Thaddeus Russell on The Other America, the Book Which Helped Create Modern Welfare


Published in the spring of 1962, Michael Harrington's The Other America was a sweeping description of the country's poor, combined with an appeal to the federal government and "better-off" to save them. It became one of the best-selling books ever authored by an American socialist, inspired the creation of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society regime, and has been routinely hailed as one of the most influential books of the 20th century. This year partisans of the welfare state are commemorating the golden anniversary of The Other America with a series of celebrations and renewed calls for government programs to save the poor once more. Yet as Thaddeus Russell observes, what none of these celebrants has noted is The Other America's profound and even jarring conservatism. The book is stridently paternalistic, hostile to what the left calls "multiculturalism" (and to African-American culture particularly), and it spawned an ideology that enabled the agents of the country's elite to control the most intimate aspects of the lives of the poor.