ton who describes herself as a “former divorcee”rnwho has “been a single parent forrn10 years”? The Times would never describerna counter-expert (had they consultedrnone) as having been “a marriedrnparent for 10 years.” While the articlernnotes that critics of single parenthood exist,rntheir views are condemned “as steppingrnon the toes of those who are tryingrnto support women’s independence” byrnthe “expert.” So much for the facts. Sornmuch for a debate. But what should bernnoted, in part because it is so startling anrnexample of redescribing a phenomenonrnin order to make it fit ideologically preferredrncategories, is the use of the phrasern”women’s independence.” Tell that to arn15-year-old unwed mother living in rundownrnhousing in a violent crack-infestedrnneighborhood in an inner city. I imaginernit will brighten her day considerably, dependentrnas she is upon courts, welfarernbureaucracies, the therapeutic arm ofrnthe state, whatever may remain of herrnfamily structure, and here-today, gonetomorrowrnboyfriends.rnBeyond the contempt for the difficultyrnof the lives lived by most unwedrnmothers and the disdain for the mountainrnof evidence of how children withoutrnfathers are at a disadvantage according tornevery index of risk we know, this claim ofrn”independence” is an example of thernsleight of hand Carlson’s tightly reasonedrnbook exposes. Before I turn to his argument,rnlet me note for the record thatrnthe best antipoverty program for childrenrnis a stable, intact, two-parent family.rnWe know this. We know that if onerncontrols for all other factors, the absencernof a second parent (most often a father)rnis implicated in poverty, violence, absencernfrom school, and the future likelihoodrnof another single-parent home.rnFully 70 percent of juveniles in staternreform institutions grew up in singleparentrnor no-parent situations.rnCarlson’s tough-mindedness in thisrnmatter is heartening and a challenge tornthinkers on the right and the left alike.rnFor he shows that government tinkeringrnand social engineering are more likely torncorrode than to cure things, even as campaignsrnof moral uplift and evangelicalrnfervor and denunciation do little good either.rnWhat the government giveth therngovernment can taketh away when thosernin charge are swept by some new enthusiasm.rnAnd where religious belief mayrnencourage marital stability and responsibility,rnit simply cannot prevail against arnsocietv determined to weaken and discreditrntheological teaching. Few peoplernwant their favorite nostrums challenged.rnThe left will rise up and cheer if fundamentalistrnefforts to restore a traditional,rnpatriarchal family are attacked. Thernright will shout hosannas when the intrusivern”nanny” state is taken to task. SornCarlson will please no single side to therncontroversy. But the most interestingrnwork now being done is work that pleasesrnno single side.rnCarisen observes that the AmericanrnConstitution is remarkable for itsrnfailure to mention “family” or “household.”rnThis can be explained, in part, byrnthe Framers’ commitment to Enlightenmentrnverities of rational self-autonomy.rnBut, more importantly, our forefathersrnand foremothers assumed thernexistence of an extra-governmental orrnnonpolitical sphere of strong families andrncommunities, for these defined thernsocial order in which the American experimentrnfirst took root. Things beganrnto change, not so much with feminist (orrnsome other) protest against that socialrnorder but with top-level moves to tinkerrnwith and define American life. Thisrntinkering was spurred by social realities,rnof course, but abstract theorists andrnsocial engineers also did their part. Forrnexample, the Progressive Era was markedrnby an astonishing optimism aboutrnwhat government might accomplish, ifrngovernment only had the knowledge andrnadvice of “experts” to comprehend societyrnand design policy appropriate to itsrnproblems.rnThis optimism was applied to a varietyrnof measures designed to “improve” familiesrnand family life. As market imperativesrnsevered home production fromrnwage labor, the family was stripped of itsrn”economic, educational, and securityrnfunctions” and came face to face withrn”the looming power of its ancient rival,rnthe State.” Curiously, the degradationrnand loss of family autonomy produced byrnthe forces of industrialization and therngrowth of state power were keenly observedrnby Marx and Engels, among others.rn(Their “solution,” of course, was tornsee this stage through and await—orrnpush forward—the moment of resolutionrnwhen all contradictions would meltrnaway.) What Carison foresees is less thernpossibility of melting contradictions thanrnthe meltdown of families and communities.rnWith admirable concision, Carlsonrnanalyzes the loss of an informal (or voluntary)rnfamily wage and the failure ofrngovernment-encouraged experiments torncreate a sustainable family wage—anrnidea favored, by the way, by many in anrneariier generation of feminists. He notesrnthat the growing alliance betweenrn”rights-absolutist” or individualist feminismrnand capitalism won that fight andrncontinues to dominate feminist argumentation.rnHe shows the ways in whichrnthe burgeoning of suburbs was no accidentrnbut rather a direct result of governmentrnand corporate incentives, withrngovernment initiatives taking primacy.rnFederal Housing Administration policyrnfavored the detached, single familyrndwelling quite literally cut from uniformrncloth in conformity with the requirementrnthat housing follow a few basicrnmodels.rnBy the 1950’s the “welfare state” reallyrnbenefited the middle class, who were inrnthe best position to take advantage ofrnlow-cost housing loans and most adventitiouslyrnplaced to indulge in “raw consumerism,”rna development that “threatenedrnhistoric American virtues such asrnmodesty and frugality.” In the suburbanrnfamily, what stay-at-home mothers didrnwas isolated from a wider social contextrnand significantly devalued: this is therncontext from which feminist protestrnsprung in the 1960’s. Writes Carison:rn”[0]ther costs of federal housing policyrn—the loss of regional variation in landrnuse and housing design, the intentionalrnabandonment of extended family bonds,rnthe deliberate weakening of the residualrnfamily economy, and the consequent isolationrnand devaluation of woman in thernhome—were also imposed, albeit on arndeferred basis, beginning in the latern1960’s.” In accordance with the law ofrnunintended consequences, much of thisrncountry’s success in guaranteeing separaternfamily dwellings spurred instabilityrnin social and economic relations. Thernstory here is a complex one, and I canrnonly urge the reader to consult Carlson’srnvolume for the details.rnFaced with the quandary of deeperrnseparation of home life from work life, ofrnwomen from men and men from womenrnand families, a generation of expertsrnwhose work dominated discussion in thernI950’s began to call for official buttressingrnof the family in order to sustainrnAmerica’s competitive edge and leadershiprnin the worid. This era saw a “uniquernbonding of sustained militarism to thernexpanded welfare state,” giving “socialrnplanners a powerful tool to effectrnNOVEMBER 1993/33rnrnrn