Tragedies of Our Own Making

That the United States is in crisis economically is a given for many contemporary Americans. Richard Neely, who has served three terms as chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, is an eminently qualified jurist. He has officially dealt for many years with some of his state’s most acute social problems. Such experience led him to write this book.

What Neely says is not particularly new. One can hear it on talk shows at almost any hour of the day or night: America’s family structure and institutions are collapsing. Children are at best latch-key kids, at worst, wards of society or homeless. The illegitimacy rate is staggering, necessitating all sorts of public expenditures through welfare, Medicaid, and other such programs that provide money for those who cannot support themselves and their families without such help.

Neely bemoans the lack of personal responsibility that afflicts modern society and examines four kinds of social collapse: safety net collapse, educational collapse, economic collapse, and social collapse. His suggestions in the final chapter border on the draconian; his proposal that the federal government sink two billion dollars a year into a high-saturation advertising campaign that would urge morality and increased responsibility seems unrealistically expensive and naive.

Well intentioned though this book is, its offers few viable solutions to the nation’s social ills. It will make Neely the darling of ultraconservatives. He will delight populist talk show hosts and their audiences, who espouse much the same philosophy that undergirds Neely’s well written but seriously flawed book.