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Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life Paperback – September 17, 2007
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Because of this, there may be less coherence in the flow of the book than there could be. But there is so much "meat" in the book that it is still a good read. But because there are so many quotable areas, and so many opinions expressed, I'm sure a variety of reviews could flow from the book. Here's mine:
The thesis of the book appears to be the argument that in a simpler America, we were tied by obvious economic and social interactions. We could be fiercely individualistic, e.g., as the Blacksmith of a small community, but we were linked because our livelihood was probably dependent on neighbors, and our social base, probably our church, was common to the community.
But, today, with our "utilitarian individualism" remaining, we have spread out and now are confused by our links to our neighbors and communities. We move more often. We are not as likely to be economically dependent on our immediate neighbors. We can easily be convinced that the "success" we have achieved has been via our own hard work and ambition and that we may not have much responsibility to contribute back to our immediate neighbors or communities.
The book mentions, but does not dwell on, the Biblical tradition/obligation to respect and acknowledge the dignity of all. It also talks about the "underclass," saying at one point that solving its plight is one of the greatest challenges of all and that this will take an enormous amount of money.Read more ›
I think of most importance are the recommendations for transforming our country before we destroy our society. Some of the conclusions/recommendations:
- Learn again from the cultural riches of the human species and reappropriate and revitalize those riches
- Find connections and analogies with the older ways in which human life was made meaningful
- Recovery of a genuine tradition, one that is always self-revising and in a state of development
- "Unless we begin to repair the damage to our social ecology, we will destroy ourselves long before natural ecological disaster has time to be realized."
- We must give up our dream of private success for a more genuinely integrated societal community
- What we find hard to see is that it is the extreme fragmentation of the modern world that really threatens our individualism
- Change the relationship between our government and the economy. It would mean changing the climate in which business operates so as to encourage new initiatives in economic democracy and social responsibility
p26: "Our available moral traditions do not give us nearly as many resources for thinking about distributive justice as about procedural justice, and even fewer for thinking about substantive justice."
The first section of the book, entitled 'Private Life' is not useful. It attempts to classify American life into categories using (in vogue when this book was written) psychological jargon. On page 107, this is best said as "The only real social bonds are based on the free choices of our authentic selves." I'd recommend skipping chapters 3-5 and only reading 6, entitled 'Individualism' for context. Author(s) in charge of the private life section weave a narrative that is not likely to intersect much with the private life of the reader, and they are judgmental, hurting the objectivity of this work. Their pop psych equates humans to social herd animals. I found these chapters stupid.
The second section of the book, 'Public Life', largely redeems the book. Chapter 9, 'Religion' is the best analysis of modern American social life I've read, up there with De Tocqueville himself. Eloquent and amazing, whichever author wrote Chapter Nine is an insightful genius. Chapter 8 on citizenship is relevant yet distant, with the best part being p200-1 which examines the three conceptions of politics and how they relate to citizenship. Citizenship chapter was written by a member of the ruling class who has closely studied populism.
Then comes disappointment again, with Chapter 10 on 'The National Society'. It attempts to equate Reagan's neoclassical liberalism (which wasn't really his, but thought up his campaign donors) with FDR's welfare liberalism.Read more ›
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