Polarized Families, Polarized Parties: Contesting Values and Economics in American Politics, Gwendoline M. Alphonso

Reviewed by Kent L. Tedin



This book is a study of how changing political conceptualizations of the ideal family influenced the development of political party conflicts over the twentieth century. Family ideals are dichotomized into the “Soul” and the “Hearth.” “Soul” is modeled after the southern family and champions values, morality, and religion in family life and is antiredistributive. “Hearth” is modeled more after the northern family and champions material well-being, an openness to changing family structures, and a broader distribution of economic benefits. Gwendoline M. Alphonso relies on an analysis of familial rhetoric in party platforms and congressional hearings, as well as bill sponsorship, to describe the changing predominance of Soul versus Hearth values over three periods in American twentieth-century history. These changing family ideals are then used to explain changes in party conflict over time. The periods central to the analysis are the Progressive Era (1900–1912), midcentury America (roughly 1948–1976), and the late twentieth century (from 1980) extending into the twenty-first century.

The author’s analysis of Soul and Hearth shows that the parties have at various points adopted each vision of the ideal family as the locus of their political a

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