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All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s Hardcover – September 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Even though the idealized nuclear family has hardly ever fit the reality of American life, conservatives have won back the power to define the mythological American family, asserts historian Self. And they’ve done it with the help of the liberal retreat on ideals of seeking to socialize public goods and achieve social equality for others besides white males. Self contrasts breadwinner liberalism of the 1960s, which relied on government programs to assist families, and more recent breadwinner conservatism, which promises to keep the government out of the lives of families. In examining social and political trends since the 1960s, Self traces how liberalism morphed from an ideal of an economic helping hand into constituting a threat to the nation’s morals and how conservatism came to be seen as a defender of the family and protector against the sexual revolution and coarsening of American culture. As Self analyzes the major social movements since the 1960s, from civil rights to feminism to gay rights, he explores distinctions between private and public life, the tension between liberty and equality, and the challenge of identity politics to developing national policies. --Vanessa Bush

Review

Self . . . has heroically researched the history of the culture wars from the early 1960s to the present. He offers a provocative analysis that accounts for today's alliance between small-government and social conservatives, on the one hand, and welfare-state and social liberals, on the other . . . All in the Family tells us a great deal about recent political history. (The Wall Street Journal)

[A] powerful, well-researched account of how the efforts of marginalized groups to assert their rights as citizens ran up against the resistance of entrenched privilege, setting the stage for the polarization that grips US politics today . . . [Self] reminds us that our democracy is an imperfect thing, only as noble as the people who constitute it. (The Boston Globe)

All in the Family is meticulous, convincing, and engaging . . . Self has written a book that should become the authoritative social history of the U.S. since the 1960s. (Library Journal)

Most of the stories we have told about American politics in recent decades have tended to divide the world between social issues and economic issues . . . In his new book, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s, Robert O. Self . . . rewrites this story from its most basic assumptions . . . brilliant. (Mark Schmitt, The Washington Monthly)

Robert O. Self has done a remarkable thing: he has persuasively reinterpreted the rise of conservative politics in the last third of the twentieth century as rooted in the battle over gender and sexuality. In short, disputes over the 'state of the family' became as much about the nature of the state as about the morality of the family. Self makes many new and fascinating connections between the public and private spheres of American life. (Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America)

In this breathtaking chronicle of American politics over the last half century, Robert O. Self points to sexual politics as the source of the shift from liberalism to conservatism. He takes a fresh look at the 'rights revolution' to offer sweeping new interpretations of the rise of 'family values,' the culture wars, and neoliberalism. Another tour de force from a brilliant historian. (Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era)

Complex, elegant, and persuasive, Robert O. Self's All in the Family is an extraordinary achievement. It's the best account yet of the challenge to the central icons of gender identity--breadwinner, soldier, heterosexual, wife, mother--and of the powerful countermovements that arose to defend them. Self's magnificent book offers a bold new interpretation of America's rightward tilt and the triumph of free-market capitalism. (Dorothy Sue Cobble, author of The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America)

Robert O. Self's All in the Family is a fresh and compelling synthesis of modern American political history, one that puts gender, sexuality, and race at the core of its analysis and overturns simplistic dichotomies between culture and economy. Indispensible for understanding our own times, it recounts the journey from equal rights to family values on a sweeping scale and in perceptive detail. A masterful account. (Margot Canaday, author of The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809095025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809095025
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Self teaches history at Brown University. He writes about American politics in the twentieth century and teaches a variety of courses on the same subject. His interests range widely and include the history of American cities and suburbs, the history of family, and the history of sex and sexuality in the twentieth century. He is also the co-author (with James Henretta, Rebecca Edwards, and Eric Hinderaker) of a college-level textbook, America's History.

His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon.com, and Guernica. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Randall L. Wilson on January 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
After devouring Mr. Self's previous book, "American Babylon" that examined Oakland's Post War history from a racial angle, I was excited to read "All in the Family." Unfortunately, it didn't live up to the probably unrealistic expectations I had for the book. While it is thoroughly researched, well-written with many fascinating and useful snippets, its thesis fails to deliver on its promise.

Mr. Self offers up a vision of sixties American liberalism focused on white male breadwinner that fails to successfully incorporate gender, sexual and racial identity into the mix. Yes, he summons up lots of evidence in support of his thesis and examines movements like abortion rights, gay and women's liberation to show how the evangelical Christians turned those movements to its own middle class advantage, but he doesn't show us how this happened. Had he focused on a few key figures and a few key moments, I believe he could have made a more vivid case for himself.

An example of a book that does this extremely well is Rick Pearlstein's "Nixonland." History isn't merely a parade of issues and actors but an engagement of events, ideas, actors, culture coming together in a vivid mishmash that involves all our senses in understanding what our past means. Bottomline: the book themes feel too big for what is presented. Had he tackled feminism alone and taken it through two decades to make his point - maybe 1971 - 1992, the book would have packed a punch. I suspect that Mr. Self will write that big, vivid book very soon as he is a talented and exciting historian.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Richard Klein on January 8, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a very good history of the effect of sociologic changes on politics in America from the 1950's. It attempts to show how liberalism changed from being a provider of economic assistance to a threat to the morals of the family. It's particularly good in showing the conflicts that occurred between the various factions of the liberal cause, e.g. Black Power and Black Feminism. Also notable is its treatment of the political developments that came out of the war in Vietnam.

It was also fascinating to revisit the state of the Democratic Party after the McGovern defeat in 1972 and compare that with the situation that the Republicans currently find themselves in.

On the negative side, the shifting timelines, probably necessitated the breath of scope and interconnectivity of the various sociological factors, tended to confuse this reader.

Finally, it was disappointing that, although the book was published in 2012, it does not treat discuss the resurgence in liberalism that came with the first Obama election. This is in spite of the author's speculation that "Whether the liberal left can, or wishes to, revive the political symbols and popular support necessary to begin anew the process of democratizing rights and social costs remain to be seen."
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Format: Paperback
An exhaustively researched and generally engagingly written examination of the shifting sociopolitical attitudes in the United States from Kennedy through Clinton.

Professor Self is particularly adroit in describing the archetypes that politicians and pundits used in framing their rhetoric. As an outgrowth of the booming post-World War II society, the idea of "breadwinner liberalism" gained a strong foothold, canonizing the dynamic of Dad going to work while Mom stayed home to raise the children. While this scenario was never as pervasive as the "Leave It to Beaver" script writers would have us believe, it became an entrenched aspirational ideal for many citizens and policymakers in the 1960s.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, the push for greater positive rights protections for women and gays in the '60s and '70s, and the shifting economic focus of politicians in and out of power realigned the debate. "Breadwinner liberalism" gave way to a market-driven laissez-faire antithesis, "breadwinner conservatism," which sought the reaffirmation of cherished family archetypes against what were perceived as encroachments by groups (blacks, women, LGBT individuals) seeking positive rights protections. These protections were often characterized by those in resistance to them as pleas for special rights and threats to venerated ideals, when in point of fact these rights protections had historically been enjoyed only by a minority of the population (white heterosexual men).

A well-done work of political history.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I found Self's explication of the cultural dynamics underpinning our politics over the past 50 years interesting but ultimately unsatisfying. Too frequently, Self's own ideological leanings get in the way of his story. Also, it's particularly annoying for an historian to get facts wrong. For example, Self misidentifies the 1950's televangelist Oral Roberts as one who rose in the 70's along with Falwell, Robertson, et.al. In fact, Roberts, like Billy Graham, was largely eclipsed by the 70's televangelists.

Anyone wanting a deep understanding of US political history, post-War through the 1980's told in extremely entertaining fashion would be better served by any of Rick Perlstein's works.
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