Doug Sanders: What Charles Murray had for lunch while telling the FT that the working class had become culturally irresponsible
The lunch interview:
The lunch interview:
In his most recent book, Coming Apart, which has sparked heated debate since its publication last month, Murray depicts the atrophying of America’s white working class over the past generation. It also charts the growing separation of a new lower class from a new upper class – the latter a “cognitive elite” that tends to do all the things its blue-collar counterparts have forgotten how to do, such as get (and stay) married, read to their children, quit smoking, eat salad and get educated.I am in love with this reporter. You have to read the whole article, it's brilliant.
The intellectual seeds of Coming Apart ... were planted, says Murray, at this same establishment 30 years earlier. He also remembers it fondly for an evening many years ago where he took one of his four daughters (from the first of two marriages) for a birthday dinner. He is buoyed when the waiter says the black-truffle pasta is still on the menu, and we both order it as a starter. I have already said he must have a glass of wine. “Now, does the FT extend to a bottle?” Murray asks as he leafs through the wine list. Yes, I reply. “But my guess is a $350 bottle is probably taking it too far?” Again, I assent.
I ask Murray about the reaction to Coming Apart. Though hailed by a New York Times columnist as probably one of the most important books to be published this year, others have accused him of wilful blindness to the economic causes behind the hollowing out of the American middle class. To Murray the culprit is entirely cultural – the loss of the Tocquevillian virtues of industriousness, marriage, honesty and religiosity on which he says the republic was built.
Because of all this risk-aversion, he continues, the elites are more cut-off from mainstream American culture than ever before. In the 1960s, America’s wealthy brought Buicks rather than Cadillacs, which were then the flashiest cars on the market. They may have been rich but their tastes were still middle-class. Today, they have abandoned such “seemliness”. There is no pretence of sharing a culture with fellow Americans.
Our black truffle has arrived. Murray’s martini glass is empty. The waiter pours him a taster from the bottle of Gavi di Gavi, an Italian white wine. “Mmmm, it’s like a good Montrachet,” Murray says. “I think it’s an excellent choice.” Every minute or so for the next few, Murray declares how excellent the pasta is. “Oh, this is lovely,” he observes mid-mastication. “Yes, really delicious.” I ask him what kind of wine a Gavi di Gavi is. Murray discloses that it is a “varietal”. I nod as though I know what that means. It certainly tastes nice. “Varietal means expensive,” he adds. I take a full glass.