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Book review and technical detail IS AMERICA BREAKING APART? ~ John A. Hall , adapted Charles Lindholm

Technical detail of IS AMERICA BREAKING APART? ~
author John A. Hall , adapted Charles Lindholm
ISBN 110047
Language English
Category Current Affairs
Publisher Princeton University Press
Pages 176
Publishing Date 1st January, 1970

Book Reviews:

Amid the clamor of multiculturalism and “difference” politics, Americans wonder if their country can remain a cohesive whole. Hall (Sociology/McGill Univ., Canada) and Lindholm (Anthropology/Boston Univ.) argue that our concerns are unfounded and not all that new; for better, and sometimes for worse, we will survive. American unity derives from both historically conditioned institutional patterns and shared cultural values. Historically, oppositional forces coalesced within a flexible and stable two-party system quite early on and citizenship rights steadily if selectively expanded. At the same time, threatening social alternatives—be they the antebellum South or late 19th-century socialist radicalism—were, often quite violently, eliminated. What emerged from all this was a society of core homogeneity, but a homogeneity of a peculiar sort. In the authors’ words, we have achieved “homogenization by the extension of the American values of individual choice.” While we may all think alike, we think in terms of individual autonomy, uniqueness, and justice. This does make of us the atomized herd described by so many observers of America. We do value community quite strongly, but only as the voluntary cooperation of equals. Therein lies the rub, for free individuals can always withdraw support from a community. And so we worry. Yet, on the other hand, the tolerant and pragmatic nature of American cultural values, the willingness to forego deep-seated ideological beliefs that demand conformity, paradoxically keeps us together. Much of what the authors say is not that unique, but it is their ambivalence that intrigues. Certainly, a stable society is to be preferred to one constantly in turmoil, but at what price stability? Was not the labor struggle of the late 19th century a legitimate social alternative? Does not a culture of equality mask enormous economic as well asp racial inequalities of the US? Still, the authors find hope in the enduring tensions between American ideals and reality. A slim but very thoughtful volume that is well worth reading.

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.

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