As God, country, and children have receded in importance, the percentages of Americans who say that “community” and “money” are very important to them have surged. As I studied the results, I thought of Mary Eberstadt’s groundbreaking 2013 book, How the West Really Lost God, as well as Robert Nisbet’s 1953 Quest for Community. Eberstadt argued that the decline of the natural family was driving religious disaffiliation. Nisbet noticed long ago that if the human longing for community is not fulfilled by the mediating institutions of family, church, and neighborhood, human beings will look to Leviathan for commitment and meaning.
The polling appears to confirm both arguments. As children have mattered less, so has faith. And as these core institutions have decayed, Americans have turned to the substitute community of polarized politics. The results haven’t been pleasant.
Continetti emphasizes how much “community” increased in importance from 1998 to 2019, from around 47% to around 62%, which is almost exactly the inversion of the importance of religion. But perhaps just as striking is the increase of the importance of “money,” from 30% to about 41%.
Over 20 years of an increasingly progressive, supposedly more-tolerant and humanistic value system, Americans went from valuing money only half as much as children to valuing the two almost the same. How is that possible? Progressivism is supposed to be about people and their full flowering and all that. Why would we be becoming more materialist?
A survey question at the end of the page raises a related question: whether “anyone can succeed” or “the widening wealth gap undermines opportunities.” Unfortunately, on all of these questions, the charts only show a straight line from the start value to the end value, and in this case the time frame is only 2014 to 2019, so it’s not showing the longer-term trend of the other chart.
However, Gallup has a similar question about “perceptions of opportunity,” which has the same trend during the last five years, so we can compare the two, at least when it comes to the direction in which opinions have moved. What’s notable here is that from 1998 to 2014, Americans’ sense that there was “not much” opportunity jumped from 17% to 43%.
So, over that period of cultural change, Americans placed increasing value on money, versus family, and at the same time became more pessimistic about the ability to succeed. I wonder if the constant drum beating about income inequality and calls for wealth redistribution have had anything to do with this.
Progressives have nudged Americans away from family values and religion and pushed the idea that differences in income should be a central concern. At the same time the importance of “community” has displaced patriotism and religion, which might seem like a somewhat ambiguous trade, morally, were it not probable that the definition of “community” has changed dramatically in the public mind. In 1998, your “community” was the people who lived around you. In recent years, the word has come to mean something more like a social group or demographic caste — as in, “the minority community” or “the law-enforcement community” or any other special-interest “community.”
Little wonder we’re seeing our country become increasingly divided!
Whether they remain progressive or swing dramatically toward other forms of materialism, generations raised in the culture indicated by these trends deserve a watchful, wary eye.