It is unusual for me to read a book aimed at popular conservative audiences.  I am something of a disaffected conservative. Crony capitalism and government overreach have proved to be bipartisan endeavors, and I have long lost faith that the Republican party can ever be more than an organ of America's governing elite. [1] Outside of the beltway the broader currents of mainstream conservatism are so full of angry sound and righteous fury (and nothing else) that I have long stopped paying close attention them. The movement is in desperate need of a clearer vision and more compelling purpose. 

 America 3.0 is the book to provide it. 

 James Bennet and Michael Lotus get everything right that all of the other popular commentators get wrong. In contrast to pundits incessantly focused on the character flaws of the opposition and controversies of the hour, these authors focus on the broad political principles and broad political context - "centuries into the past and decades into the future" (xxv).  Where most popular political creeds are shallow, filled more with hype and platitudes than meaningful evidence, America 3.0 is both respectful in tone and deeply researched (and none the less readable for it!). Few popular political works have any real historical grounding;  America 3.0 possesses this in spades. Even more impressively, the authors manage to convey both their sense of history and their firm belief in American exceptionalism without any of the reflexive chest-pounding sometimes mistaken as patriotism in conservative corners. (As they write in the introduction, "We are attempting to avoid setinmentalility in this book, and look at the record in a cold light. As we write things are not good in America. Being realistic is a matter of urgency (xxiv).") Most impressive of all is the political platform they lay out. In age where conservatives are too often defined by what they are against, America 3.0 paints a compelling picture of what they should be for.

All in all, a breath of fresh air.

The basic argument of America 3.0 is that the United States is in the midst of a epochal demographic, political, and economic transition. This has happened before. The world of the early American colonists, revolutionaries, and antebellum pioneers was vastly different from our own.  Their America (named America 1.0 in the book) was a nation of independent farmers; men did not have "jobs" working for corporations and businesses as we now think of them, but survived off what they could harvest, craft,  and sell. Government was mostly a local affair; larger government structures existed, of course, but their impact on daily life was negligible. In comparison to today's society, there was hardly any government at all. This society was not fated to last. A whole host of factors - urbanization, industrialization, changes in communication technology and a whole host of factors associated with the growth revolution - made old political and economic structures obsolete.  The transition to new forms was dirty and painful, but by the early 20th century the United States was reborn into America 2.0, land of big business, big government, big labor, - in short, big everything. In this America economies of scale, a rigid system of hierarchy and meritocracy, and mass production was the path to success. This was the America that defeated totalitarianism during the Second World War, became the center of world wide technological innovation and scientific advancement, and transformed into the largest and strongest economy of humanity's history.

But that is changing. The economic and demographic underpinnings of America 2.0 are eroding away. The coming order is what the authors call "America 3.0."

The authors chart the course of the future carefully. Their care is seen in the structure of the book itself; though the work is devoted to the future, six of its nine chapters are devoted to the past. The explanation for this focus is worth quoting in full:
"America is in urgent need of reform at a fundamental level. If we want to know what will work for us, in terms of political and economic reforms, we need to understand ourselves. That means we need to know what we are and how we are got to be like this. When we know that, we will be able to think intelligently about what we are today and what our realistic prospects and options are (25)."
The authors goes back very far in their search for understanding America's unique institutions and attitudes, beginning their search with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain c. 550 AD. I was delighted to find that much of this analysis rests of the work of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. I came across Mr. Todd's work a few months ago, and concluded immediately that he is the most under-rated "big idea" thinker in the field of world history. [2] Todd's focus is family structure; the observation that drives his work is that family life is vastly different from one region and culture to another. His big idea: all of this matters. Family structure is the foundation of cultural attitudes and expectations, and by logical extension the world's different political and economic structures closely mirror the families inside them.


The different family types of Europe.

Image Source: Frank Jacobs. "Family Ties." The New York Times. 17 June 2013.

