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BOOK REVIEWS The Unheavenly City: The Nature and the Future ofOur Urban Crisis. By E. C. Banfield. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1970. Pp. 308. $7.50. Edward C. Banfield, the author of The Unheavenly City, appears the spiritual heir of Canon Swift. While the good Canon made "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children ofPoor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or the Country" by fattening and eating them, the Banfield equivalent inthe case oflower-class children is sale by public bid: As a matter oflogic, the simplest way to deal with the problem—and one which would not involve any infringement of the parents' rights—would be to permit the sale of infants and children to qualified bidders both private and public. (Public bidding might be needed to insure a price high enough to induce a sufficient number oflower-class parents to sell their children.) This assumes, of course, both that a parent who would sell a child would probably abuse or neglect it, and also that one who would buy it (especially ifthe price were high) would want it enough to take good care ofit. The trouble with the idea, ofcourse, is, first, that it is wrong to represent human beings as commodities to be bought and sold, and, second, that ifit worked (i.e., ifthe price were high enough to secure the effect desired) it would almost certainly have the unintended effect ofencouraging some people to bring children into the world for the purpose ofselling them. This second objection might possibly be got around by making sterilization ofthe vendor a condition of sale, but the first one would be decisive nevertheless. [Pp. 231-232] It is clear that satire, ifthis is what it is, was excusable in the eighteenth century but is now merely tasteless. Current sensitivity ofthe social sciences is shown when, in sixteen reviews of The Unheavenly City received to date, these passages remain unrebuked. It is surprising that an author prepared to quote obscure clergymen, social workers, charitable organizations, and the rest of a century ago could be unacquainted widi the horror ofthe slave sale or insensitive as to its heritage (cf. Furnas, Goodbye to Uncle Tom [Clifton, N.J.: William Sloane Assoc, 1956], p. 185). The curious reliance upon the clerical anecdote or the unpublished thesisjerry-builds The Unheavenly City, for the author concludes: "So long as the city contains a sizable lower class, nothing basic can be done about its most serious problems" (p. 210). The lower class, upon whom the author puts so much, "lives for the moment," is incapable ofthinking and acting to afuture through either genetic, cultural, orvolitional constraints. Ofcourse, that argument has precedent in American history. As Avery Craven long ago pointed out, "the Negroes' want ofjudgment and lack of thrift and foresight" were among the southern classic defenses ofslavery (Avery Craven, The Coming ofthe Civil War [University of Chicago Press, 1957], p. 166). Banfield states that this lower class survives today only in that, "Improvements in public sanitation and in medical and hos341 pital carefor the indigent, together with the development ofantibiotics and other miracle drugs, keep many lower-class people alive, often in spite of themselves, as it were' (p. 213). Ofcourse, "Fifty or more years ago, the Malthusian checks ofpoverty and vice may have been operating so strongly on the lower class ofthe largest cities as to cause it nearly to die out every generation or two" (p. 213). Irving Kristol, one ofthe author's friendly reviewers, wishes that the authorhad "kept these pessimistic speculations in his notebooks." I think not. I only wish the author had identified the material, seen by him asjustifying these conclusions, for examination and test by others. It is remarkable that in the entire analysis ofblack birth rate, education, unemployment , income, housing, and all the rest, assertions are often made contrary to conclusions expressed in the current SocialandEconomic Status ofNegroes in the United States, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, and Bureau of Census, United States Department of Commerce in 1969. The author explains his conclusions as due to his extrapolation of materials relating primarily to rural southern conditions—but the census reports...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 341-344
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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