“A fine excercise in quiet iconoclasm”
The New Republic‘s online review, The Book, posted an interesting critique of Claude S. Fischer’s Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character yesterday, praising its provocative challenge to some of sociology’s most entrenched preconceptions concerning contemporary American culture. As TNR‘s Molly Worthen writes:
Fischer’s book is a fine exercise in quiet iconoclasm. 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 most academic circles, one must avoid phrases like “American mainstream,” “American exceptionalism,” and “grand narrative” at all costs. These words have become code for a jingoistic history of privileged white men, the Anglo-Saxon haves who oppressed the multi-ethnic have-nots and tracked superpower footprints heedlessly across the globe. Since the 1960s, new social historians have asserted the primacy of “history from the bottom up” over the traditional tales of statesmen and generals, and have crusaded under the banner of hyphenated Americans and identity politics. They have condemned any attempt to chronicle a single history shared by all as a racist and classist illusion, a conservative maneuver in the culture wars.
Only a scholar with impeccable liberal credentials—a sociologist who has taught for nearly forty years at Berkeley and who co-authored a vociferous critique of The Bell Curve—could get away with what Claude Fischer has done. Made in America argues that there is indeed an American mainstream, that it is exceptional, and that over the past three centuries, it has thrived.…
Made In America is primarily the story of the white, native-born, Northern, Protestant middle class that, he argues, “lives and promulgates the distinctive and dominant character of the society”—a character shared, over time, by increasing numbers of Americans of all races, creeds, and income levels. “There is an American cultural center; its assimilative pull is powerful; and it is distinctive—or ‘exceptional,'” Fischer writes. “The historical record speaks.”