In the past, individuals and institutions of civil society actively promoted what may be called “bourgeois norms,” to nurture healthy habits so that social problems wouldn’t emerge in the first place. It was a formative effort. Today, a massive social service state instead takes a reformative approach to problems that have already become vexing. It offers counseling along with material support, but struggling communities have been more harmed than helped by government’s embrace. And social service agencies have a vested interest in the continuance of problems.
Government can provide a financial safety net for citizens, but it cannot effectively create or promote healthy norms. Nor should it try. That formative work is best done by civil society.
This book focuses on six key figures in the history of social welfare to illuminate how a norm-promoting culture was built, then lost, and how it can be revived. We read about Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children’s Aid Society; Jane Addams, founder of Hull House; Mary Richmond, a social work pioneer; Grace Abbott of the federal Children’s Bureau; Wilbur Cohen of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; and Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone—a model for bringing real benefit to a poor community through positive social norms. We need more like it.
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|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
What People are Saying About This
“Most decent people on both sides of the political spectrum nowadays recognize that the widening gap between rich and poor is a grave threat to American democracy. What is to be done? For too long, too many on the left and the right have been caught in a false debate about whether the problem is ‘really’ economic and structural or ‘really’ cultural and normative. The debate is false because the answer is: both. Howard Husock has long been a thoughtful leader in this discussion, emphasizing the role of cultural norms. In this new, multilayered, and accessible book he sketches thoughtful portrayals of the work of American social reformers in order to help us discern the path forward.”
Robert D. Putnam, Research Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids
“Howard Husock has offered a powerful diagnosis of the dysfunction at the heart of our social ills. He shows that healthy norms are essential to a healthy society, and that the institutions that might form such norms have grown weak in our time. But more important, he shows what might be done about it. This is an essential read for understanding contemporary America.
Yuval Levin, Editor of National Affairs and author of The Fractured Republic
“Howard Husock’s new book exhumes the bourgeois norms of personal and social uplift that preceding generations championed but that our current bureaucratic systems stifle and even discredit. By portraying the institutions these civil society pioneers built, and by spotlighting some of their successors’ work today, Husock argues that recovering and selling these norms'preaching what we practice,’ in Charles Murray’s apt phraseis necessary for sustained progress for our most disadvantaged Americans and thus for the quality of our community life. I think he’s right.”
Peter H. Schuck, Emeritus Professor, Yale Law School; Scholar in Residence, NYU Law School; author of Why Government Fails So Often and One Nation Undecided