Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Current Moral Revival

David Brooks offers some interesting statistics that are sure to cheer those who believe in traditional morality. Instances of family violence have fallen by half since 1993, while violent crime in general has dropped by more than half. The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent, teenage pregnancies by 28 percent. What’s going on here? Brooks suggests that were in the midst of a genuine moral revival:

I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival. Great leaders would emerge. There would be important books, speeches, marches and crusades. We’re in the middle of a moral revival now, and there has been very little of that. This revival has been a bottom-up, prosaic, un-self-conscious one, led by normal parents, normal neighbors and normal community activists.

But, I hear traditionalists say, hasn’t our culture been in steady decline during the past twenty years? What about the rise of violent video games? What about the ubiquity of sex in movies and song lyrics? What about the general coarsening of public discourse? Could it be that these things aren’t as important as traditionalists have suggested? Might it not be possible that in spite of Howard Stern, Grand Theft Auto, and internet porn we’re becoming a better nation? Or--perish the thought--that people might even indulge in such guilty pleasures without becoming chronic ne’er-do-wells?

Discussions - 4 Comments

I remember reading a review about a book written by an economist that viewed social issues through an economic lense (no surprise there). His contention was that the national legalization of abortion (early 1970s) had contributed to the lowering of the crime rate in the 1990s. The usual people involved in crimes, mostly poor young men, would have been starting to engage in serious criminal activity in the early 1990s (1970+20 years is 1990). The author argued that criminals tend to come from poorer (economically, socially, and intellecually) environments, and that a lot of the women who aborted in the 1970s, would have provided the sort of poor environment that would encourage their children to comit crimes. Since those children did not exist, there were less of them to engage in crime. Additionally, if one sees population pressure as a factor in encouraging some to comit crimes, then less people would lower that factor and this would result in less crime.

I am curious as to what people think of this argument. I am also curious as to what factors (if not abortion and less population pressure) are making people more moral. Your post does not indicate what factors are present, it merely states people are becoming more moral.

That’s an interesting idea. On another side of the abortion question, I read an article, I think in First Things a year ago that the decline in the percentage "liberal" voters make up of the electorate is very closely correlated to the number of abortions performed since RvW. The idea I guess is that young people who are socially conservative are either less likely to become pregnant with "unwanted" children, and if they do so, more likely to marry or put a child up for adoption. You also have to accept the premise that children tend to inherit their parents’ voting patterns (which I think is generally true), so beginning in the 1990s (when the "Roe" generation reached voting age) we have seen a slow, but steady move to the right in the American electorate as the number of children with "liberal" ideological heritages were not there to offset the children with "conservative" heritages who were allowed to live. I’m not a statistician, so I’m certainly not prepared to defend this thesis. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to examine a policy that has resulted in 20 million fewer people in the country.

I seriously doubt there has been any sweeping moral reawakening. The reason it’s been ignored is because it hasn’t happened...indeed, quite the opposite has happened. In my own lifetime I’ve seen a serious erosion of civic morality.

As for crime, out-of-wedlock births, and so on, we need to keep in mind that we are an aging nation and that we lock up an enormous number of criminals. In terms of aging, the population aged 15 and under slipped from about 30% in 1990 to a bit above 21% in 2000. That means that there are far fewer people to commit crimes, get pregnant, etc. On the other side of the equation, incarceration rates have gone through the roof. In 1980 we locked up about 140 people per 100,000; in 2003, we are locking up about 480 per 100,000. Again, this has taken our most pathological population out of the "risk set" for anti-social behaviors.

There’s no mystery here, and no sudden rediscovery of morality. Just social structure, in my view.

The book is Freakonomics. Good, easy read. Worth checking out at the library or purchase.

The exact methodology (his Roe as violence reducer) has been questioned. Here’s a review and some of the criticism.

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