Misreading the Lost Moment of 1965

Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle Over Black Family Life from LBJ to Obama James T. PattersonBasic Books, 2010; 264 pages, $33.95 Among the characteristics of what Angelo M. Codevilla calls America’s Ruling Class is widespread skepticism, expressed by Republicans as well as Democrats, of the ability of public policy to do anything about the breakdown of the American family system that was flourishing in the mid-twentieth century. From the loss of life-long marriage as the social ideal to the rise in cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth rates, the majority of educated Americans today would likely agree with James Q. Wilson, who wrote in 2002 that “if you believe, as I do, in the power of culture, you will realize that there is very little one can do.” That skepticism—often accompanied by a blind faith in a historical inevitability of family decline—however, does not keep public intellectuals like Wilson from spilling oceans of ink in quantifying and explaining the meltdown of the social sector since 1970. That herculean effort suggests that such scholars may privately wish as much might be done to rebuild the American family system as they evidently believe can indeed be done to rebuild the economy, fix the health-care system, or strengthen federal anti-poverty measures. These contradictions are on display in an otherwise impressive book by James T. Patterson (no relation to this writer), an accomplished historian and professor emeritus at Brown University. Focused on the family crisis as it relates to African Americans, and its interpretations among the chattering classes, Freedom Is Not Enough uses the career and writings of Daniel Patrick Moynihan—who believed that public policy can reverse family decline—as a lens through which to understand the policy community’s failure to address family breakdown among a segment of the population that has suffered from it the most. Published on the forty-fifth anni
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.