One Nation, After All
ONE NATION, AFTER ALL: WHAT MIDDLE-CLASS AMERICANS REALLY THINK ABOUT GOD, COUNTRY, FAMILY, RACISM, WELFARE, IMMIGRATION, HOMOSEXUALITY, WORK, THE RIGHT, THE LEFT, AND EACH OTHER reports on Alan Wolfe’s Middle Class Morality Project, an effort to discover whether middle-class Americans were deeply divided over moral issues. Wolfe’s research assistant lived in each of eight suburban communities for a short period while interviewing selected individuals on such topics as religious faith; family values and family structure; whether women should work outside the home; immigration; multiculturalism; bilingualism; race relations; affirmative action; homosexuality; work ethics; community involvement; why they chose to live in the suburbs; and suburban life in general.
Wolfe admits that he conducted far too few interviews to yield an acceptable random sample for serious research; that interviewees were allowed to focus on topics that interested them most; and that questions dealing with homosexuality were developed after several interviews were already complete. In spite of these anomalies, Wolfe presents the results of his project as fact, frequently generalizing from his respondents to all middle-class Americans, and occasionally, to Americans as a whole.
Wolfe’s findings are at odds with social critics’ and politicians’ ideas about the middle class. Wolfe’s interviewees are not particularly conservative or liberal but try instead to avoid extremes, muting their opinions and moral positions in order to avoid conflict with everyone else. They epitomize what Wolfe terms “quiet faith,” “mature patriotism,” and “morality writ small,” and are best characterized by their determination not to pass judgment on others. Wolfe came to believe that the “culture war” supposedly raging among the middle-class was actually being played out in individuals struggling within themselves to reconcile traditional and modern points of view.
Sources for Further Study
America. CLXXVIII, March 7, 1998, p. 2.
Commentary. CV, May, 1998, p. 68.
Commonweal. CXXV, April 24, 1998, p. 19.
The Economist. CCCXLVII, April 18, 1998, p. S8.
Library Journal. CXXIII, March 15, 1998, p. 86.
The New Leader. LXXXI, March 9, 1998, p. 16.
The New York Review of Books. XLV, June 11, 1998, p. 26.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, March 8, 1998, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, December 22, 1997, p. 44.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, February 15, 1998, p. 1.