MIDDLE AMERICAN INDIVIDUALISM: The Future of Liberal Democracy by Herbert Gans

MIDDLE AMERICAN INDIVIDUALISM: The Future of Liberal Democracy

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A sociological look at the ideals and political implications of mainstream America, by Gans (Sociology/Columbia), author of The Urban Villager (1982) and Deciding What's News (1979), among others. The individualism of Gans' title has nothing to do with the recently revivified capitalist ideal of the laissez-faire entrepreneur, that vision of swashbuckling yuppies reinventing the computer in cold garages. Rather, Gans is concerned with the ""quiet"" individualism of Middle Americans, those whom he classifies as ""blue, white, pink, and new-collar workers and their families."" They are loyal neither to the corporate world nor to liberalism (with its faith in collective action), although they do support a moderate welfare state. Middle-American values frown on formal institutions--big government, big business, even the church. What most of these people want, Gans infers, is ""political avoidance and democracy."" Gans reaches for ways to militate against having this individualism and antipathy to government destroy our system through apathy. Basically, he decides that ""if citizens cannot or will not come to political institutions to participate, these institutions have to come to them."" His proposals to effect this include utilizing more congressional staff to reach out to the people, more intensive and broader lobbying, more effective polling of citizens for opinions, a turning away from today's centralized big media via diversification, and a more active use of class action suits to ensure an adequate hearing for the people. Adopting--for a work of sociology--an unusually conversational and subjective tone, Gans offers a sound diagnosis of Middle America; his prescriptions, however, may not be sufficiently far-reaching to stem the tide of mainstream alienation.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1988
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan