For four hundred years, Americans have generated a steady flow of complaining jeremiads: Americans are falling away from God, they are becoming grossly materialistic, they are untying the bonds of community, lives are at risk, cities are dangerous, government is incorrigible. Such hand-wringing, purveyed by preachers, journalists, intellectuals, and politicians, is one of our greatest traditions, and certainly our oldest.
Sociologist Claude Fischer has devoted his career to looking at the relevant facts and offering a calming voice to counter the frequent hysteria. More than thirty years ago, he challenged the anxious fear that cities are anomic, fragmented places where unhappy strangers rush past each other in the streets, finding instead that new groups and networks can form there. For every rare interest, a big city contains enough like-minded people to form a club, or at least an informal network, that can share the most unusual passions. Cities are capable of uniting people, especially compared to the isolation found in that great object of nostalgic fantasy, the family farm.