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 Americansa higher percentage than in any other nationwould rather build society around the family and the church than around the individual. In fact, family and religiously grounded communitynot individualism, not capitalism, and not a commitment to polyglot cultural pluralismhave 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 centuryfamily activists' embrace of the federal bureaucracy, Luce's propaganda for suburban living and modern architectureinadvertently 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 male breadwinners 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.
Read and post comments on chapter four of The "American Way" in the ISI Forum. Click here.
What They're Saying...
"The 'American Way' provides a solid historical foundation for understanding today's controversies over what it means to be 'pro-family.'"
— First Things
"The 'American Way' is a brilliantly conceived and provocatively written social history...."
"Carlson convincingly demonstrates the widespread appeal exerted by the images of family and community."
— Heritage Insider
"Allan Carlson makes the case that the United States is best understood through images of home and the child-rich family."
— Weekly Standard
"[Carlson] authoritatively recaps some forgotten history that is full of eye-opening fascination."
"Carlson’s work is excellent: The histories are well-written and often gripping, and most sections are concise enough to hold the nonspecialist’s interest. He employs little jargon while providing helpful summaries of key policies and movements.”
— Markets & Morality
"With a confident hand and resolute grasp of history, Allan Carlson boldly traces the rise and transformation of the American pro-family movement in his new book, The 'American Way'."
— Matthew T. Joe, Townhall.com
“Written in a scholarly but readable fashion, The ‘American Way’ challenges traditional interpretations of American individualism, arguing that the national identity is based upon communitarian values.”
— Journal of Illinois History