An essay in Commentary magazine by Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin has attained must-read status (having, among other accolades, been hailed as “groundbreaking” by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post). Wehner and Levin point out that social pathologies appeared to be on the verge of destroying civilized society in the 1990s. But “a strange thing happened on the way to Gomorrah:” 

“In a number of key categories, the amount of ground gained or regained since the early 1990’s is truly stunning. Crime, especially, has plummeted. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the rates of both violent crime and property crime fell significantly between 1993 and 2005, reaching their lowest levels since 1973 (the first year for which such data are available). More recent figures from the FBI, which measures crime differently from the NCVS, show an unfortunate uptick in violent crime in the last two years-particularly in cities like Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Even so, however, the overall rate remains far below that of the mid-1990’s.

“Teenage drug use, which moved relentlessly upward throughout the 1990’s, declined thereafter by an impressive 23 percent, and for a number of specific drugs it has fallen still lower. Thus, the use of ecstasy and LSD has dropped by over 50 percent, of methamphetamine by almost as much, and of steroids by over 20 percent.

“Then there is welfare. Since the high-water mark of 1994, the national welfare caseload has declined by over 60 percent. Virtually every state in the union has reduced its caseload by at least a third, and some have achieved reductions of over 90 percent. Not only have the numbers of people on welfare plunged, but, in the wake of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger have all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers have risen.”

My own bleak note: The authors argue that there has been an “extraordinary turnaround in nearly every area apart from the family.” But it seems to me that, without families, we can’t rescue society.

At one time, I would have said “strong families,” but now I would settle for mere families. I’ve been reading Theodore Dalrymple’s essays, and one startling one is about the “starving criminal.” The prisons of England, where Dalrymple worked as a physician, are the health farms of the slums. People go there to eat right and get healthy. Most of those in prison simply don’t know how to eat right for a very good reason-many have never had a meal at a table with their families-in fact, they don’t have families, many not being quite certain about the identity of their fathers.