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The American Way: Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity

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The United States of America is arguably more family-centered than any other Western nation. If polling data can be trusted, the vast majority of Americans--a higher percentage than in any other nation--would rather build society around the family and the church than around the individual. In fact, family and religiously grounded community--not individualism, not capitalis The United States of America is arguably more family-centered than any other Western nation. If polling data can be trusted, the vast majority of Americans--a higher percentage than in any other nation--would rather build society around the family and the church than around the individual. In fact, family and religiously grounded community--not individualism, not capitalism, and not a commitment to polyglot cultural pluralism--have historically provided the basis of America's dominant self-understanding. The American Way, Allan Carlson's episodic history of the last century, shows how the nation's identity has been shaped by carefully constructed images of the American family and the American home. From the surprisingly radical measures put forth by Theodore Roosevelt to encourage stable, large families, to the unifying role of the image of the home in assimilating immigrants, to the maternalist activists who attempted to transform the New Deal and other social welfare programs into vehicles for shoring up traditional family life, Carlson convincingly demonstrates the widespread appeal exerted by the images of family and community. Carlson also shows how a family- and faith-centered discourse anchored Henry Luce's publishing enterprise and even American foreign policy during the Cold War. But many of the reforms and ideas championed by pro-family forces in the twentieth century--family activists' embrace of the federal bureaucracy, Luce's propaganda for suburban living and modern architecture--inadvertently worked to undermine family and community life, writes Carlson. And he shows that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which effectively made it illegal for employers to offer malebreadwinners a living wage, has made it harder for traditional families to make ends meet, further helping to fracture family life. Carlson concludes by arguing that, despite the half-hearted and partially successful attempt of the Reagan administration to again forge a link between the American identity and healthy family life, much bolder measures are necessary if American culture is again to be put on a family- and community-centered footing. Written with grace and precision. The American Way is revisionist history of the highest order.


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The United States of America is arguably more family-centered than any other Western nation. If polling data can be trusted, the vast majority of Americans--a higher percentage than in any other nation--would rather build society around the family and the church than around the individual. In fact, family and religiously grounded community--not individualism, not capitalis The United States of America is arguably more family-centered than any other Western nation. If polling data can be trusted, the vast majority of Americans--a higher percentage than in any other nation--would rather build society around the family and the church than around the individual. In fact, family and religiously grounded community--not individualism, not capitalism, and not a commitment to polyglot cultural pluralism--have historically provided the basis of America's dominant self-understanding. The American Way, Allan Carlson's episodic history of the last century, shows how the nation's identity has been shaped by carefully constructed images of the American family and the American home. From the surprisingly radical measures put forth by Theodore Roosevelt to encourage stable, large families, to the unifying role of the image of the home in assimilating immigrants, to the maternalist activists who attempted to transform the New Deal and other social welfare programs into vehicles for shoring up traditional family life, Carlson convincingly demonstrates the widespread appeal exerted by the images of family and community. Carlson also shows how a family- and faith-centered discourse anchored Henry Luce's publishing enterprise and even American foreign policy during the Cold War. But many of the reforms and ideas championed by pro-family forces in the twentieth century--family activists' embrace of the federal bureaucracy, Luce's propaganda for suburban living and modern architecture--inadvertently worked to undermine family and community life, writes Carlson. And he shows that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which effectively made it illegal for employers to offer malebreadwinners a living wage, has made it harder for traditional families to make ends meet, further helping to fracture family life. Carlson concludes by arguing that, despite the half-hearted and partially successful attempt of the Reagan administration to again forge a link between the American identity and healthy family life, much bolder measures are necessary if American culture is again to be put on a family- and community-centered footing. Written with grace and precision. The American Way is revisionist history of the highest order.

45 review for The American Way: Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jared Mcnabb

    Interesting history on the role that the family played in creating a stable “American” identity in the 20th century, and its impact on domestic and foreign policy. Interesting sections include Carlson showing the role that family-centered German immigrants had in creating this identity. He then looks at how the programs of FDR’s New Deal were based on the centrality and the importance of what the natural family. This all unravels in the 60’s when American identity was sought in anti-communism, r Interesting history on the role that the family played in creating a stable “American” identity in the 20th century, and its impact on domestic and foreign policy. Interesting sections include Carlson showing the role that family-centered German immigrants had in creating this identity. He then looks at how the programs of FDR’s New Deal were based on the centrality and the importance of what the natural family. This all unravels in the 60’s when American identity was sought in anti-communism, racial identities, or more opaque notions of freedom and progress. Interesting note here is his discussion of how southern “Dixiecrats” and equity feminist congressmen worked together during the Civil Rights Act to undercut the Act’s primary intent to curb racial discrimination, as well as undercut the practice of family wage. Reagan attempted to relocate the centrality of the family, but it was vague and mingled with (and weakened by) pro-capitalist ideology. He ends by arguing for the continued importance to locate tAmerica’s unique identity in the family. Lastly, Teddy Roosevelt had no chill.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Kidd

    Excellent brief historical survey of how we went from a nation built on the family economy to the radical disintegration of economics and family that we have today. And, if you are a rock-ribbed hater of all things related to the New Deal, this book might make you see some good in FDR's plan.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    None

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    Joelle

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    Mike Frazier

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    Matt Carpenter

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    Christopher Hurtado

  45. 4 out of 5

    Madame

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