Putnam and Garrett are rewriting the political history of the twentieth century here ... they skirt a crucial issue: As Francis Fukuyama makes clear in his discussion of the twentieth-century Progressive movement in his book Political Order and Political Decay, its moral inspiration was very much rooted in the egalitarian Protestantism dominant in the Northeast and Midwest at the time. It was the Social Gospel campaign of Protestant ministers that countered the ideology of Social Darwinism, and its perverse claim that the theory of evolution justified the inequities of the Gilded Age. With an American left as disconnected from religion as the one we see today, where will the moral fervor for a new movement come from exactly? A single charismatic preacher operating out of North Carolina will hardly suffice ... serves as a call to the generations who have succeeded the baby-boomers to imagine a better future for the American project, and to pursue it. Rather than focusing on the tension between generations the authors encourage young people to look for an earlier precedent for themselves. They remind us that the problems of today with which the new generations must grapple—the skyrocketing costs of health care, the weakness of environmental regulations, the power of corporate monopolies, and the urgent need for campaign finance reform—are almost exactly the same as those that confronted the original Progressives in their day, even if the solutions to these problems must be new and different ones ... magnificent and visionary.
At the core of The Upswing is a simple and powerful insight: The heights of solidarity from which America has fallen since the middle of the 20th century were themselves reached by a steady ascent over the prior half-century ... Drawing ingeniously on a vast array of data—economic, political, cultural, social and more—Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett persuasively demonstrate that Gilded Age America suffered from civic and social strains remarkably similar to our own ... Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett’s description of the history involved is not without its own distortions. They take on enormously complicated economic, social, cultural and political trends with only limited space to describe them, and the result inevitably tends to magnify their preconceptions ... The complicated links between solidarity and exclusion (and between fragmentation and inclusion) fall into a recurring blind spot in the book ... Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett tend to underplay the upside of declining solidarity ... Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett also tend to play down the role of the intense national mobilizations of the first half of the 20th century—around the two world wars and the Great Depression—in enabling the remarkable increase in social cohesion they describe. This is always a touchy subject for communitarians ... Even so, the fact that The Upswing enables us to ask such a question, and so to think about the practical preconditions for revitalization, is a mark of its achievement. In a sweeping yet remarkably accessible book, Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett provide a crucial missing ingredient in contemporary social commentary: They lay out a sociology of success that, drawing on our history, can help us think concretely about how to enable a revival of American life.
... what can Joe Biden do to patch together a frayed nation? The political scientists Robert Putnam...and Shaylyn Romney Garrett provide a wealth of sociologically grounded answers in The Upswing. Although the title is reassuringly buoyant, this is a tale of two long-term trends, one benign, the other a dark descent. An unabashed centrism prevails: political stability, the authors recognise, is a dance that requires a measure of cooperation and disciplined deportment from both parties ... A Biden presidency brings into focus the difficult job of healing and reconciliation. But here Putnam and Garrett run into trouble, for it is impossible to identify a single decisive factor that caused the downswing. Rather the authors identify a range of “entwined” trends “braided together by reciprocal causality”. Just as diagnosis of ultimate causes is treacherous, so too is finding a compelling plan for throwing the Great Downswing into reverse. The authors look for the green shoots of a new Progressive movement in various forms of grassroots activism, but are worried that they have yet to see this take a 'truly nonpartisan' form. They try to be upbeat, but the dominant note is wistful.
In this good-hearted and sweeping book, the political scientist Robert D. Putnam (with Shaylyn Romney Garrett) offers some hope in bleak times ... superb, often counterintuitive insights ... However, for all of its prodigious research coupled with careful qualifications, the book sometimes overgeneralizes ... Putnam’s tendency to generalize sometimes suggests a misleading symmetry. Organized worship is declining across the board, Putnam reports, citing a blizzard of data. But as a political fact, liberal denominations are near collapse while fundamentalists are ascendant ... Political science is the study of preference and power. Putnam tends to play down the role of power in favor of values and norms. Yet power can reinforce or stymie value preferences ... In his summing up, Putnam deliberately sidesteps the question of why America became less cohesive ... well worth reading for its cornucopia of data and insightful social history. Some of the generalizations should be taken with a grain of salt. Putnam’s last chapter, addressing lessons from the past on how we might reclaim a more trusting, community-minded America, is abbreviated, elevated and a little wishful. The deep corruption of democracy does not get much attention, nor does the alliance of plutocracy with aspiring autocracy. Donald Trump barely makes an appearance. At this perilous moment, we need all the optimism we can get, tempered with unflinching realism about the role of power.
