In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist and Senator, authored his famous Moynihan Report, in which he argued that black America was in danger. That danger came in the form of the breakdown of the black family. He argued this because, in the immediate wake of the Civil Rights Movement, Moynihan feared that many impoverished blacks would be unable to grasp the new opportunities.
In the language of the time, Moynihan wrote, “At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” The impact of this collapse was documented by Moynihan, who showed that, for example, black illegitimacy was eight times that of whites. Moynihan wrote that, “Negro children without fathers flounder — and fail.” Even though, as he admitted, “Not always, to be sure. The Negro community produces its share, very possibly more than its share, of young people who have the something extra that carries them over the worst obstacles. But such persons are always a minority. The common run of young people in a group facing serious obstacles to success do not succeed.” His Report pressed the point that, without stable families, blacks may never attain success in America. The reason why black illegitimacy played such a role in his work was that Moynihan took it as a presumption, that stable families are the best instrument for bringing into being a new generation of adults. This position, however, had its fair share of critics.
As an article in City Journal notes, the Report was met with considerable rage by liberals. Many claimed that Moynihan was a racist, despite the fact that a major source for the Report was the black sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier. A report put out by the liberal Urban Institute, cited a social policy scholar, Ronald B. Mincy, as saying, “[Moynihan] had a very patriarchal view of the world, so the flip hand side of his argument was that African American families … [were] headed by females and there is something inherently wrong with that.” This is a failure to discuss Moynihan’s work and its implications. It is easier to curse a man for telling the truth than to actually look at the truth.
In the decades since, Thomas Sowell and Charles Murray have taken up Moynihan’s work and push it farther. Their studies found that black families were decaying, in large part because of government interference in the underclass black family.This interference came in the form of Lyndon Johnson’s vaunted Great Society program, and the concurrent War on Poverty. These programs were waged in the attempt to improve the lot of many Americans, particularly blacks, who were in need. Given LBJ’s own poverty stricken background we don’t doubt his desire to do good for others. As is so common with the attempt to do by government action; however, they end up doing greater harm. Murray has noted that, “People respond to incentives and disincentives. Sticks and carrots work.” The incentive to not marry, since government provided the medical care, child care and welfare payments to unwed mothers, was coupled with the radical assault on the nuclear family. would be undone by the incentives of federal charity, which requires that there be no father who supports the family. This created the ghastly tale, so common now, of women bearing children by multiple men, relying upon the government for their subsistence.
Today many broken black families are held together by government largesse alone. Lacking fathers, stuck in bad schools, and treated like errant children by Progressives, white and black. It is wrong to wholly blame inner-city blacks for their problems. In part, they are reacting to incentives, provided by government. These problems have been exacerbated by Progressive policies.
American Progressives have remained stuck on a conceit, which is unique to the Left, that without their beneficent interference, all of society will go awry. Conservatives and classical liberals have never doubted the ability of blacks to make their way in the world like everyone else.
As I look back upon what Moynihan said 50 years ago, I am reminded of a famous statement by Frederick Douglass. In 1865, Douglas answered the question, ‘what shall be done with the Negro?,’ “What shall be done with them? Our answer is, do nothing with them; mind your business, and let them mind theirs. Your doing with them is their greatest misfortune. They have been undone by your doings, and all they now ask, and really have need of at your hands, is just to let them alone. They suffer by every interference, and succeed best by being let alone…As colored men, we only ask to be allowed to dowith ourselves, subject only to the same great laws for the welfare of human society which apply to other men, Jews, Gentiles, Barbarian, Scythian. Let us stand upon our own legs, work with our own hands, and eat bread in the sweat of our own brows”
The words of Douglass display only the modest, human desire to be left alone, to pursue one’s own future without interference. The less government interferes with the black family, the more blacks will finally be able to choose their own destiny. The Left has taken the destiny of poor blacks from them, what we see around America now is a result of this theft.