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Bellah, Robert, et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1985 (355 pp.). This mid-80s study is rightly so one of the most discussed of the early communitarian works (although the authors may not agree with the term). Habits examines the American character, suggesting that our original republican and biblical traditions have been largely undermined by putting individual concerns before the common good. Agree with it or not, Habits is difficult to ignore in any program that examines themes of community and democracy in America. It is criticized for its largely white, middle-class focus, its too-Christian underpinnings, its relative neglect of economic inequalities, and its romanticization of a New England "community" that never actually existed. However, nearly twenty years ago, the authors put their fingers on a condition that seems to have only gotten worse – the public’s withdrawal from most things associational, such as city council meetings, volunteering, and even voting. It’s rare that a book by a group of sociologists and other academics becomes a bestseller, but that was the case with Habits, because it seemed to strike a chord among the general public. The book’s publication in part stirred communities, educational institutions, and organizations to create civic engagement projects, which continue today.


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