Americans live in "Absolute Nuclear Families." In these families, children are expected to pack up and leave when they become adults. Parents have no legal control of who their children marry, and their children have no legal obligations to care for them. Parents can choose to give what they will to whom they will; while inheritance may be split up among children equally, it is not required by law or social custom. You do not marry your cousins. This all seems very normal to Americans but on the global scale it is actually quite rare. There are only a few other countries - Australia, England, Holland - whose families are structured similarly. (Think: to most of the world, the phrase "empty nester" makes no sense!) Interestingly, the countries with this type of family structure are consistently found to be the most individualistic on the Earth. This is the "deep structure" of American exceptionalism. In comparison to other countries and cultures, Americans are far more mobile, competitive, non-egalitarian, individualistic, selfish, enterprising, and dedicated to religion and volunteer work. Family structure does not explain all of this (the authors devote a chapter to the way England's medieval and enlightenment institutions - such as common law -   shape American practices to this day), but it is an undeniable part of the bedrock upon which American culture rests. These roots run deep. They persist from generation to generation. They pose a practical limit to the type of political system America can adopt. This is why European style social democracy could never catch on in America (it is also why Americans have had such difficulty exporting 'American style' democracy to countries like Afghanistan, whose society is built around the clan).  

Luckily for us, the authors claim, the economic, demographic, and political trends of our time are leading to a world where the autonomous, enterprising, and individualistic features of American society will be a competitive asset. This transition is inevitable. The 2.0 model is broken. Labor unions are gone. Public programs are supported with a debt the government cannot possibly hope to pay back. Federal regulations and taxation are too complex to understand and rigged by the wealthy and powerful for their own advantage. Big business cannot offer the job security they once did. The executive branch is oversized, the military industrial complex out of control, and the legislative branch is closer to K-street lobbyists than the people who elected them. America has the largest prison population in the world but bails out and excuses criminals on Wall Street. The whole thing is a plutocratic mess of chilling proportions. But the system is not sustainable. What cannot go on, will not. Americans trying to shore up unions, the welfare state, or stable corporate monopolies like the kind we had in the 1940s and 50s are doomed to fail, having no more hope of bringing back America 2.0 than William Jennings Bryant did of restoring America 1.0 in his day. The future is coming. The proposals in this book "are meant to reduce the difficulty of the transition (187)." 

I will not summarize the predictions the authors make for the new America at great length - they do that themselves in an entertaining chapter devoted to visiting "America in 2040." It is enough to say that in many ways the new America will be closer in image to America 1.0 than 2.0. As with America 1.0, "the entire concept of 'job" is going to away" (187), as more and more Americans work from home in a manner not too different from their Colonial forefathers. 3-D printing and additive manufacturing will make any home a factory; production of goods will be as decentralized as production of software is today. American political structures will follow suit, and the authors go so far as to suggest that states like California, Texas, and New York may split into more manageable units. I found this section of immense interest; long time readers will know that the urgent need for political decentralization is a common theme at the Stage. [3] The authors agree with this sentiment, but go much further than I have, suggesting a  series of reforms that move talk of decentralization from the realm of abstract political principle to concrete action. The book is worth reading for these twenty pages on decentralization alone.  Key to the program is the goal to "push as many contentious issues as possible to the most basic local level as possible, and then reducing the transaction costs as low as possible (229)." In other words, let each community decide its own policy on social issues but make it as easy as possible for people to switch from one community to another. If state senators in Connecticut want to ban the ownership of assault rifles - let them! If a small town in Utah wants to require every teacher to carry a gun with them to school - let them! If you do not like the policies in your community, move to somewhere new. The end result will be drastic idealogical sorting, as people move to the communities who have the laws and services they want their government to have. 

Mr. Lotus and Bennett expect the shift from America 2.0 to 3.0 to be long and difficult. Indeed, implementing the reforms needed to make America 3.0 succeed will be "hellishly difficult (234)." Nevertheless, the authors are "betting on the positive scenario (22)" that the reform will happen without any systematic collapse. I am less sanguine. My pessimism reflects something the book seems to pass over: the drastic decline in American "social capital," or the social networks and friendships that allow people to work together.

Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone is the classic account of American social capital and its precipitous decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Since "the greatest generation" that fought in WWII, each generation of Americans that has followed has been less likely to vote, to participate in community groups like the PTA, Boy Scouts, or even neighborhood bowling leagues,  to give charitable service, attend Church, have dinner parties, or trust strangers than the generation before it. Socially isolated Americans of this type will have trouble doing anything "hellishly difficult" for social capital is what effective political movements are built upon. Putnam includes a wonderful chapter in his book on the progressive movement, which was the movement that engineered America's transition to the 2.0 model. [4] Putnam points out that the progressive movement was one of the few true "grass roots" political movements in American history. Central to their success in the 1900s and 1910s was the dense network of reading groups, charity clubs, churches, and political committees they created or joined during the 1880s and 1890s. (Most of America's famous civic groups today - Big Brothers, Sierra Club, NAACP, the Red Cross, the PTA, Rotary, and many more - were founded in the thirty years between 18980 and 1910). Putnam argues convincingly that the progressive movement could not have happened without this explosion in civic activism. The progressives did not just found the political order of America 2.0 - they founded the civic associations and institutions of American 2.0 as well. Lotus and Bennett place the high point of America 2.0 at 1960 - this is too was the high water mark for American civic engagement. The civic organizations (and the lifestyle they promoted) lasted the duration of America 2.0, and have fallen into decline with it. 

