Cover image for "The American way" : family and community in the shaping of the American identity
"The American way" : family and community in the shaping of the American identity
Carlson, Allan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Wilmington, Del. : ISI Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 211 pages ; 21 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E169.12 .C37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E169.12 .C37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 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.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

For more than half of the twentieth century, American leaders argued for Americanism with pro-family propaganda and policies. Theodore Roosevelt stumped for big families to produce soldiers for America's wars. German immigrant leaders strove to make Germanic culture predominate, via the Germanic family, in America's national self-conception. With measures aimed at preserving and promoting traditional families, female New Dealers labored to reestablish a national identity disoriented by the Depression. Publisher Henry Luce built a magazine empire ( Time, Fortune, but especially Life) on the idea of the family as key to national consensus, something all Americans could get behind. Cold war theorists insisted that stable families were essential to fighting Communism. For reasons as obvious as the U.S. entry in World War I and as subtle and various as resistance to government management, those five campaigns foundered, and the traditional family now seems irrelevant to American identity. Carlson keeps his counsel on that for the final pages; before then, citing reams of documents, he authoritatively recaps some forgotten history that is full of eye-opening fascination. --Ray Olson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Choice Review

Carlson (Family Research Council), known for his books on the relationship between the US family and social and political developments in the 20th century, here examines six "episodes" that helped shape a uniquely American vision of community and family. Carlson shows Theodore Roosevelt advocating a family-oriented public policy complete with tax incentives and examines how the adjustments of German Americans to the US setting contributed to and reflected the emergence of family-oriented culture in the early 20th century. Three decades of social reform culminated in a wide variety of New Deal government programs, mostly designed to benefit women and children. After WW II, Henry Luce articulated a broad vision of US values and nationalism that incorporated not so much a traditionalist view of the family as a new view that expanded traditional values during postwar economic and demographic growth. Carlson examines how family issues became entwined with the US role in the Cold War world as the nation attempted to define values worthy of an international crisis. Carlson depicts the 1960s and 1970s as a time when the traditionalist family came under attack, and the Reagan years as a revival of family values. This thoughtful interpretation will be controversial to some. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Most libraries. C. K. Piehl Minnesota State University, Mankato