Blankenhorn, David (George III) 1955-
BLANKENHORN, David (George III) 1955-
PERSONAL: Born May 25, 1955, in Baumholder, Germany; son of David George, Jr., and Diane (Weaver) Blankenhorn; married Raina Alexandra Sacks, September 13, 1986; children: Raymond David, Sophia, Alexandra. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1977; Warwick University, M.A. (with high honors), 1978. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Presbyterian.
CAREER: Writer and community organizer. Citizen Action, community organizer, 1978-84; Institute for American Values, New York, NY, founder, 1985, president, 1985—.
MEMBER: National Fatherhood Initiative (chair).
(Editor, with Steven Bayme and Jean Bethke Elshtain) Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Jewish Family, Family Service America (Milwaukee, WI), 1990.
(Editor, with Mary Ann Glendon) Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society, Madison Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, with David Popenoe and Jean Bethke Elshtain) Promises to Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in America, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 1996.
(Editor) American Idea, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor, with Wade F. Horn and Mitchell B. Pearlstein) The Fatherhood Movement: A Call to Action, Lexington Books (Lanham, MD), 1999.
(Editor, with Dana Mack) The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.
(Editor, with Obie Clayton and Ron Mincy) Black Fathers in Contemporary American Society: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Strategies for Change, Russell Sage Foundation (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: David Blankenhorn is the highly visible founder and president of the Institute for American Values in New York City. Through his speaking, research, and writing duties, Blankenhorn has dedicated himself to reconstituting the role of American families along more traditional lines. Blankenhorn's thesis is that many if not all of American society's most serious problems stem from the absence of a meaningful father figure in the home and the lack of strong commitment ties in modern marriage. Blankenhorn proposes a return to a virtuous familial norm that is child-centered rather than self-centered, through books that explore the role of fatherhood as well as the lifelong commitment to the marriage bond. George T. Haskett, writing in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, compared the possible impact of Blankenhorn's Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Jewish Family, with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and Michael Harrington's The Other America, claiming that Blankenhorn "could spark another revolution."
Blankenhorn's first publication, Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Jewish Family, edited with Steven Bayme and Jean Bethke Elshtain, is the result of a conference held at Stanford University in 1989. A collection of essays by family experts, Rebuilding the Nest is divided into three sections, titled "Conditions," "Causes," and "Solutions." According to George T. Haskett in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, the essays in the first section "make a persuasive argument that American families—by almost any measure—are in decline." In Blankenhorn's introductory essay, "American Family Dilemmas," the author "offers a clear, concise statement of the many problems experienced by families and children," Haskett declared. "The volume . . . is particularly strong along the moral dimension," William A. Galston remarked in his review in the New Republic. "To be sure, it is easy for this stance to give the appearance of ineffectual exhortation," Galston continued. "Still, there are eminently practical ways of embedding moral concerns in policies and institutions." Kathleen M. Blee noted the intention of the authors represented in Rebuilding the Nest "to stand above the political controversies that divide family scholars and policymakers," in her review in Journal of Marriage and the Family. Few of the essayists, however, take into account "the sociological and feminist scholarship that questions the solidarity of family as an institution and the idea that 'family' has unitary values, agendas, and interests," Blee observed. Nonetheless, "this volume could be useful in a family sociology course for generating discussion on the complex issues of family policy and family-based political agendas," Blee concluded.
Blankenhorn sets out his thesis again in Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, bolstered by the argument of Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a scholar at Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values. He argues "that unwed motherhood is neither noble nor desirable," in the words of New York Times Book Review contributor Ellis Cose. In particular, Blankenhorn invalidates the increasingly popular notion that a father is not a necessary component in a child's life. "In Fatherless America, to deny the specific and necessary contribution a male parent makes is to buy into the notion that fathers are superfluous," Cose observed. Although "Blankenhorn makes a persuasive case that the measures America has so far taken to mitigate the effects of fatherlessness are not working very well," Cose stated. His suggestions for solutions "amount to little more than good-guy optimistic," Cose contended, and "are not very likely . . . to accomplish very much." Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, concluded by calling Fatherless America a "clearly written call to stop the rot."
Blankenhorn's emphasis on the importance of the contributions fathers make to the stability of American families, as well as to society as a whole, has garnered a great deal of attention. In an essay on Blankenhorn's work in the Washington Post, William Raspberry noted that among the problems widespread absentee fatherhood causes or contributes to are "poverty, incivility, domestic violence against women, child abuse, and of course, crime." Although Blankenhorn has been criticized for taking an overly conservative stance with regard to what constitutes a family and family values, he has also been praised for taking a strong stance against what has been perceived as the increasing acceptance of single-parent families in American society.
Blankenhorn has also addressed the issue of marriage. Facing statistics that indicate that fewer than twenty-five percent of American households consist of a married couple raising their own children, the author has edited two volumes that propose to educate men and women on various aspects of the marriage commitment. Promises to Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in America and The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions compile contributions from ancient times to the most modern-day theoreticians to advise couples on ways to sustain their marriage vows through the challenges of everyday living. The books also advocate a return to conservative values that would diminish the acceptability of non-marital childbearing and indifferent parenting. Promises to Keep offers modern studies of the pitfalls and promises of marriage. Linda J. Waite in the American Journal of Sociology deemed the book "thoughtful and well-informed," adding: "I found it a pleasure to read these arguments made by serious and concerned scholars on a topic as central as the health of the institution of marriage. I have come to refer to this book frequently and recommend it highly for researchers, teachers, and policymakers."
The Book of Marriage, aimed at a general audience, offers a wide-ranging selection of pieces on marriage, ranging from ancient Greek and biblical texts to the views of Judith Wallerstein and Bill Cosby. National Review correspondent Kathryn Jean Lopez found the title "the perfect textbook for a course on marriage." In a review for First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, Molly Finn wrote: "In the voices of people speaking to interviewers, as well as in the greatest works of imaginative literature, we hear the joy and pain of people who have experienced the inescapably intimate bond of marriage.... Marriage constantly exposes one's self to that of another. The best selections in this excellent volume make us aware of this most remarkable aspect of a truly essential and irreplaceable human institution."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journal of Sociology, May 1997, Linda J. Waite, review of Promises to Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in America, p. 1792.
American Political Science Review, June, 1997, Mark E. Kann, review of Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society, p. 434.
Booklist, January 15, 1995, pp. 872-873.
Commonweal, June 14, 1996, David McCabe, review of Seedbeds of Virtue, p. 26.
Cornell Law Review, November 1996, Linda J. Lacy, review of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, pp. 79-108.
Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, February 1993, pp. 119-122.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, October, 2001, Molly Finn, review of The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions, p. 51.
Journal of Marriage and the Family, August 1991, p. 819.
National Review, March 19, 2001, Kathryn Jean Lopez, review of The Book of Marriage.
New Republic, December 2, 1991, pp. 40-44.
New York Times Book Review, February 19, 1995, p. 13.
Population and Development Review, March 1997, Geoffrey McNicoll, review of Promises to Keep, p. 199.
Washington Post, May 12, 1993, section A, p. 19.
Women & Politics, winter, 2000, review of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, p.85.
American Values,http://www.americanvalues.org/html/about_david_blankenhorn.shtml/ (April 2, 2002).
Eerdmans,http://www.eerdmans.com/shop/product.asp?p_key=0802838960/ (April 2, 2002).