Given the excellent treatment of the of America's economic and political insitutions, the precious little the authors had to say about America's religious and civic institutions was disappointing.  More importantly, they have little to say about how to rekindle America's civic spirit or what forms America 3.0's civic associations might take. This is a critical omission. If past American political experience is anything to go by, then bottom-up reforms cannot and will not happen without the kind of social capital   that conquers hellish tasks. 

My hope is that those who read this book will have their own ideas on how to bring a civic renewal to America 3.0. The ideas in the book - particularly the parts about decentralization - are worth organizing for. 

But enough on that theme.  America 3.0 is an excellent book. It is an example of a historically grounded and thoroughly researched book designed to reach popular audiences - in other words, what all political tracts should be like. Even those who disagree with the authors will find the style and substance of this work admirable. 5 stars.  

Note: a slightly condensed version of this review has been posted on Amazon.com. If this review has been useful to you, I encourage you to 'like' it - and buy the book!


-------------

[1] See T. Greer. "Ominous Parallels: What Antebellum America Can Teach Us About Our Modern Political Regime." The Scholar's Stage. 26 February 2013. 

[2] His "big idea" book is Emmanuel Todd, Explanation of Ideology: Family Structure and Social Systems. trans. David Garroch. (New York: Blackwell Publishing). 1989. Brian Michlthwait and hbd*chick are the two people to have posted extended summaries online. The second author is a genetic determinist, and thus disagrees with many of Todd's major points, but she summarizes his contentions well. 

[3] Most recently expressed in T. Greer. "Far Left and Far Right: Two Peas in a Pod." The Scholar's Stage. 10 April 2013. 


[4] Robert Putnam. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. (New York: Simon and Shuster.) 2001. Ch. 23. "The Lessons of History: The Gilded Age and the Progressive Movement". p 367-402.

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16 comments


Thank you for this thoughtful and encouraging review.

As to civil society, we mentioned civil society in the future twice. Both times we say that we are not sure what form it will take in the future. We also say that an overly powerful state crowds out civil society. It is not in the book, but in my view, and based on responses which I have read but cannot cite without research, I believe Putnam overstates his case on the isolation of modern Americans.

As to religion in the future, we suggest that more religious families tend to have more children and may "inherit the Earth over a few generations
through a steady demographic shift." Nonetheless, it is true that we did not say a lot about religion in the future. It is very hard to predict politics, economics and technology, let alone the movements of the Holy Spirit and often completely unexpected explosions of religious enthusiasm.

The two quotes regarding civil society are below.

“[A] revival of civil society appears to be in store. New technology, which allows people to connect in new ways, is likely to lead to a revival of civil society in new forms. We expect this process to continue and to evolve rapidly. What we now refer to as “social media” are only early and primitive versions of the civil society-enabling technology we will be seeing in the years ahead. Nonetheless it is too early to say exactly how, and how much, new technology will revive and strengthen civil society.”

“[A] quirk in English law, which appeared apparently out of pure happenstance, was essential to the later rise of American freedom and prosperity. The revival and strengthening of civil society in the future, including pushing back against the ever-encroaching tentacles of the state, is a critical task for the future of America. The equity lawyers eight-hundred years ago managed to push back successfully, and in our own day and age, we need to find new ways to repeat that success. ”

June 10, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Thank you for responding here.

I would love to see anything you have come across that suggests Mr. Putnam overstates the problem. In my view his work - really an update on one of Tocqueville's more compelling theses - is foundational to understanding America's current crisis. I have read a few critiques of his work and have been convinced by few - but if you are aware of data that runs counter the mass he has established (or explains it differently), I am interested in seeing it.

I was going to devote a whole post to what follows, but I don't think I will get the time, so I will go ahead and share my thoughts in an abbreviated in version absent foot notes.

We cannot expect the elite - or even a section of it - to spear head these reforms. They may 'convert' some time after the movement gains steam (as happened with the progressives), but this has to be a grass-roots effort.

