When Barbara Dafoe Whitehead published her article "Dan Quayle Was Right" in the April 1993 issue of the Atlantic Monthly
, she caught many pundits, polemicists, and readers on their heels. Her argument provided a bracing wake-up call from the largely complacent attitude held toward the effects of divorce and single-parent families on the lives of children. Through thorough statistics, Whitehead demonstrated the real cost of divorce in terms of the diminished lives of America's children. That original argument is expanded to book length in The Divorce Culture
. Her book is a recapitulation of her original (and important) case that the state of families ought to be of vital concern to all of us. Now, however, her fresh approach is hardened into a more partisan temper, and her book provides little beyond moralism to chart a course for improvement. If Whitehead's point is that a moral reform is the only means of saving the family, then she at least owes a bit more sweat over the shape that that movement for moral reform ought to take, as well as some analysis of its likelihood of success. After all, if her diagnosis is correct, her prescription is of the greatest importance.
From Publishers Weekly
Whitehead faults three strands in the development of a divorce culture: a shift in the ethic of obligation to an ethic of self, an all-American reconception of divorce as a right and woman-friendly socio-economic shifts. Her conservative defense of traditional marriage criticizes both capitalism and liberalism. She attributes the rise of what she terms "expressive" divorce to a "model of family relationships based on marketplace notions of unfettered choice, limited warranties and contingent obligations." Whitehead shows how all sides in the culture wars have accepted divorce as morally valid and how stressed fathers and mothers transmit the suffering of these choices to children, the conception of divorce as a "psychological entitlement" being adversarial to children. Her stories of children from divorced families are poignant, making this an important book for those with younger children considering divorce. The author's antidote is to stop thinking about marriage in terms of the marketplace and recommit ourselves to civic and religious traditions of obligation. Whitehead is a freelance writer who specializes on matters of family and child well-being.
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