For readers looking for an impeccably sourced review of the last century’s economic divide, Putnam and Garrett provide a readable if somewhat statistics-heavy dive into how the U.S. came to be a stark society of haves and have-nots ... The amount of information is enormous, and, while it is clearly conveyed, often with accompanying graphs, Putnam and Garrett’s study should be considered more of a specialized resource than a narrative read. Though not for casual perusal, this will engage serious readers who are curious about the big picture of twentieth-century social economics, and who are in search of a worthy guide to lead them through the data. For those deeply inquisitive individuals, Putnam and Garrett will not disappoint.
Can a nation created to maximize individual freedom successfully pursue a common good? Robert D. Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett tackle this question in The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, a thoughtful and highly readable account of the way that these competing values have played out ... The analysis is complicated – as are most things in American history – because people who were not white males were almost always overlooked or excluded. Putnam devotes separate chapters to both race and gender, with often surprising conclusions ... Putnam invites the reader to think about whether Americans can reestablish a sense of concern for the whole community – what Martin Luther King Jr. called 'an inescapable network of mutuality' – or whether as a nation we will continue to drift apart.
Most of The Upswing is taken up with how the curve evolved. It is less clear why the curve evolved. The authors take great pains to untangle complex and nuanced explanations, none of which can solely explain the curve's trajectory ... One can question the reliability of this kind of evaluation, but Ngrams are only one part of the authors' much larger analyses. No doubt, future writers and researchers will appreciate the nearly 100 pages of endnotes. The Upswing is saturated with data and charts, so much so that it can be difficult for a lay person to weigh and evaluate what is presented. This matters, because readers will be eager for guidance to move the curve toward a more connected, unified 'we' ... Given how structural racism underlies everything from economic security to health and political participation, I would have preferred that race was a more intentional through line, rather than a stand-alone chapter ... I had similar feelings about addressing gender in a stand-alone chapter. After all, half the American population did not have voting rights until the 20th century, and grossly lagged on economic rights. To be fair, Putnam and Garrett do mention race and gender in other chapters. But I couldn't help wondering how their interpretation of data might have changed with more deliberate inclusion of non-white, non-male theorists throughout ... Most of all, I longed for clear, prescriptive solutions for a better, more inclusive future.
The book’s many graphs, tracking everything from wage rates and inequality indices to intergenerational economic mobility and wealth distribution, are evidence of a civic tragedy ... The narrative is scrupulous in crediting the state the US is presently in with the benefits of independent speech and action. It is the lack of community that the authors regret.The book is hugely invested in the vision of what amounts to a soixante glorieuses from the early 20th century to the 1960s. It demonstrates all of Putnam’s fluency with statistics and graphs to illustrate that things were only getting better — though the authors pass by too quickly the 1930s depression, when gross domestic product per capita fell by 20 per cent in four years. But the conclusion is clear: the past was a better place in which to be an American ... Eloquent on America’s present woes and pains, they provide no plan for a balanced integration in the fraught, sundered society they describe. Immediate answers will much depend on how Americans vote on November 3. The larger issue remains — how can the resurrection of a past commitment to equality and growth be managed?
[An] ambitious book ... the new book optimistically suggests that the eventual reversal in fortunes then may augur one now ... To the lay reader, this logic is compelling. To the social scientist forever spouting about the distinction between correlation and causation, however, it is merely suggestive. Putnam and Garrett caution repeatedly that they cannot discern causes from effects, and freely admit that their study is, for all its marshaling of statistical series, a narrative one firmly in the genre of macrohistory. The trap of such sweeping efforts is the temptation to discern out of all the noise a single master arc that is subtly bending all of history ... The evidence justifying the thesis, intriguing as it is, is not nearly so strong.
A top-notch addition to the why-America-is-in-such-a-mess genre ... The narrative is brilliantly argued throughout, although the traditional how-to-fix-it conclusion could use a more specific action plan ... A tour de force exploration of why America got better and then went into reverse.
... sweeping and persuasive ... Putnam and Garrett tell this story in lucid prose illustrated with fascinating data ... While the authors explore possible causes for community unraveling—government policy, conservative backlash, do-your-own-thing liberalism, globalization—they eschew reductionist explanations. Less satisfyingly, they present no solutions besides vaguely reprising the 20th-century Progressive era’s mix of idealism and pragmatism. Still, this fresh, ambitious take on America’s fraying social fabric will provoke much discussion.