America has only experienced a few truly grass-root political movements on a national scale. In the centuries of her history I can only identify three: 1) The democratic and civic explosion of the Jacksonian age 2) the progressive movement's complete capture of American politics in the 1900s and 1910s 3) the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

The interesting thing about all three of these movements is that each came on the heels of a 'civic reawakening' - a strengthening and deepening of the reformer's social networks. The 1820s was the "Second Great Awakening" during which religious revivals and Methodist traveling ministries swept across the nation. The same people involved in this religious revival spearheaded the many civic movements of the day. The most successful was the temperance movement (which, without any government action, cut the amount of alcohol consumed in America by a factor of eight), but the creation of mass political parties and the abolitionist movement were other manifestations of the same explosion. These movements relied on the same social networks set up by the revivalists and copied their organizational models. Without the social capital created in the 2nd Great Awakening, Tocqueville's America would not exist.

The progressive movement has already been discussed; the civil rights' reliance on the leadership and social networks provided by closely knit black congregations is well known. In all cases close knit social networks preceded joint action.

This is why I find these questions so important. Change from the top can happen without much social cohesion. Solidarity is needed if change is to come from the bottom. Resurrecting America's civic culture is necesseity - thus my queries on that count. (As the structure of religious and civic associations parallel each other across American history, I expanded the query to religious org. as well).

June 10, 2013 at 10:49 PM

This is why European style social democracy could never catch on in America (it is also why Americans have had such difficulty exporting 'American style' democracy to countries like Afghanistan, whose society is built around the clan).

But most of the UK has a similar understanding of the family, as does the Netherlands, both of which are European social democracies (or at least, were until the rightward lurch of the past couple of years). Undoubtedly the presence of corporate descent groups affects the way larger political structures work, and clans are fundamentally inimical to modern life and democracy, but it seems that there are several types of family that are perfectly friendly to democracy and other social innovations.

June 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM

@Al West- I suppose much of this depends on what one calls "European style social democracy." It is a fuzzy term. Luckily, a great deal of research has been done over the last few years testing Todd's theories against the data. A few of the studies you might be interested in:

Vincenzo Galasso and Paola Profeta.
"When the State Mirrors the Family
The Design of Pension Systems"


Gilles Durantona, Andrés Rodríguez-Poseb, and Richard Sandall. "Family Types and the Persistence of
Regional Disparities in Europe"



Virginie Mamadouh. "A political-cultural map of Europe. Family structures and the origins of differences between national political cultures in the European Union"


Alberto Alesina, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, Paola Giuliano.
"Family Values and the Regulation of Labor"



The pension system described in the first article are fair examples of how ANF 'social democracy' tends to differ from the more standard type. The abstract of that paper summarizes their conclusions rather well:

"that medieval family structures (based on Emmanuel Todd’s classification) have influenced the design of pension systems since their introduction, shaping the fundamental
characteristics that are still entailed in the current systems, and that differentiate them
across countries. In particular, in societies dominated by absolute nuclear families, i.e.
weak family ties (f.i. Anglo-saxon countries), we observe the emergence of a pension
system which acts as a flat safety net entailing the largest within-cohort redistribution
than societies dominated by any other type of family.
This link between the type of
families and the design of pension systems is robust to including several other variables,
which may constitute alternative explanations of the introduction of the pension systems,
such as legal origin, religion, urbanization and democratization of the country at the time
of the introduction, and the current GDP, share of elderly in the population, electoral
rules and forms of government. Interestingly, historical family types matter for explaining
the design of the pension systems, which represents a persistent feature, but not their size,
which have largely changed over time.

June 11, 2013 at 10:52 AM

One more point - I do not dispute that many types of families can pull off democracy successfully. It is simply a question of what kind of democratic instutions they will form to do so. Lotus and Bennett introduce the American ANF to their discussion as a preface to some fairly unique - but historically reccurring - features of American culture and society. Americans have always been very mobile, for instance. This should not be surprising, as the ANF forces all the kids, in Tocqueville's phrase, "to flee the poverty facing them under their father's roofs" (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Gerald Bevan. p. 354).* Americans are very tolerant on inequality of outcome - they tend to believe it right and fair that everybody does not end up with the same thing, as long as they are percieved to have an equal starting point. Here again a close parallel can be found in family life - from a young age Americans realize that they are not entitled to equal treatment by their parents; most inheritances are not evenly distrubuted among the children. And so on and so forth.

