Allan C. Carlson is president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society and international secretary of the World Congress of Families. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the National Commission on Children, on which he served until 1993. Over the last ten years he has advised various congressional leaders and presidential candidates on how to craft family-friendly policies and legislation.
Reviews - What do customers think about The "American Way": Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity?
Excavating the Forgotten Maternalist Vision Sep 8, 2004
In "The 'American Way,'" Allan Carlson explores how a certain vision of the child-rich family with a breadwinning husband and a stay-at-home mother became central to the American self-definition in the twentieth century. What contemporary feminist writers sneer at as the "Leave it to Beaver" family emerges in this account as the product of a disciplined vision pursued by union organizers, civil servants, and reformers (mostly women), who saw the ability of the mother to nurture her children and protect them from the temptations of the street or the sweatshop as the fulcrum for realizing the American aims of a good life for all. But mothers could only do this when they were supported by a husband earning a "family wage": enough to support his wife and children. From the turn of the twentieth century to the New Deal, this "maternalist" lobby fought to victory against free market absolutism, the pathologies of impoverished inner-city immigrant communities, and liberal feminism.
Allan Carlson pursues his topic in a series of readable, but disconnected essays: Teddy Roosevelt; the German-American family and assimilation; the New Deal as the apotheosis of maternalism; Henry Luce's influential vision of America; how the strength of the family buttressed American foreign policy; and finally the death of the maternalist vision after 1965 at the hands of the courts and feminists. The subsequent flood of married women into the workplace depressed men's wages, increased the commercialization of the household economy (the roots of today's obesity epidemic), and starved America's previously rich associational life. Throughout, he makes extensive use of the results of recent feminist historians to overturn their unquestioned assumptions and dogmas.
Allan Carlson contrasts America's maternalist vision to Swedish family policy which had from the thirties eagerly socialized household functions and accepted the complete interchangeability of husband and wife. In American family policy, maternalists advocated home economics to nourish thrift and keep commercialization at bay. The single family home, the suburban lawn, the sewing machine, and the vegetable garden expressed the value they placed on the autonomous family and their belief in the stabilizing value of a connection to the land.
"The 'American Way'" is full of surprises for the modern reader: how conservative and pro-family the Democrats once were; how anti-feminist the New Deal really was; how feminists cynically allied with die-hard segregationists to win their first big legislative victory; how much poorer husband-as-breadwinner families have become compared to dual income families since then.
Allan Carlson is a conservative, but not the sort of anti-immigrant or categorically anti-big government conservative that some reviews here take him to be. Indeed I wish he had been even more explicit in the ironies of today's political spectrum. He concludes that the current Republican Party's pro-family policy is a sincere attempt to reverse the disasters of the 1960s and 1970s, but is stymied by the party's inability or unwillingness to challenge either the legal dogma of male-female interchangeability or the dominance of employers in the labor market.
A Fantastic Historical Work Jul 10, 2004
According to Allan Carlson, America is at a crossroads. Historically, its culture has been based on that of Europe. However, there are waves of new immigrants from Latin America who refuse to assimilate and who stubbornly hold on to their non-Eropean culture.
Carlson also holds that America has been down the wrong path ever since the New Deal when there was a massive increase in the size and role of the Federal Government.
According to Carlson, family and community have been the cornerstones of American culture ever since colonial times. This culture included the idea that men were dominant and Protestantism was the dominant religion.
Also acording to Carlson, prior to the New Deal, social welfare was handled by private agencies, many of which were created by German-Americans before 1900. There was also a moral consensus that aided the growth of the American nation. That consensus has since collapsed.
The role of family in American culture has been undermined by government policies such as outlawing workplace discrimination against women.
Carlson's book is a bit gloomy, but it is still an excellent review of the better aspects of traditional American culture.
He's a great scholar, but this book is lacking... Jun 2, 2004
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".
His topic is complex and historical events are difficult to isolate in such narrow terms. Hundreds of major movements in the twentieth century directly and indirectly affected family life, more of a testimony to the pervasive nature of life's fundamental institution than to the intended goals of many of those groups.
Despite the volumes of relevant information, Carlson carefully chooses his topics with the deft wisdom typical of someone who not only knows something but believes it. He tackles such matters as the maternalist movement of the twenties and thirties, the rather traditional nature of the New Deal, and the clear view of the American family promoted by Henry Luce.
And yet, Carlson too often loses focus, and the discussion becomes easily sidetracked. For example, he launches into lengthy discussions of American foreign relations-anti-communism and "real politik"-midway through the book without adequately explaining its effect on the family. The reader is grateful for the new knowledge and yet disconnected and confused about the importance of that discussion.
Gaps within the historical narrative are also evident, but may be due to length considerations more than a failure to realize their significance. Carlson completely omits mention of Phyllis Schlafly's modern day crusade to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, or the entire pro-family movement she started. Her organization, the Eagle Forum, has more or less been the figurehead of pro-family politics for the past thirty years.
