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This book offers an explosive look at violence in America—why it is so prevalent, and what and who are responsible. David Courtwright takes the long view of his subject, developing the historical pattern of violence and disorder in this country. Where there is violent and disorderly behavior, he shows, there are plenty of men, largely young and single. What began in the mining camp and bunkhouse has simply continued in the urban world of today, where many young, armed, intoxicated, honor-conscious bachelors have reverted to frontier conditions.
Violent Land combines social science with an engrossing narrative that spans and reinterprets the history of violence and social disorder in America. Courtwright focuses on the origins, consequences, and eventual decline of frontier brutality. Though these rough days have passed, he points out that the frontier experience still looms large in our national self-image—and continues to influence the extent and type of violence in America as well as our collective response to it.
Broadly interdisciplinary, looking at the interplay of biological, social, and historical forces behind the dark side of American life, this book offers a disturbing diagnosis of violence in our society.
Courtwright (History/Univ. of North Florida) marshals contemporary reports as well as scholarly apparatus to introduce the young/single/male societies of gold rushers and cowboys emblematic of his thesis: that violence thrived where that demographic profile mated with certain cultural givens (e.g., fierce ethnocentrism) and unwholesome social norms (drinking, gambling, prostitution). Collaterally: The spiral of commerce on the frontier made too much law and order inexpedient, and Americans' racist contempt for the Indians excluded the leavening restraints of (inter)marriage. Courtwright proceeds chronologically, uncovering distributions of disorder in tramp subcultures and among soldiers, before focusing on American ghettos in the 1960s, where deteriorating conditions re-created many of the elements of frontier life. But "a good analogy, like a good argument, should not be pushed too hard": Balancing the historian's search for consistency with the sociologist's respect for discontinuities, Courtwright concludes that inner-city violence is not the self-limiting, transitory phenomenon of its soon- domesticated frontier antecedents. What with the absence of fathers and the presence of long-term unemployment, drugs, racism, and a street culture that has made virtues of all kinds of vice, the domesticating influence of family is not waiting in the wings to restore social equilibrium to the ghetto. Nevertheless, Courtwright affirms the family as still the best instrument of socialization ("life's script begins early"), and his qualified "new familism" frames (without advancing, however) the debate.
This is nonetheless an authoritative contribution to that debate, not least because of its scope; it is also intrinsically interesting material.
|Introduction: The Historical Pattern||1|
|1||Biological and Demographic Roots||9|
|2||Cultural and Social Roots||26|
|3||The Geography of Gender||47|
|4||The Altar of the Golden Calf||66|
|5||The Cowboy Subculture||87|
|6||The Ecology of Frontier Violence||109|
|7||Women and Families||131|
|9||The Floating Army||170|
|10||Marriage Boom, Urban Bust||198|
|12||The Crack Era||247|
|Conclusion: Life in the New Frontier Society||270|