All of these historically enduring cultural traits will affect political structures. It certaintly does not mean that ANF automatically lead to democracy - if ANF hails back to the Saxons and Jutes, then demcracy is fairly new innovation.** It does mean that it will be easier to impose some types of structures or practices than others (or at least use very different rhetoric to justify innovations!)

When creating a new political program it makes sense to take these things into account.



*Notice also T's observation on the difference between the Anglo-American (ANF) settlers of the new World and the French Canadaians to their North:

"I have met met in New England prepared to abadon their homeland, where they might have a comfortable living, to seek their fortune in the wilderness. Nearby I saw French Canadians crowded in a land which was too narrow for them while wilderness lie near at hand; The Canadian paid as igh a price for land as he would have in France, while the immigrant in the United State recieved an entire estate at the price of a few days work.

Thus nature, presenting the Europeans with the empty lands of the New World, offers them something they do not always know hot to use."
-- Democracy in America, p. 359


**One common fallacy related to this theme is the notion that individualism is a sheild against tyranny or despotism. This is a noxious falsehood. 20th century totalitarism is not the only type of despotism worth fearing. If tyranny ever comes to America, it will not be as the dyspotian collectives of Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World, but in the apathetic, individualized, hedonistic, and atomized society of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Tocqueville's "Soft Despotism". Individualism can be a curse or a blessing - each generation of Americans has to decide which it shall be.

June 11, 2013 at 11:33 AM

I purchased this book because I heard about it on a radio program. I liked the concept of America 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. When I actually began to read the book I found that after this premise it offered me little. The ideas were for the most part obvious. To me, the main problem today is cultural change. If we did not have that, I would agree with the premise of the book. The authors gloss over that problem and base their book on the premise that our Germanic and English roots will see us through. To me, those roots include morals, work ethic, religion, respect for one another, hope for the future, etc. Today I see those roots shriveling. Women have abandoned their morals because they want control over their body. They cannot figure out how to avoid pregnancy so they just get pregnant and abort the "thing". Couples no longer marry. Living on the dole is better than working. Those that want to work cannot find jobs. Religion is dying a slow death. We celebrate those who fail. Being gay is a sacrament. Being a felon is a sacrament. Taking drugs and singing filthy songs are great. I do not see our German and English roots as being strong enough to change this. The demographics of our country are changing rapidly. The concepts in this book rely on that being reversible and it is not.

June 11, 2013 at 11:33 AM

@The Bobba-

The broad outlines of the 'cultural change' you talk about is correct. Charles Murray points out in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-201 that this decline has not affected all parts of American society equally. The poor segments of American society have head long abandoned his four measures of the (self reported) meaningful life - honesty, industry, marriage, and religiosity. Notably, the same time period has seen these groups lose out in access to America's economic growth, and they have been the hardest hit by the economic transition away from manufacturing.

I wish the authors had devoted some time to sketching out where they see this going in the future. (I was going to mention this in the review, but I was short on space already and did not want to make it any longer.) How will the economic changes of America 3.0 change America's 'lower class'? The creative class has a lot to gain from a world of additive manufacturing and political decentralization - what about those people who just aren't bright enough to engineer their own products? What hope does this world have for the over worked single mother with three mouths to feed? What of the people who have been too busy or (conversely) too lazy to be a part of their community? So many of these people have abdicated civic responsibility - will they be able to find it again in time to be a part of the decentralized political order that will demand it from them? I may devote a post to this in the future; as it stands now, the book has left with more questions than answers.

In any case, Charles Murray's Coming Apart and Robert Putnam's Bowlign Alone are good correctives to the optimism expressed in America 3.0. I recommend reading the last book with the first two in mind.

June 11, 2013 at 12:01 PM

The obvious problem with this research is that it assumes that somehow Anglo-Saxon family structures were transplanted to the USA wholesale. The largest ethnic groups in America are the Germans and Irish, neither of whom are Anglo-Saxons and neither of whom, according to this research, have the right family structure. Unless you assume that kinship is somehow so easily transferable and that Germans will somehow adopt Dutch and English family forms despite being in a clear majority in many locales - and I see no evidence of this - then it is hard to maintain that this kind of family is really the so-called 'deep structure' of American society. It's not a majority Anglo-Saxon society. If Anglo-Saxons imposed their kinship style on Germans, Swedes, Irish, and others, then they can only have done so through law, commerce, or other variables, meaning that at the very least this kinship is not the deep structure at all, but merely one component of a much more complex and inter-related structure.

