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In the late 20th century, group boundaries became less formal and membership required less commitment (compare membership in the Masons with membership in the Borders Saturday morning book club), but the essential characteristic of voluntary rather than hereditary membership has not changed since Tocqueville’s day.One of the fascinating things about Fischer’s argument is how it forces a reconsideration of the causal assumptions rooted in right-wing or left-wing convictions.
His measured but upbeat view of the evolving American experience will disappoint the hell-in-a-handbasket crowd: he finds that Americans have grown more religious and charitable over time, and markedly less violent and nomadic, while remaining roughly unchanged in their propensity toward greed and consumerism. Fischer’s has rehabilitated the expression “American character,” at least for me.. And his book will take its place in a distinguished scholarly tradition that historians have all but abandoned for nearly half a century. Fischer’s book is a fine exercise in quiet iconoclasm. Fischer marshals that record into a narrative of growing material wealth and security, expanding opportunity, and the entrenchment of a style of life that he believes shaped “American character” in colonial days, and conclusively defines it now: voluntarism . But few are likely to be able to do so with the authority of Claude S Fischer, professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Through it all, he discerns a benignly Tocquevillian trait that he calls “voluntarism,” an individualism softened by unforced solidarity that fulfills itself by freely building communities, be they frontier villages, dissenting churches, egalitarian families, or Internet chat groups. Claude Fischer, however, dares to ask them [questions about the unifying elements in American diversity], and, as if to challenge his historian colleagues to reenter the discussion of national character, his answers draw on impressively exhaustive reading in the large but disarticulated library of social history that has emerged in the last few decades (the endnotes and bibliography add up to nearly half the pages of .) THE NEW REPUBLIC ONLINE, May 13, 2010: “Past Imperfect,” by Molly Worthen (Yale University), excerpts: [This] masterful and rewarding book covers three and a half centuries of values, needs, ambitions, and feelings, and debunks a host of common misconceptions about American history. His thesis—that over the past three centuries, economic growth and widening perimeters of social inclusion have enabled more people to share a uniquely American collective identity—may sound like heresy to many scholars. In , Fischer embarks on a vastly ambitious project: “to sketch how American culture and character changed – or did not change – over the course of the nation’s history”, from the colonial era until now.
There seem to be two common ways of doing social history. It is difficult not to admire what Fischer has accomplished in is an impressive intellectual achievement, and the book is very much worth reading.
The first is to state a thesis and draw upon cases and data that support and illustrate it. history to everyone interested in understanding America. The examples are varied and provocative as he finds evidence of Americans’ voluntaristic mindset not only in the founding of religious congregations, clubs and professional organizations, but also in the celebration of companionate marriages and even the twentieth-century retreat from public life . One reason it is so impressive is precisely that it is so ambitious.
The result is a shrewd, generous, convincing interpretation of American life. A.), excerpts: I [had] advised against the use of the term “American national character” on the grounds that it was misleading, . He concludes that, if anything, prosperity has enabled Americans to become more American ….
THE WILSON QUARTERLY, Summer 2010, “Pulse of the People,” by Daniel Walker Howe (U. (See full review here.) CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION “Page View” (Online), May 19, 2010, by David Glenn, excerpt: Throughout the book, Fischer warns against gauzy nostalgia.
Fischer energetically pursues that quest [to comprehend the American national character].
Kennedy (Stanford University), excerpts: In his brave and ambitious new book, , Claude S.
He writes not only for his fellow academics but also for the general literate public.. The British students I knew laughingly described their American counterparts: “Americans think death is optional.” (See full review here.) BOSTON REVIEW, November/December 2010, “A Question of Character,” by David M.
Whether or not the United States is unique, there does seem to be an American character type, and the belief that one can make it however one will—to become rich, popular, healthy, smart— seems a major feature of it.
For example, Fischer shows that during the past century the vast majority of Americans have gained greater personal security, due in large part to federal government programs epitomized by the New Deal (presumably Fischer would see Obamacare as part of this long-term trend).