January 26th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Natural Family as an integrative social force in American history

EDITORIAL The Remnant, resistant, creative minority

ENERGY POLICY Enough hot air about carbon dioxide; let's talk LPG

CANBERRA OBSERVED Federal election: the media have done our duty at the polls for us

NSW ELECTION NSW is just starting to sizzle

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Archbishop Wilson free, but trial was no witchhunt

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Awaiting Hayne: full report sure to shake finance sector

LIFE ISSUES The unvarnished truth about surrogacy

HIGHER EDUCATION Massification: that's the name of the game

SOCIETY Dover Beach: a mordant post-Christmas reflection

IRELAND TODAY Celtic Tiger changed out of all recognition

MUSIC One note does not a monotone make

CINEMA Aquaman: High fantasy in ocean depths

BOOK REVIEW Uninformed consent

BOOK REVIEW A thoroughly modern movement

BOOK REVEW The foundation of a successful society


Books promotion page

The foundation of a successful society

News Weekly, January 26, 2019

FAMILY CYCLES: Strength, Decline and Renewal in American Domestic Life, 1630–2000

by Allan C. Carlson

Transaction, Piscatawy, New Jersey
Paperback: 182 pages
Price: AUD$58.95

Reviewed by Peter Westmore

Allan Carlson, arguably the United States’ foremost historian and sociologist of the family, wrote this important book to document historical cycles of strength and weakness in the family in the U.S. from the country’s settlement as a number of British colonies in the 1630s to the present day.

This is an important and provocative book, which deserves to be widely read. This short review can only touch the surface of his arguments, so you need to read the book.

Dr Carlson clearly hopes that by inves­tigating the pattern of growth and decline in the family unit over nearly 400 years, he might identify the causes and point to the future of the institution that has underpinned the growth of the U.S. to global pre-eminence.

Allan Carlson was the guiding light in the formation of the World Congress of Families, of which he was for many years president. He has written about 14 books on the family, not merely in the U.S. but also in Western Europe, from where most American families originally came and deeply influenced historical trends in the U.S.

The subtitle of his book, “Strength, Decline and Renewal in American Domestic Life 1630-2000”, summarises the ambitious aim of the author: to discover the underlying trends in family life over the past four centuries, to help us understand the possible future.

The surprising conclusion that Dr Carlson reaches is that family life in the United States has waxed and waned since European settlement began.

He traces the role of the family during America’s early growth along the east coast, the conflict with Britain which gave rise to the revolutionary war of the 1770s, the post-revolutionary period, the impact of the American Civil War of the 1860s, the expansion of America through the period leading to World War I and the Great Depression.

Earlier sociological theories saw the family as either a traditional unit that was replaced by the individual, or an economic unit in capitalist America, or as the social structure for procreation. Carlson describes it as the natural unit of love and mutual support, functioning across generations, and fundamental to the stability of society.

From this vantage point, he traces four distinct cycles of growth and decline in family life, over this 400-year period.

The first cycle began with the Puritans who settled in Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Theirs was an avowedly Christian venture to bring the purest principles of the Reformation to the New World, based on the family unit, self-sufficiency and ordered liberty in an agrarian environment.

Dr Carlson found that, after 50 years of relative stability, a decline set in, with a dramatic decline in family size, rising demands for autonomy by young people, and the breakdown of the Puritan moral code, partly driven by rising prosperity.

From 1730, American families began a new resurgence, as the availability of new farmland, coupled with stable government, encouraged the growth of families, and the resultant larger population created markets for oats, wheat, sugar and tobacco, as well as domestic production. At this time, it was estimated that America’s population growth was twice that of Europe, growth founded upon stable families.

This period came to an end with the divisions created by the Revolutionary War, when the old family structure broke down, trade with Britain was destroyed and, with it, the prosperity of many, and the political structures of the now independent nation were poorly established.

The period from 1830 to 1880 was one of recovery, then massive growth as the new nation stretched out across the continent, on the back of the Industrial Revolution and the spread of Victorian morality, deeply influenced by Britain.

These developments were documented by visitors to America, including the celebrated Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who identified the United States as a new utopia in his influential work, Democracy in America.

The decades after the Civil War, when the end to free land grants was accompanied by rising divorce, rising poverty and the growth of cities built around the new industries, again experienced a retreat from marriage, disguised by high levels of immigration from Europe.

Wars and the rejection of children played a significant role in the decline.

Dr Carlson next traces the surprising rise of family stability in the U.S. from the 1930s to the 1970s, and its decline from the beginning of the Western world’s Cultural Revolution since then.

Surveying this record of ebb and flow, Dr Carlson points out that the founding principles of a strong society include a family-centred worldview, a culture that welcomes children and rewards larger families, the widespread ownership of property, a vibrant family-based economy such as the family farm and small business, a prosperous middle class, complementary sex roles of men and women and fathers and mothers, and a strong sense of womanhood.

There is a great deal to ponder here, as we consider the future of our own society in the 21st century.

Purchase this book at the bookshop:


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