So I'm still sceptical. I don't doubt that kinship has profound political repercussions - clans, of course, are unlikely to tolerate threats to their authority, and will actively resist states - but I don't think kinship is as fundamental as all that, and it seems to me that kinship varies according to developments in economic and political spheres as well (certainly clans and castes can be rendered impotent by the power of the state, changing the game a great deal). So it's hard to see it as the key determining factor in state societies. It may have some role in determining pension schemes and other things like that, but that's not quite the same as determining the kind of society people want to live in, exactly.

So the kinship structure probably doesn't go back to the Anglo-Saxons, because it isn't mostly Anglo-Saxons who live in America. Look at Canada: it has a largely Anglo-Saxon-derived population than the USA, with French, English, and Irish settlers in the main, but it doesn't have the same kind of political system or opposition to state power as the USA. I put this down to recent history, as does Steven Pinker: the state marched to the west alongside pioneers, instead of expanding in the wake of European migration onto the plains. In the USA, the state came rather late, after people had already eked out a more violent but 'freer' way of life. In Canada, the state was there to pick up the pieces for most settlers in the west.

In any case, the early Anglo-Saxons did not live in nuclear families, but in sibs - extended kindreds with obligations and rights extending far, far further than the nuclear family. If you killed a man, then you owed money, weregild, to his parents and siblings - ie, his brothers, sisters, and cousins, all the way out to seventh cousins, people we would barely consider related at all. This was not anything like the modern nuclear family. It is true that younger sons were expected to find a new abode when they got married (neolocal post-marital residence, as they call it), but this is true of plenty of other societies, and neolocality is hardly the root of democracy or libertarianism, or opposition to the state, or America's rugged individualism, or anything similar.

Anyway, as it happens, I rather like European-style social democracies, so I'm not such a fan of this idea, nor do I think so-called 'American exceptionalism' is a good thing if it is a thing at all. So I don't find any of this especially compelling. It seems to me that America would be greatly improved were it to become a European-style social democracy, and wouldn't have such enormous social problems, like the absurdly high murder rate - the gun murder rate alone is about fourteen times as high as the total murder for the United Kingdom (in a population of 62,000,000, there are only about 650 murders per year here in total, compared to over 10,000 in an average year in the US). But your mileage may vary.

June 11, 2013 at 12:11 PM

That's 10,000 gun murders in the US per year - it's usually about 17,000 in total, which is of course far higher than 650. And the suicide rate is higher, too, both of these being due to the availability of guns. The state should step in but can't, seemingly because of rabid anti-government opposition.

June 11, 2013 at 12:15 PM

@Al West -


1. As to America's varied cultural heritage:


The authors suggest that most immigrants have been subsumed into the earlier Anglo-American culture(s). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America" is the book to read here. I have not found a person who had not read the book and immediately acclaimed it. In Albion's Seed David Hacket-Fischer posits that America has been historically divided into four broad cultural groups, each finding their cultural beginnings in the British settlement of America. An amazon.com review provides a summary:

"The first major wave consisted predominantly of the Puritans from East Anglia who settled in New England between 1629 and 1640, the years immediately preceding the English Civil War in which Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan army defeated and beheaded King Charles I.

The second wave consisted of defeated (or soon to be defeated) supporters of the king and the Established (Anglican) Church of England, primarily from the south and west of England, who settled in the Chesapeake Bay regions of Virginia and Maryland between 1642 and 1675.

The third wave was the migration of Quakers from the English midlands (and their religious kin from various German sects) who settled in the Delaware Valley (southeast Pennsylvania, west New Jersey, north Delaware) between 1675 and 1615.

Finally, the "Scotch-Irish", referring collectively to immigrants from the north of England, lowland Scotland, and Ulster, settled the Appalachian backcountry from Pennsylvania southwest through Virginia, the Carolinas, and into Tennessee and Kentucky from 1717 to 1775. Less homogenous in religion than the prior waves, the Scotch-Irish were a mixture of Presbyterians, the dominant group, and Anglicans, a significant minority.


Fischer then goes to trace the evolution of these groups through ought American history, and shows how they are still the prime divisions of American cultural life today. The Anglo Americans -and their family types - swallowed those who came later.

Bennett and Lotus have a lot to say about this. To quote just briefly from the 5 or so pages they devote to this very point:

June 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM

"For a long time the majority of people in the U.S.A. have not been of English origin. Yet the many other groups who have moved to the USA, while retaining many elements of their old ways, over a few generations, have ended up adopting the American style of family, along with the English language.

...

