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Amy Wax, Robert Mundheim Professor of Law

Returning to the American cultural values of the 1950s — thrift, gratitude, temperance, continence, among others — would “significantly reduce society’s pathologies,” says Penn Law School professor Amy Wax in an op-ed published Thursday on Philly.com and co-written with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law. 

Wax’s piece, entitled “Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture,” condemns “the single-parent, anti-social habits, prevalent among some working-class whites,” “the anti 'acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks” and the “anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants” as “not suited for a First World, 21st-century environment.”

In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian on Thursday, Wax said Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior. 

"I don't shrink from the word, 'superior,'" she said, adding, “Everyone wants to come to the countries that exemplify” these values. “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans.”

Wax has been affiliated with Penn Law since 2001 and has degrees from Yale, Harvard and Columbia. She has taught widely on subjects related to the family, economics and public law. 

After earning a degree from Harvard Medical School, Wax switched course into law and spent eight years working in the Solicitor General’s office during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. She most recently published a book, “Race, Wrongs and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century.” 

During her conversation with the DP, Wax emphasized that her view was not meant to imply the superiority of white people specifically.

“Bourgeois values aren’t just for white people,” she said. “The irony is: bourgeois values can help minorities get ahead.”

“The views expressed in the article are those of the individual authors,” said Steven Barnes, a Penn Law spokesperson. “They are not a statement of Penn Law’s values or institutional policies.”

Wax has previously fielded criticism for a 2013 lecture she gave at Middlebury College, “Diverging Family Structure by Class and Race: Economic Hardship, Moral Deregulation or Something Else?” Her lecture pointed out the declining marriage rate among minorities and “indicated that family construction among blacks is on average characterized by higher divorce rates, higher rates of extra-marital fatherhood and multiple partner fertility,” according to a recap in the Middlebury student newspaper.

Some members of the audience greeted Wax with signs proclaiming “racist” and, after the lecture, Margaret Nelson, a Middlebury sociology professor, told the student paper that “students of color were being attacked and felt attacked.”

At Penn, Wax has previously drawn sharp rebukes from her colleagues for taking a stance against same-sex marriage. According to a DP article from June 2006, Wax expressed support for “Ten Principles On Marriage and the Public Good,” a report that, among other things, called for marriage to be defined as solely between a man and a woman. In the previous year, she penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, headlined “Some Truths About Black Disadvantage,” which spawned criticism from the Black Law Students Association at the time.

“Enduring injuries to human capital are now the most destructive legacy of racism,” Wax wrote in the WSJ article. “Evidence suggests that soft behavioral factors, including low educational attainment, poor socialization and work habits, paternal abandonment, family disarray, and non-marital childbearing, now loom larger than overt exclusion as barriers to racial equality.”

Wax knows her beliefs are not typically shared with students at elite, Ivy League universities, whom she told the DP can be "totally clueless, out of touch and oblivious." 

But to conflate her views with sweeping praise for every action taken by western, European governments would be misguided, she said.

"It’s partly what gets the left in trouble — to tar everything that’s good with some of the crimes that undoubtedly have been committed."

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