ON THE MAKING OF AMERICANS: Essays in Honor of David Riesman by Herbert J. & Others--Eds. Gans

ON THE MAKING OF AMERICANS: Essays in Honor of David Riesman

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The ""aristocratic fish-eye"" of David Riesman (The Lonely Crowd) has here inspired a wide range of essays from former students and admirers effectively highlighting his varied interests and pet concerns. The most outstanding essays are the most theoretical. Joseph Featherstone (Schools Where Children Learn) locates Riesman within the intellectual tradition of Progressivism, sensing in him a ""rebel against the modernizing world-view"" of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey, yet profoundly influenced by it. Dewey plays the optimist, confident that social institutions could take over from the lost community; Riesman is more pessimistic, emphasizing the ""psychic costs of modern equality"" as we move from the ""old individualistic frontier"" of nature to the ""new social frontier in which other people [are] the challenge."" Featherstone compares Riesman's stance to that of de Tocqueville, and sees Riesman's ""guarded pluralism"" as akin to Toqueville's qualified enthusiasm for the American democratic experiment. Richard Sennett (The Fall of Public Man), in turn, reevaluates Tocqueville's supposedly conservative analysis of American society from a leftist perspective. While Sennett believes we live with only the ideology--not the fact--of equality, he still sees ample evidence in contemporary society for Tocqueville's depressing predictions of a privatized existence with the willful abandonment of society at large as its logical result. The task ahead: to ensure that new forms of domination--""including the domination of one's peers"" and that more subtle domination of ""personal development""--do not obscure our ""vision of a restructured society."" Other contributions provide less excitement. Herbert Gans, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney offer little news in their discussion of ethnicity, individuality, and sociability, while Robert Weiss points to the expected causes--Sixties individualism, the women's movement, etc.--in his discussion of that new social form, ""the marriage of uncertain duration."" In short--some new directions here, some familiar paths.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1979
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press