There was also a degree of compulsory assimilation... The most effective method was the unabashed use of compulsory schools to push the children of immigrants to become "Americanized." Children born here grew up speaking English and fell away from the cultural orbit of the "old country", wherever that may have been.

A less appreciated factor was the American legal system, which compelled people to adopt American legal and inheritance practices... Other cultural systems could not take root or survive for long in America because the law would not enforce any other system with regard to spouse selection, inheritance, or household formation.

The protection of freedom of choice in marriage partners, especially for women, was critical to the assimilation process. People who moved to America, and more importantly their children, faced no legal obstacles, a and few social ones, to choosing their own spouses. In America, parents hd no legal authority to interfere with the marriage decisions of adult children, whatever the law and customs may have ben back in the 'old country'...

The story of immigrants coming to America for opportunity and freedom, but feeling like they are losing their children to a culture they do not always like or understand, is an old one that has been repeated many times. There is an element of sadness to this. This process of loss may b felt as tragic to the parents, but it has been a triumph for Americans over the centuries. We have peacefully, though not painlessly, assimilated millions of people, one marriage and one family at a time, into a shared culture. It is part of the price, often unrecognized, that many people paid to to come to America and be a part of it."
(p. 53-55)

June 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM

I have lived close to - and for at least two years - among America's immigrant communities many times in my life. I can confirm though personal observation (subjective as it may be) how true most of this is - how the children of Indians and Chinese and Cambodians marry and think and organize their families like the other Americans around them (especially those of the same socio-economic class), and not in the way their parents did.

This does not mean that some traditional attitudes from non Anglo cultures do not last - the authors point to the American midwest, where most of the Scandinavian and German settlers settled (and where I have lived), and which consistently scores more egalitarian in attitude surveys to this day. But the four British folkways still reign supreme.

2. Regarding European social welfare -

I disagree. I would rather America not adopt such a system - but that is the brilliance of decentralization. We each can have our way. How many people does Sweden have it it? 10 million? That is pretty close to population of Ohio. If the citizens of Ohio want such a system, let them have it! I can live in a different state with a different system. And if the Social Democracy model really works in America as well as some suggest, it will become apparent with time. More states will switch the models that work - or more people will move to them. Decentralization allows Americans to disagree on many things without paralyzing the entire system. (And crony capitalists have a lot less to gain from corrupting Ohio or Georgia or Utah's programs than they do from corrupting anything on a federal level.)

June 11, 2013 at 12:53 PM

So, you're saying that immigrants were compelled to become members of an Anglo-Saxon society through education and law and other mechanisms? Then, again, the point remains: kinship can't be at the base of the structure because it is clearly related to the economic and political situation in complicated ways. How do you assimilate the children of Chinese parents to 'American' ways of life? Through law, media, and any number of other means.

We can't, then, speak of kinship as being the 'deep structure' and it has no deciding role. It can be radically altered by politics and circumstance. It would be better to think of it as part of a package of ideas about how to live that are affected by environment, recent history, and so on. If English settlers in America and English people in England have retained the same Anglo-Saxon roots - and I don't think this has been demonstrated anywhere (I don't even know who my seventh cousins would be) - then they have done so in radically different ways, meaning that it cannot be such a significant determining factor.

Anyway, America is only an exceptional country in terms of its disproportionately high crime rates and massive social inequality, unmatched anywhere in the developed world. Americans, according to the statistics, are four times as murderous as English, French, or Australian people. They are less healthy, have shorter life-spans, and are, in general, less educated. They are more religious, something that appears to correlate with social inequality and the absence of a state safety net for the disadvantaged. America, like Britain, spends an inordinate amount on the military when it could spend it on hospitals and benefit payments for the poor and disadvantaged. None of these things appears to derive from any ancient Anglo-Saxon heritage or from anything other than recent history and conservative ideology, and family structure is not a cause of any of this.

June 11, 2013 at 11:48 PM

I feel like we are making this more complicated than it needs to be.