He also underestimates the long-term impact of welfare reform in his discussion of recent developments, which for the first time subsidizes good behavior and punishes bad behavior, a compassionate step to familial independence and a bold assertion of traditional values. By taking away many of the disincentives for fathers to abandon their families and create armies of single mothers, welfare reform might be the one bright though admittedly distant light on the horizon.
One problem with Carlson's analysis of history is that he is largely concerned with individual's intentions, not with real effects. He argues that many of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs were started to undergird traditional families, and yet he ignores the long-term consequences of those same programs: spirals of poverty and familial collapse caused by the creation of a permanent and dependent underclass.
In a backward way, however, these examples might prove his point better than any amount of rhetoric. The War on Poverty, the New Deal, and other attempts at social centralization have done more to destroy the family than to strengthen it, evidence that supports his polemic argument against "political interference and economic exploitation" of communities that nurture and sustain families.
I wish this contention had been more prevalent throughout the book, as it is not necessarily a conclusion that a skeptic would draw on his own. The pro-family movement has historically had frighteningly totalitarian facets, and someone unversed in the modern conservative movement could easily take away the wrong message. Carlson shelves his own sermons to the last few pages, where he finally breaks his role as a dispassionate historian to become a pro-family advocate.
I believe that much of the book's efficacy is lost from the beginning, due to a primary misidentification of the problem at hand. Any book setting out to explain the historical development of the American family should not start out with the pro-family movement, but rather with institutionalized liberalism itself.
The pro-family movement is reactionary by nature, as the family ideal has stood enshrined but attacked for centuries. To interpret changing mores and family structures in terms of the movement is to put the cart before the horse: the development and victory of American liberalism is the cause of family breakdown; the pro-family movement is merely the response. American family structure is not in its current condition due to any failure by pro-family forces, but rather due to the systemic, coordinated, and at times, unintentional attacks on it from the American Left.
Even though his book has serious shortcomings, Carlson is one of us, and we are better for his scholarship and criticisms. Appointed by Reagan in 1988 to serve as a member of the National Commission on Children, he is currently the Distinguished Fellow for Family Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
He understands all too well the dangers to family posed by big government and ruthless corporations, and argues instead for a third way, an "American Way". In this we celebrate Carlson as an historian and advocate, as a dispassionate observer and an avid sponsor of family values. We also affirm that our visions are one in the same: to craft a fresh and healthy role for vigorous families in public life, and for the formation of the American identity.
A concise history of an important issue Apr 14, 2004
The primary purpose of Carlson's book is to describe the history of the various attempts to formulate American culture through the avenue of federal government policy. Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt administration, which Carlson points to as the starting point of the this government interest in shaping national culture, the story that unfolds is, at one level, a conflict between those who viewed American society as a collection of families, as a collection of self-autonomous individuals with the same individual rights apart from differences in gender or family situation, or as a homogenous indivisible whole with (for the most part) the same values that shape a distinct national culture. It's an interesting story not only to view the shift in political parties (one can see through this prism the difference between cultural conservatives and industrial conservatives, along with the difference between the maternalists and the equity feminists.
More fundamental than the story of the success or failure of each group's attempt to formulate public policy is the tension of underlying premises that Carlson touches upon as this history is told. In a liberal democracy that encourages capitalism, what are the boundaries, if any, to the market process? Does the government have a proper role in encouraging a family policy (such as a "family wage" for the breadwinner male and limited job opportunities for the mother who, according to the policy purposes, has a duty to be at home to raise the children) that runs counter to the laissez-faire principle, or does that violate the promise of guaranteeing equality for all individuals? In another vein, should the government (and other sources with the government's encouragement) encourage a national identity that goes as far as, to paraphrase one criticism quoted in the book, that except for two hours on Sunday, Americans should share the same values and culture, or should that be left for individuals and groups to define for themselves?
Carlson points out that some of the major programs that exist were based on the opposite premises, such as the Social Security program - a maternalist policy - that has been altered by the entrance of mothers into the workforce. Carlson reserves his point of view until the very end of the book (the last two pages), and given the promotion by pro-family groups, one can predict what those principles should be. But even if the reader disagrees with the author's view (which is sort of a neo-maternalist view that recognizes that biological differences between the sexes should be recognized in some instances over abstract equity principles, but that the overt discrimination that denied women equal political and property rights should remain a thing of the past), the book will be informative to describe the history of this aspect of federal government policy.
Highly recommended. Dec 10, 2003
Excellent book. Highly recommend it. The book provides a fascinating, little known historical account of 20th Century American history from a family perspective. The book shows how America has been shaped by carefully constructed images of the American family and the American home. Dr. Carlson is the leading expert nationally and internationally on family issues and policy. Dr. Carlson' lecture on the book was fideo taped in Washington DC and can be ordered from CSPAN. It was broadcast on CSPAN's book TV. Other writings from Dr. Calson are available from the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Illinois.