Bestselling author William Bennett addresses the central social issue of our time-the deline of the family-in a book as intellectually provocative and politically controversial as his landmark The Death of Outrage.Our recent economic prosperity has masked the devastation of the American family, which is now under seige as never before. From the dramatic rise in illegitimacy, divorce, and single parenthood to the call for the recognition of gay marriages, the traditional nuclear family is being radically challenged and undermined, along with the moral and legal consensus that once supported it.Now in The Broken Hearth, William Bennett, America's foremost conservative spokesperson on matters of family values, presents a strong, well-reasoned, and informed defense of the traditional family. Interweaving history, anthropology, law, social science, and the teachings of Western religions, he argues that marriage between a man and a woman and the creation of a permanent, loving, and nurturing environment for children is a great historical achievement, one that should not be lightly abandoned in favor of more "progressive" arrangements.
Pointing to contemporary attitudes on divorce, homosexuality, children born out of wedlock, fatherlessness and cohabitation as challenges to the stability of traditional marriage, bestselling author and former secretary of education Bennett (The Book of Virtues; The Death of Outrage) argues that people must take steps to restabilize the institution because "(t)he nuclear family, defined as a monogamous married couple living with their children, is vital to civilization's success." Articulate and impassioned as always, Bennett delivers a forceful defense of his position with selective quotations from studies like Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur's Growing Up with a Single Parent and What's Happening to the American Family by Sar A. Klevitan etal.; prominent politicians like former senator Patrick Moynihan; and literary sources from the Bible to the pro-lesbian children's book Heather Has Two Mommies. Although Bennett refers in passing to being a child of divorce and offers the teachings of his Catholic faith as a template for marital constancy, he shares no personal anecdotes from his own presumably successful marriage. Nor does he quote interviews with other happily married couples or divorce survivors. As a result, the structure of the book resembles that of a legal brief (Bennett counts a law degree from Harvard among his many academic achievements). However, he does not include citations, as he would in a brief, for some of his more arresting pronouncements, such as, "Cohabiting couples show lower levels of sexual satisfaction than do married couples." In a too-brief discussion of remedies to reverse the trends he sees, Bennett proposes repealing no-fault divorce, reaffirming publicly the centrality of family with churches assuming moral leadership, tightening the payment structure for mothers with dependent children and supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. (Sept. 25) Forecast: Bennett's bestselling record and ability to act as a magnet for controversy will no doubt create an early sales spike. Some loyal readers may be disappointed, however, by his evasiveness about his personal experience. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from The Broken Hearth by William J. Bennett
Last year, retiring United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his forty-year political career. Moynihan, a public intellectual who has served presidents of both parties with distinction, responded: "The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world." This momentous transformation, Moynihan added, had occurred in "an historical instant. Something that was not imaginable forty years ago has happened."
Indeed it has, and we are all very much the worse for it. Virtually every opinion poll shows that the American people are deeply worried about the state of the family. They have good reason to be worried -- even, I would say, frightened. Compared to a generation ago, American families today are much less stable; marriage is far less central; divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and cohabitation are vastly more common; and children are more vulnerable and neglected, less well-off, and less valued. Public attitudes toward marriage, sexual ethics, and child-rearing have radically altered for the worse.
In sum, the family has suffered a blow that has no historical precedent -- and one that has enormous ramifications for American society. To be sure, there are some among us who, for reasons of their own, have welcomed the family's dissolution; a number of them -- and their arguments -- will be duly making their appearance in the course of this book. On the other side, there are some who, having taken the full measure of social loss entailed in the "coming-apart" Senator Moynihan referred to, have succumbed to a near-fatalistic despair, concluding that we are so far sunk in decadence that nothing will pull us out of it.
One of my major purposes in the pages that follow is to refute and repudiate the "liberationists" among us. But in some ways that task, arduous as it is, is easier than dealing with the apathy and surrender of those who see no way out. And so another of my major purposes will be to show why such feelings of surrender are misplaced and even morally unworthy of us. Bad as is the situation of the American family, we still have within us the power to change our ways and reclaim our legacy.