Claude S. Fischer

 

On his book Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character

Cover Interview of April 26, 2010

Lastly

Often our discussions about the issues of today rest on vague and even false understandings of yesterday.  I hope that this book might enrich and perhaps complicate readers’ understandings of the American past.  And I sure hope that journalists—and academics, please—would stop automatically using phrases like “in our ever more mobile modern society;” it just is not so!

We should appreciate, for example, the great physical and economic insecurity earlier generations faced, that the most early Americans were “unchurched”—anything but theologically as Christian as Americans are today, and that the lust for baubles and bangles is a long-standing American state of mind.  We should also appreciate that the coming of material security—albeit still shaky at times—relied greatly on our collective efforts as Americans, through our governments, to build that security.

The world-views of literate, twenty-first-century Americans are rooted in a variety of conventional assumptions about our social history. These assumptions are part of what might be called the “modernity story”—that modern life (and post-modern life even more) entails the disintegration of a stable, cohesive, intimate “world we have lost”—replaced by a rootless, fragmented, and cold new social order.  This is a powerful story line, and omnipresent in western culture.  We often use it to make sense of the world around us.  But it is mostly wrong.

I hope this book will offer you some insight into the nature of “modernity,” American style.


© 2010 Claude Fischer