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The Broken Hearth
Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family
By William J. Bennett

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The Broken Hearth

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The Broken Hearth
Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family
Large Print Edition
By William J. Bennett
Random House Large Print, (2001)
ISBN: 0-375-43127-6
Genre: Nonfiction - Morality

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - December 30, 2001

Few people would challenge the assertion that, in the last forty years, American Society has undergone numerous social and moral changes. These changes include, but are not limited to, a drastic increase in the number of children born out of wedlock, a staggering divorce rate, the development of a welfare culture, and an increase in the number of serious crimes committed by juveniles. In The Broken Hearth, William J. Bennett contends that all these changes are a direct result of the disintegration of the traditional (i.e., nuclear) American Family structure. Which in turn have led to social changes that have had the effect of making what was once forbidden, socially and morally acceptable, such as cohabitation before marriage.

In this book, Bennett trumpets the importance of marriage and family, and graphically details the problems that can, and perhaps have, arisen due to the devaluation of family life. He prefaces his thesis by presenting an historical overview of family life in Western Culture. He then delineates the changes that have occurred in the last few hundred years, before honing in on his main area of interest - the changes that have occurred since the 1960's. In essence, Bennett feels that the nuclear family is the cornerstone of modern civilization. Any changes in the structure of the family will precipitate a rapid and an uncontrollable moral decay that will destroy the entire fabric of American Life.

In The Broken Hearth, Bennett tries to explain the numerous causes behind the shift in morality that has occurred since the 1960's, and he tries to show the repercussions of the loosening of the traditional and religious moral constraints used to shape the lives of the majority of Americans. He discusses a wealth of issues ranging from the sexual revolution and legalized abortion to the acceptance of same-sex marriages. Besides simply listing the problems facing the American family, he also offers suggestions for reform that would help to stem the tide of moral decay that he sees sweeping the Nation. For example, one of the major problems that he sees is the spectacular divorce rate in this country and the problems that can arise from a divorce. These include changes in economic status of the divorcees and the problems of raising children in single parent homes. While some conservatives may advocate a total ban on divorce, Bennett is more sensible, and merely suggest that all that is needed is to make a divorcee more difficult. Doing so will help to make people think twice before dissolving their marriage, and will also help to make people look at marriage more seriously before entering such a union.

While Bennett's arguments are persuasive, this book has one major and perhaps fatal flaw - he does not offer any documentation to back up his accretions. For example, he states:
"Children of divorced parents show a greater propensity to commit crimes, use drugs, have out-of-wedlock births, and end up on welfare. They are more likely to become victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. They have more health problems..." (Pg. 225).
This is an explosive statement, but the reader must ask themselves, "What is he basing these statements on?" Are they merely his opinion, or has he garnered this information from research, census data, statistical analysis? Without any evidence of where and how he obtained the statistics, it is difficult to simply accept his statements at face value. If he had added footnotes, or even a bibliography to this book, it would be more authoritative and it would serve as a more forceful voice in the public debate against the forces that seem bent upon the destruction of traditional family life.

Despite this singular flaw, this book will resinate with many Americans', especially with those who grew up in the 1950's. The days of Ozzie and Harriet are long past, and it may be argued whether or not the mythical, perfect family of the 1950's ever existed. Nonetheless, no one will argue the fact that there has been many changes in the structure and feelings about what constitutes an American family since the 1950's, many of which were precipitated by the sexual revolution of the 1960's. Bennett's underlaying thesis has merit, his writing is lucid, and the problems that he delineates are all too real. No matter how you feel about Bennett and his assertion that almost all of America's social problems can be traced to the dissolution of the family, this book will make you take a hard look at the issues addressed in The Broken Hearth.


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