Why have the morals of the white working class in the U.S. proven more resilient than those of their white counterparts in Great Britain?
Unlike in the U.S., where minorities commit the majority of crimes (the best estimate is that blacks are imprisoned 9.1 times as often as non-Hispanic whites, and Latinos 3.7 times more often), whites are responsible for most crime in the U.K.
There's no question that immigration into the U.K. has exacerbated the crime problem—West Indians make up a large fraction of London muggers, and the U.K. suffers far more than the U.S. from Gypsies (and from "Travelers"—whites who have apparently occupied a similarly parasitical niche). Yet minorities are only about one-fourth as numerous in the U.K. So whites must shoulder most of the blame.
Crime's sister, illegitimacy, is also high in Britain. In England and Wales 41 percent of new babies are born to unmarried women. And it's even worse —46 percent, see p. 84 of this PDF—among women born in the U.K. (The high illegitimacy rate for Caribbean immigrant women is more than balanced by the very low figures for South Asians.)
In a much-discussed 1993 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray, author of the influential 1984 book on welfare programs Losing Ground, predicted that the rise in illegitimacy among American whites would lead to a "coming white underclass."
That may indeed be happening. Illegitimacy among American whites has continued to grow, reaching 23 percent of all babies born to non-Hispanic white women in 2002 (compared to 68 percent among African-Americans and 43 percent among Hispanics). That's worse than the 22 percent figure for blacks that so alarmed Johnson Administration adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan that he wrote a famously controversial 1965 report called "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action."
But that 23 percent is still about half the white rate in England and Wales.
So, despite obvious problems, such as the crystal methamphetamine epidemic, the American white working class has shown more impressive moral hardiness than the English.
Religion. Perhaps the most striking and important difference: the strength of Christianity here—whereas the main religious emotion in Britain is apathy. Phil Zuckerman has noted
"84 percent of Americans believe that Jesus is God or the son of God, compared to 46 percent of the British… And over 70 percent of Americans believe in hell, compared to only 28 percent of the British… Nearly 45 percent of Americans attend church … once a week, compared to … 13 percent of the British… Between 39 and 46 percent of Americans describe themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians."
At least some American Christians are building alternative institutions to shield their families from decadent popular culture. But the British working class appear wholly addicted to the prolefeed on the telly.
Why is the U.S. more religious? Father Andrew Greeley has suggested that it's because America has a dynamic competitive marketplace for churches, while the Church of England is a typically inefficient and unmotivated government monopoly.
Another (unspoken) reason: with the partial exception of the Roman Catholic Church, church services give Americans a rare opportunity to indulge in ethnic solidarity.
Liberals like to quote Martin Luther King's complaint that "Eleven o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour" of the week. But this opportunity to associate with one's own kind seems to be viewed favorably by many Americans. Even the Rev. King, for example, found his political base in the black churches.
Culture. The ongoing collapse of Britain's white males into neo-Hogarthian laddishness points out the importance of country music in persuading white working class American males to stay on the straight and narrow. A remarkable fraction of country lyrics are devoted to making guys with fairly crummy jobs, like truckdrivers, feel proud that they work hard to bring home the bacon to their wife and kids. Likewise, many country love songs are about being married, which helps make that crucial institution seem cool to young country fans.
Or compare favorite spectator sports. Stock car racing is wholly lacking in soccer's affiliated subculture of hooliganism (see Bill Buford's memoir of running with English soccer fans, aptly titled Among the Thugs). NASCAR markets itself with vast success as wholesome entertainment for the entire family.
After the mass slaughters of the 1980s (such as the 95 fans crushed to death at the Sheffield stadium in 1989), UK soccer has managed to contain its more animalistic aspects and appeal to a broader social base than just skinheads. For example, the new American romantic comedy movie Fever Pitch, with Jimmy Fallon as a fanatical Boston Red Sox baseball fan, is based on the soccer fan memoir of English novelist Nick Hornby, the highly bourgeois author of High Fidelity and About a Boy.
Yet this widespread filtering of yobbo norms up the social scale in Britain–soccer replacing cricket and rugby or the spread of the downscale Estuary English accent into the upper middle classes—merely reflects how the educated classes in Britain have lost control of the culture. Similarly, middle-class African-Americans have lost control to the gangsta rappers.
The U.S. Republican Party, for all its sins, at least pays lip service to social conservatism. Many white working class families ask for self-sacrificingly little from their elected leaders. But they do want them to provide good role models for their children. And, in contrast to Clinton's embarrassing philandering, Bush's apparently faultless marriage accounts for more than a little of his otherwise inexplicable popularity.
In Britain, however, the Conservative Party has been riddled by sex scandals.
Guns (not what you think). While the rate of assault has been higher in England than America, angry Americans are more lethal because of our hundreds of millions of guns.
