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"The Golden Age of Fraternity was a unique time in American history. In the forty years between the Civil War and the onset of World War I, more than half of all Americans participated in clubs, fraternities, militias, and mutual benefit societies. Today this period is held up as a model for how we might revitalize contemporary civil society. But was America's associational culture really as communal as has been assumed? What if these much-admired voluntary organizations served parochial concerns rather than the common good? Jason Kaufman sets out to dispel many of the myths about the supposed civic-mindedness of "joining" while bringing to light the hidden lessons of associationalism's history. Relying on deep archival research in city directories, club histories, and membership lists, Kaufman shows that organizational activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries revolved largely around economic self-interest rather than civic engagement. And far from spurring concern for the collective good, fraternal societies, able to pick and choose members at will, fostered exclusion and further exacerbated the competitive interests of a society divided by race, class, ethnicity, and religion. Tracing both the rise and the decline of American associational life - a decline that began immediately after World War I, much earlier than previously thought - Kaufman argues persuasively that the end of fraternalism was a good thing. Illuminating both broad historical shifts - immigration, urbanization, and the disruptions of war, among them - and smaller, overlooked contours, such as changes in the burial and life insurance industries, Kaufman has written a bracing revisionist history. Eloquently rebutting those hailing America's associational past and calling for a return to old-style voluntarism, For the Common Good? will change the terms of debate about the history - and the future - of American civil society."--Publisher's description.