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The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family Paperback – March 18, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
ointing to contemporary attitudes on divorce, homosexuality, children born out of wedlock, fatherlessness and cohabitation as challenges to the stability of traditional marriage, bestselling author and former secretary of education Bennett (The Book of Virtues; The Death of Outrage) argues that people must take steps to restabilize the institution because "(t)he nuclear family, defined as a monogamous married couple living with their children, is vital to civilization's success." Articulate and impassioned as always, Bennett delivers a forceful defense of his position with selective quotations from studies like Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur's Growing Up with a Single Parent and What's Happening to the American Family? by Sar A. Klevitan et al.; prominent politicians like former senator Patrick Moynihan; and literary sources from the Bible to the pro-lesbian children's book Heather Has Two Mommies. Although Bennett refers in passing to being a child of divorce and offers the teachings of his Catholic faith as a template for marital constancy, he shares no personal anecdotes from his own presumably successful marriage. Nor does he quote interviews with other happily married couples or divorce survivors. As a result, the structure of the book resembles that of a legal brief (Bennett counts a law degree from Harvard among his many academic achievements). However, he does not include citations, as he would in a brief, for some of his more arresting pronouncements, such as, "Cohabiting couples show lower levels of sexual satisfaction than do married couples." In a too-brief discussion of remedies to reverse the trends he sees, Bennett proposes repealing no-fault divorce, reaffirming publicly the centrality of family with churches assuming moral leadership, tightening the payment structure for mothers with dependent children and supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. (Sept. 25)Forecast: Bennett's bestselling record and ability to act as a magnet for controversy will no doubt create an early sales spike. Some loyal readers may be disappointed, however, by his evasiveness about his personal experience.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
"The nuclear family is vital to civilization's success," argues the conservative social critic, practicing Catholic, and author of the best sellers The Death of Outrage (1998) and The Book of Virtues (1993). Bennett's new book traces the influence of Judaism, Christianity, and eras marked by large cultural changes (such as the Renaissance and Victorian England) on the development of the Western family. He then identifies and strongly attacks the contemporary social forces that he feels are destroying this institution. Concentrating his criticism on three social trends the wide acceptance of cohabitation, the institution of no-fault divorce, and the increasing acceptance of the idea of same-sex marriage the author argues that they cut into the family's moral foundation. He also indicts our society for its tolerance of the high rates of out-of-wedlock births and the low fertility rates of two-parent families and blames the courts for giving "primacy to the values of personal autonomy and individual liberties" instead of family unity. Most of all, he bemoans a shift in values to the view that how one defines a family is "no business of the wider community." Bennett's forceful assault on political correctness relies on his own deeply held beliefs. For public libraries where he has a following. Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib., CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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This book focuses on what Bennett calls the moral collapse of the American Family. After doing a general overview of the moral condition of our society as a whole, Bennett zeros in the significant changes in the family, especially marriage, in the 20th Century. In his usual straightforward manner, Bennett presents a strong and revealing summary, covering the subjects of cohabitation, illegitimacy, and fatherlessness. This is probably the strongest and most insightful chapter of Bennett's book. Written some eight years ago, what he wrote about then is right on target today.
Though some my disagree with me, like the radical feminists and gay activists, the family has always been the foundation of a society--the health of the family unit is a litmus test of how healthy civilization is as a whole. With such a large absent-father rate, especially in minority communities--80% of the black households and growing even larger, our families are fractured and degenerating fast. I agree with Bennett that with families in such a dismal condition it is no wonder we have dysfunctional and neurotic children growing up and flooding our prisons, mental hospitals, and welfare programs. Educators don't know what to do with them either, so they just pacify and pass them through the school system and on into the adult society.
Bennett is fearless in addressing the Gay agenda. As an historian in his own right, he points out that ours is not the first society to wrestle with a growing homosexual population. Most of us know that a failure to read, understand and learn from the past will surely doom a society. Look what happened to great and powerful Roman society. As a result of their conciliatory response, the strength of their communities and government were so eroded until the entire society collapsed under the weight of its own immoral blight. They weren't the only civilization that suffered this end either. And now, here we are again!
Bennett's chapter on divorce is more of a reminder than new insight. His statement, "Almost every reader of this book has either been divorced for knows a family member or friend who has been divorced. And yet almost every reader of this book over the age of fifty can also remember a time when divorce was not only rare but was regarded as a catastrophic event." is familiar, but are we really listening? We are told today that the divorce rate is actually going down. If I learned anything in school, it was that statistics can be manipulated to say pretty much anything you want them to say. Do I sound like a skeptic? On this matter...you bet.
William Bennett wraps up his relatively short book with a chapter entitled A Few Home Truths. If you choose to read The Broken Hearth, which I highly recommend, don't fail to read this chapter too. It's the frosting on the cake.
As many readers probably did, I was also looking for what Bennett saw as possible solutions to the problems he identified. I realized these issues are so large they don't have an easy fix. Like it or not, they are now part of the social fabric of who we are. But that shouldn't prevent individuals, from getting involved--Like William Bennett did. Just look at the waves Bill Cosby created when he pointedly addressed the failings of the black community. He took a beating, but that didn't stop him. For some of these issues, it may be a matter of how to get started. Nearly every author is reachable by phone, e-mail or letter. Since he didn't address this in his book, I say let's ask Mr. Bennett how he suggests we start. For those brave hearts who are interested, I will do a little research on how to contact Mr. Bennett and add that information to my review.
One side note: After reading the reviews and comments to reviews on this book, I would like to add the following. If you're going to write a review of The Broken Hearth, or add comments to another review, please respect the author, Amazon.com, and the other reviewers by at least reading the book, the entire book, before commenting. And also please refrain from spilling your socio-ideological guts out all over Mr. Bennett instead of adding a beneficial and thoughtful review. By doing so, everyone wins.
These trends, taken together, have had an enormous impact on Western culture.
Consider but one of the monumental changes taking place to day: the push for homosexual marriage. "What is being demanded," says Bennett, "Is the most revolutionary change ever made to our most important institution." To radically alter the nature of marriage is to at the same time pry marriage from its cultural, social, religious and biological underpinnings. Once done, it then can be redefined by anyone at will.
Bennett is clever enough to realize that there is no single cause to the collapse of the traditional family. The are economic, legal and cultural reasons one can adduce. For example, radical feminism has taken its toll. So too have liberalized divorce laws. The massive increase of working mothers is another factor. The rise and triumph of the sexual revolution is yet another important factor.
And he is not asking us to turn back the clock - at least not all of it. Some social changes of the past have century have been helpful. But if the over-all direction we are taking is unproductive, and in fact harmful, then it is time to reassess our direction.
As C.S. Lewis has reminded us, progress can only be achieved by getting to where you want to go to. If you have taken a wrong turn along the way, the first step is to go back to that point. And if over thirty years of social science research is correct in telling us that marriage and family breakdown are serious and damaging social problems, then the sooner we start our u-turn, the better.
Bennett says that while we all must play a part in the rescue of marriage and family, it is important that societies and governments also play their role. And he reminds us that social trends are not irreversible. "Other social problems once thought to be intractable have, after all, yielded to resolute action." The negative trends we see all around us can be turned around, if the have the commitment and care to see things change.
Part of the way we turn things around is to tell people the truth - the truth that marriage and family are good for children, for parents and society. And this book helps to make that case.