But, on the other hand, burglary is a far safer career choice in Britain because the chance of being blown away by a homeowner is low—and the government unmercifully persecutes householders who kill intruders. (Farmer Tony Martin was originally sentenced to life in prison for killing a burglar.)
The perversity of the British criminal justice system likewise seems strange to contemporary Americans. The once-proud police of Britain are now pathetic. The fine new English movie Millions, for example, portrays a neighborhood meeting where an ineffectual-looking copper with an intellectual's beard announces (dialogue roughly remembered):
Bobbie: Christmas is coming so it's a statistical certainty your house will get burgled. But that's what we're here for.
Subject of the Queen: To prevent crime or to catch the criminals?
Bobbie: Neither, of course. But after you do get robbed, we will make sure you get your official victimization number so you can file a claim with your insurance company.
Lack of federalism. Parliament reigns supreme, so localities don't compete to see who has the most hard-nosed police departments like they do in America.
In 1993, for instance, white liberal voters in New York City and Los Angeles replaced black Democratic mayors with white Republican mayors—Rudy Giuliani and Richard Riordan, respectively—while still reassuring themselves of their moral superiority by voting Democratic at the national level.
And in the U.S., it's possible to move away from high crime areas. For example, Ventura County, only an hour's drive from South Central LA, is one of the lowest crime areas in the country, perhaps because racial profiling is quite effective in America, at least when the politicians and judges allow it. A car full of black youths cruising the back streets of affluent Thousand Oaks in the middle of the night would likely receive unwanted attention from the local police department.
In England, however, there is no escape. Criminals from Manchester and Birmingham frequently drive a couple of hours into the countryside to prey on isolated farmhouses. Racial profiling isn't as effective when so many career criminal are white.
Speed. Remember the tale of how to boil a frog? Just keep raising the temperature imperceptibly so the frog never notices it's being boiled alive. (Don't try this at home, kids.) Something similar happened in England, where society fell apart so slowly that elite opinion had time to get used to each new outrage.
In contrast, the U.S. murder rate doubled in just ten years—from 1964 to 1974. African-Americans served not as the frog in the pot but as the canary in the coalmine.
The welfare state took decades after its introduction in 1945 to corrupt the English. But the American liberal innovations of the 1960s, such as generous welfare for single mothers and shorter prison sentences, had such an immediately catastrophic on black morals that within a decade and a half, "liberal" had permanently become a term of abuse in American politics.
Way back in 1968, Richard Nixon ran on a law and order platform, somewhat like Michael Howard's in 2005. Granted, Nixon didn't do much about crime, but eventually the outraged public got its way. The quadrupling over the last third of a century of the prison population helped bring about the fall in crime in the later 1990s. The welfare reform of 1996 also has had a good effect on morals.
Class vs. Race. The central divide in Britain is class—in America, it's race. And that has had a little understood salutary effect on white working class Americans.
In England, the sons of maharajas were often more welcome at Eton and Oxford than the sons of fishmongers. Similarly, in the last couple of decades, blacks have been more welcomed into the working class in Britain than in America—because British working class identity centers on not acting like a toff. The entrance requirements to the working class are amiably relaxed—no need for "the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain" elocution lessons. If you like 'aving a pint with your mates at the pub while watching Arsenal on the telly,' well, you're halfway home.
Likewise, English youth see the gangsta rap lifestyle as a bit of a lark (as brilliantly parodied by Sacha Baron Cohen's brainless wigger Ali G). In contrast, white working class Americans view it, based on the abundant evidence provided by American blacks, as a one-way ticket to prison and the grave.
America upper middle class white liberals constantly sneer at working class whites as racists. And, indeed, most respectable working class whites do work hard to prevent their children from absorbing black underclass values. Affluent liberals are so well insulated from poor blacks that they don't have to worry that their college-bound kids will take gangsta rap's ethos seriously. But poorer whites don't have that luxury.
These anti-black feelings among the white working class have helped keep their young from turning to crime.
For example, Chicago was the crime capital of the world 75 years ago during Al Capone's day—before the Great Migration of blacks to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta. Unlike most Northern cities, Chicago has hung on to a sizable white working class.
But the descendents of the minor mobsters of Al Capone's era today disdain crime, viewing it as a "black thing," because, although blacks and whites are about equal in number in Chicago, blacks are almost an order of magnitude more common behind bars in the Windy City.
A General Election has now been called in Britain. Until this year, the Tory Party has been almost as worthless on crime as Labour. But Tory leader Michael Howard is now campaigning hard against "yob culture," lawless Gypsies and Travelers…and immigration abuses.
Still, there's a long way to go. Adam Smith famously observed that there is "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation." The British, however, have been ruining themselves for a long time.