1. Lets start with a very basic observation - family structures differ from region to region. The these variations are closely correlated with regional differences in economic patterns, political structures, social associations, and cultural norms. These differences can even be seen the cognitive level. I recommend an earlier post of mine, "West and East and How We Think" to get a sense for how basic these differences can be. As I noted in the studies reviewed:

Careful readers will notice that the "East" and "West" so studied are narrower than normally defined, with East meaning "China, Korea, or Japan" (i.e. the Sinosphere) and West meaning "America, Canada, Great Britain, or Australia" (i.e. the Anglosphere). The few studies covered that do include continental Europeans suggest that human cognition cannot be boiled down to simple West/East dichotomy. When the attitudes and intuitions of developed countries are surveyed three distinct groupings emerge: the Americans, British, Canadians, and Australians had a marked 'individualist' orientation, which they shared with Scandinavians and Dutch respondents. As expected, Korean, Japanese, and Singaporean preferences were far on the other side of the scale. Most surprising was the French, Germans, Belgians, and Italians, whose preferences were intermediate between the two. (p. 63-65)

So that is the first level of "exceptionalism" so to speak. People from Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian (ASS) countries routinely demonstrate a set of attitudes and biases all their own - more individualistic and analytical, on average, than people from other regions of the world. Notably (and this was not a connection I made in that post), Scandinavia and and the Anglosphere are the two places where the ANF prevails!

2. So the pattern is there. What causes it? Do the families cause the individualist culture, or does the culture cause the families? To be frank I do not really think the answer to this question matters. They go hand in hand. In all odds the Anglo family structure and the laws the English made to regulate family dealings evolved together. This close interaction between family structure, cultural attitudes, and laws still holds today - By the time 3rd generation of immigrants come of age all thoughts of old family structures are gone and the standard culture of extreme American individualism taken hold. In some places it is easier to identify where family structure changes things directly - the expectation that every child must make his or her own way and that their is no extended family to support him/her is a good example - but most of it is part of messier and mutually reinforcing mix. All the variables rolls together.

I do not think there is much more to be said on family structure here without beating a dead horse. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Emmanual Todd's Explanation of Ideology. You are very well informed on the broad course of world history and come from anthropological background yourself; I would be interested in your critique. But that is probably the place where the critique needs to start.

(Stray FYI - Todd's data is in no way inherently right wing. Indeed, Todd is a lefty. One of his more famous books was an attack on American imperialism).

June 12, 2013 at 9:39 AM

3. Anglos and Scandinavians are particularly individualist. But there is plenty of evidence that Americans are exceptionally so. To quote from a fairly influential study making the rounds in recent years:

"Americans stand out relative to Westerners on phenomena that are associated with independent self‐concepts and individualism. A number of analyses, using a diverse range of methods, reveal that Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Lipset, 1996; Morling & Lamoreaux, 2008; Oyserman et al., 2002). The observation that the U.S. is especially individualistic is not new, and dates at least as far back as Toqueville (1835). The unusually individualistic nature of Americans may be caused by, or reflect, an ideology that particularly stresses the importance of freedom and self‐sufficiency, as well as various practices in education and child‐rearing that may help to inculcate this sense of autonomy. American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep (Burton & Whiting, 1961; also see Lewis, 1995), reflecting that from the time they are born, Americans are raised in an environment that emphasizes their independence (on unusual nature of American childrearing, see Lancy, 2009; Rogoff, 2003).


In many ways that Americans are unique in the Western world. At the time of Lipset’s surveys, compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist (they have the most positions for elections and the most frequent elections, although they have among the lowest voter turnout rates). They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious. They were the most churchgoing in Protestantism, and the most fundamentalist in Christendom, and were more likely than others from Western industrialized countries to see the world in absolute moral terms. In contrast to other large Western industrialized societies, the United States had the highest crime rate, the longest working hours, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of volunteerism, the highest percentage of citizens with a post-secondary education, the highest productivity rate, the highest GDP, the highest poverty rate, and the highest income-inequality rate; and Americans were the least supportive of various governmental interventions. The United States is the only industrialized society that never had a viable socialist movement; it was the last country to get a national pension plan, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance; and, at the time of writing, remain the only industrialized nation that does not have a general allowance for families or a national health insurance plan. In sum, there is some reason to suspect that Americans might be different from other Westerners, as de Tocqueville noted.

Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan, “The Weirdest People in the World?,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010) 33, 61-135.

Most of the things noted in the quotation above are not 21st century inventions. Some go back decades; most go back centuries. (We can add an attachment to guns and the violence that comes with it to the list.) But it is silly to attribute things like parenting behavior, optimism, philanthropy, religiosity, or violent behavior on "recent history and conservative ideology." American policies reflect the broader cultural attitudes and cognitive quirks. These are attitudes with very deep roots.

Americans are in many ways unique. They are proven outliers at the levels of policy, customs, culture, and cognition. One can hate what makes them "exceptional" or one can love it, but it is difficult to deny it.

June 12, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Just discovered your blog. Looks interesting. Will follow.

October 5, 2013 at 8:08 PM

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