’re currently seeing.

But we wouldn’t need that sort of government and would be able to shrug it off if our citizenry was more virtuous. We need to start affecting that change so that individual liberty can thrive in America.

By: Gen Z Conservative