A favorite conservative passtime is arguing about which communities/cultures/civilizations are disintegrating fastest, with everyone competing for the honor of belonging to the most-slowly-dying society. Usually, it’s America vs. Europe, but I don’t find that one very interesting. A more interesting comparison, I think, would be between the very different subcultures in America: the majority-white subculture versus the minority-black subculture.
From what we’re always hearing, the urban black communities seem to really have things stacked against them: massive family breakdown, widespread crime and poverty, glorification of antisocial behavior, and a general weakness of forces promoting responsible behavior. On the other hand, black communities definitely do have one quality that conservatives would recognize as a virtue: loyalty. Most blacks seem to feel a passionate commitment to their race and a hatred for those who they perceive as their racial enemies. Whites are the opposite. They trail in things like illigitimacy and illiteracy, but they despise their own Anglo-Saxon culture. They would never dream of defending it or even showing it personal preference; that would be “racist”. Whites actually regard loyalty as a vice; they think it the height of virtue to prefer strangers to their own kin.
As this comparison illustrates, the health of communities is multidimensional. In her book Natural Symbols (which I review here), anthropologist Mary Douglas classifies societies according to two measures of community strength, which she calls “group” and “grid”. “Group” means one’s attachment to and identification with the community, i.e. group loyalty. “Grid” means the tendency to accept and live up to distinct social roles within a community. So, for example, racial distinctions are usually a group effect, while gender distinctions are usually a grid effect. The American black subculture is a strong group, weak grid society. The Anglo majority culture is weak group, strong grid.
According to Douglas, there are distinct religious and political beliefs that are naturally engendered by the different types of societies. Strong group/weak grid societies tend towards Manicheaism. This certainly fits with the “black studies” in academia and with black liberation theology, which more-or-less divide the world into the holy African race oppressed by demonic whites. Evil is externalized; all that must be done is to humble Whitey and get more of his money, and all will be well. For weak group/strong grid societies, Douglas tells us to expect religion to degenerate into magic. The world is seen as full of morally neutral forces that the clever person can manipulate to his own ends. This again seems to fit the facts in America, where educated whites have deformed the theory of evolution into a pseudo-religion. This isn’t even counting the multitude of whites who more forthrightly worship at the altar of Capitalism, that magical force which supposedly always rewards “fitness”. Without a sense of group loyalty, life is just a matter of self-advancement, of moving up the grid.
Douglas had an obvious preference for strong-group, strong-grid societies like medieval Europe. These develop a sacramental worldview: social hierarchies exist to embody spiritual realities. They are legitimate and important, but they exist for the good of the community as a whole and its relationship to God. Thus, if America is ever to be culturally healthy again, it will need to combine the partial virtues of both its subcultures.