Cover image for Is America breaking apart?
Is America breaking apart?
Hall, John A., 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 162 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
1570 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HN59.2 .H34 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Is the United States a nation of materialistic loners whose politics are dictated by ethnic, racial, religious, or sexual identities? This is what America has become in the eyes of many commentators. Americans seem to fear that their society is breaking apart, but how accurate is this portrayal and how justified is the fear? Introducing a balanced viewpoint into this intense debate, John Hall and Charles Lindholm demonstrate that such alarm is unfounded. Here they explore the institutional structures of American society, emphasizing its ability to accommodate difference and reduce conflict. The culture, too, comes under scrutiny: influenced by Calvinistic beliefs, Americans place faith in the individual but demand high moral commitment to the community. Broad in scope and ambition, this short book draws a realistic portrait of a society that is among the most powerful and stable in the world, yet is perennially shaken by self-doubt.

Concern over the cohesiveness of American society, Hall and Lindholm argue, is actually a product of a shared cultural belief in human distinctiveness and equality. They find that this shared belief paradoxically leads Americans to exaggerated worries about disunity, since they are afraid that disagreements among co-equals will rend apart a fragile community based solely on consensus and caring. While there is little dissent among Americans over essential values, racism still abounds. Here the authors predict that the homogenizing force of economic participation might still be the key to mending the wounds of racial turmoil.

By combining history, sociology, and anthropology, the authors cover a wide range of past and recent challenges to the stability of American society: from the history of unions to affirmative action, from McCarthyism to militant distrust of government, from early prejudice toward Irish and Italian immigrants to current treatment of African Americans. Hall and Lindholm do not skirt the internal contradictions and moral tensions of American society but nonetheless recognize the strength and promise of its institutions and culture. Their book is a vivid, sweeping response to the doomsayers in the reassessment of our society.

Author Notes

John A. Hall is Professor of Sociology at McGill University.
Charles Lindholm is University Professor of Anthropology at Boston University

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Unlike many other countries, America as a republic has been free of outside intervention in charting its future. From the early Colonists shared English backgrounds through the continuing assimilation of immigrant cultures, social conflict and political protest have created a society that asserts the equality (and individuality) of all. The federal government is likely to be maintained and political citizenship widely realized; the country (in general) has enjoyed economic growth and can see no real threats to its leadership position in the capitalist world. Hall (sociology, McGill Univ.) and Lindholm (anthropology, Boston Univ.) present a reasoned polemic, arguing that the United States, while not without self-doubt, the stain of racism, and other internal conflicts and disparities, has emerged as the worlds most powerful and stable society, not likely to break apart soon. Readable and highly recommended for academics and the general public.Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Is the US so riddled by hostilities that it is in danger of falling apart altogether? Briefly but brilliantly Hall and Lindholm marshal sociology and history to assert that there has never been a time in American history without hostilities and rifts--of regions and races and religions, of classes and parties and ethnic statuses. Moreover, those divisions and hostilities persist despite efforts either to ignore or ameliorate them. Yet, the authors declare that same history and sociology argues the US is not about to break apart. "Historical processes have worked to solidify and stabilize powerful central institutions. . . . Accordingly, there is much to be said for the decencies of a little dullness and the comforts of a measure of conformity. . . . [C]ommunity is understood to be built up by the voluntary cooperation of individual actors. This model of community naturally discounts that which is shared and makes Americans anxious about cohesion. The present discourse of collapse is an expression of this characteristic uneasiness." The prose is at once judicious and elegant. Appealing both to intellect and imagination, this work unites a clear vision of the American past with expectations of future achievement. It deserves the widest possible audience. All levels. L. Braude SUNY College at Fredonia

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
Pt. 1 The growth of political stabilityp. 11
1 The state and the peoplep. 15
2 The national questionp. 31
3 The challenge of classp. 47
4 The world in America, America in the worldp. 61
5 Reprisep. 75
Pt. 2 Sociability in Americap. 79
6 Conceptual baselinesp. 83
7 Sacred valuesp. 91
8 Anti-politics in Americap. 109
9 Ambivalence about associationp. 121
10 Ethnicity as choice, race as destinyp. 129
11 Two cheers for homogeneityp. 145
Conclusionp. 149
Indexp. 155