Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart says nothing about immigration, per se. Rather, it is about “the state of white America,” and in particular, about the separation of a new cognitive elite (“Belmont”) from a new underclass (“Fishtown”) with falling rates of male labor participation, high rates of out-of-wedlock births and single mothers, high rates of imprisonment, low rates of church attendance, and so forth. Murray alleges, with statistics to back up his story (though he has to fill in a lot of gaps with anecdote, speculation, and appeals to readers’ experience) a “segregation of the successful,” as smart people whom the university system has become increasingly efficient at discovering and bonding with each other sort themselves out and largely stop interacting with their under-achieving high school fellows or cousins.
The more homogeneous white America of 1963 that Murray looks back to with a certain degree of seeming nostalgia was the product of 1920s nativism, the New Deal, World War II, and in general, a couple of decades when collectivism had more influence in America than at any other time. In spite of his seeming nostalgia, Murray insists that he wouldn’t really want to go back to 1963: the “coming apart” that has taken place since then, however troubling, is a price worth paying for the innovation and variety that has been unleashed. I agree. Conformist egalitarianism is rather boring, stifling, stultifying. That was what the 1960s youth thought, more or less. That’s why they rebelled, for better and worse.
Here’s how Murray’s book connects to immigration. Nativists seem to want to reconstruct a lost national unity, or preserve what’s left of national unity, by excluding foreigners. Murray shows that national unity is unraveling without any help from foreigners. It’s unraveling at a time when the borders are far from open. It’s unraveling even among whites. It’s unraveling because people are different, and sort themselves out.