Charles Murray – A Tip of the Hat

Since the publication of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 in 2012, even his most vociferous critics are taking Charles Murray seriously. It is no secret that people have strong feelings about his work, one way or another, though one suspects his oeuvre is not always read widely or deeply as a whole.

And though delightful, Murray’s recent foray into dispensing grandfatherly wisdom, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, will hardly convince those who are not already willing to listen to its unfashionable point of view.

Coming Apart, on the other hand, helped to crystalize a full-throated national debate about inequality, beyond mere hand wringing, daring to suggest that there are profound non-economic as well as economic forces at play. In the last chapters, Murray reviews three decades of research and writing. His previous projects, though focused and self-contained, look more and more prescient and evocative. They build a solid case for a data rich approach of asking and answering classical questions of social analysis and policymaking.

For those who do appreciate this achievement, as well as for those who have a different take, I invite you to listen to David’s conversation with Charles about marriage, “Can Marriage Be Saved?” David begins with a deft review of the broad impact of Charles’ writings, and ends by pressing for real answers and for his own candid evaluation of what it all means.

There are some pretty interesting insights here about intellectual indebtedness, following arguments where they lead, true “liberal” principles, the need for solutions, the role of faith in human accomplishment, and the future of social science – not to mention a whole lot on the topic of the day, marriage and marriage equality.

Most of all, though I admit it is a mighty cliché, you will encounter a couple of guys who really care.  For those who think Charles Murray is about a narrow sociological reductionism, think again. To those who think David Blankenhorn has tossed overboard essential social – even theological – capital, think again.

It is often hard to see where the clash of conflicted self-interested argument finally gets us. Do we want to win debates or change minds? Does all this talk strengthen the ties that bind?

In this conversation there is – to salute the Stephen Colbert shtick that one can only hope will be reappear on “Late Night” –  a “tip of the hat” to the “majesty of social science” and a “wag of the finger” to “what we have always known.”

Can marriage be saved? If, as Charles Murray eloquently says right here, marriage is central to human happiness, we will find a way. Here are two guys who are trying to get to work on that, starting today. I hope you will take a listen, and join them.

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