JUST because he belongs to it himself does not make Newt Gingrich wrong when he grumbles that America is run by an out-of-touch elite. If you want evidence, the data can now be found in a book published this week by Charles Murray, the co-author in 1994 of “The Bell Curve”, which became controversial for positing a link between race and intelligence. That controversy should not deter you. “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010” brims with ideas about what ails America.
David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, thinks it will be the most important book this year on American society. And even if you do not buy all Mr Murray’s ideas about what ails America, you will learn much about what conservatives think ails America, a subject no less fascinating. Though it does not set out to do so, this book brings together four themes heard endlessly on the Republican campaign trail. They are the cultural divide between elite values and mainstream values (a favourite of the tea-partiers); the case for religion and family values (think Rick Santorum); American exceptionalism (all the candidates); and (a favourite of Mitt Romney’s) the danger of America becoming a European welfare state.