Myron Magnet in the current issue of City Journal talks about the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement:
The War on Poverty certainly didn?t cause the 1960s Cultural Revolution. Quite the reverse: it was itself the pure emanation of the new culture?s worldview. But it played such a decisive role in the formation of the underclass because it was one of the principal channels through which the new worldview got transmitted to the worst-off Americans who fell into that class. At the heart of the War on Poverty was the utterly debilitating message that the worst-off were victims: that the larger society, ?the system,? rather than their own behavior, was to blame for their poverty, their crime, their failure….
The Community Action Program, the War on Poverty?s first (and worst) initiative, rests on a bizarre circularity in reasoning: that the poor must become active in improving their lot by demanding more and better services and transfer payments of which they are the passive recipients. As a practical matter, the most spectacular action the program took was the protracted mau-mauing of New York City?s welfare offices, which resulted in loosened eligibility requirements, fatter welfare payments, and a huge expansion of the welfare rolls. This campaign went a long way to destigmatizing welfare and establishing it as a right, as if it were reparations for victimization.
An interesting thesis. Clearly, the War on Poverty had, in many places, the opposite effect of its intention.
(Thanks to Porphyrogenitus for the pointer. I’m glad to see Porphy’s got at least some form of internet access again.)