Hawaii Pono: A Social History (book)

Title Hawaii Pono: A Social History
Author Lawrence H. Fuchs
Original Publisher Harcourt, Brace
Original Publication Date 1961
Pages 501
WorldCat Link http://www.worldcat.org/title/hawaii-pono-a-social-history/oclc/248659752/editions?referer=di&editionsView=true

An examination of the social, political, and economic history of Hawai'i from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century as it represents "the world’s best example of dynamic social democracy." [1] Lawrence H. Fuchs focuses on political and social changes that resulted in the rise of various ethnic groups in Hawai'i, including Japanese Americans, who challenged the white oligarchy that had historically dominated the Islands.

Background of Author

In 1950, Fuchs earned his bachelor's degree from New York University and his Ph.D. from Harvard five years later. Hawaii Pono originated in 1951 from Fuchs' research on territorial politics of the United States government and "Hawaii frequently came to [his] attention in subsequent research on ethnic and religious factors in American politics." [2] In 1958, Fuchs was awarded a senior grant in American governmental processes by the Social Science Research Council for the study of ethnic tensions and accommodation in Hawai'i politics. According to Fuchs, it became evident that Island politics and contemporary ethnic tensions could not be properly understood without examining the political, economic, and social history of Hawai'i. In 1970, Fuchs established the American Studies Department at Brandeis University and served as its chair for more than twenty-five years. Fuchs was a recognized scholar of American ethnicity, focusing on American Jews and Hawai'i's multiethnic culture, and in 1986 helped to overhaul the American immigration law as a federal government adviser.

Organization of Book

As a social history of Hawai'i, the book is organized into three parts: "Ways of Life," "The Web of Oligarchy," and "The Dynamics of Democracy." The prologue to Hawaii Pono , "A Kingdom Passes," details the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom following the arrival of Europeans and Americans who transformed Island society. Part I, "Ways of Life," encompasses the history of Hawai'i in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with the arrival of missionary families and American and British businessmen who encouraged the immigration of workers from Asia beginning with the Chinese and later the Japanese and Filipinos. Part II, "The Web of Oligarchy," details the strategies of the local white elite who dominated the politics and controlled the labor and wealth of the Islands. According to Fuchs, although oligarchies had existed throughout history, Hawai'i was unique as "no community of comparable size on the mainland was controlled so completely by few individuals for so long. Rarely were political, economic, and social controls simultaneously enforced as in Hawaii." [3] This political domination was achieved through an alliance between affluent whites and Hawaiians, the influence of the plantation vote through labor and immigration controls, and partnerships between sugar planters who were driven by the idea of "co-operation, not competition." [4] Part III details the transformative effect of World War II in "The Dynamics of Democracy." According to Fuchs, the potential for change already existed in Hawai'i's public school system that encouraged American values of liberty and equality as well as the ability of second-generation populations to vote, a right denied to their immigrant parents. Thus, following World War II, the nearly monolithic control of the Republic party gave way to the rise of the Democratic Party in Hawai'i and aggressive union activity in the 1950s. Hawai'i's economic dependence on industrial agriculture was also broken with the growth of tourism and militarism combined with declining sugar prices that required sugar companies to diversify. According to Fuchs, the 1950s became a period of ferment with new opportunities for democracy.

Critical Response and Significance

Of the three books on Hawai'i's history written during the early 1960s, including Hawaii: A Way of Life by Anna Riwkin-Brick and A Century of Social Thinking in Hawaii by Stanley D. Porteus, Hawaii Pono is probably the most ambitious in attempting to provide a comprehensive history of political and social change in the Islands. As a general history, however, it does not focus on one particular ethnic group or closely examine some historical events, such as World War II, which only comprises eight pages of discussion. Fuchs mentions Japanese American incarceration briefly in one paragraph in comparison to the mainland as the "Japanese in Hawaii, aliens and citizens, were treated with far greater respect" with only 1,444 individuals incarcerated. [5] Reviewer Daniel Tuttle Jr. of the University of Hawai'i also noted that "those who desire analysis that carefully delineates fact and interpretation are doomed to disappointment. Whereas close attention is given to some political developments of this period, others are omitted or accorded only gloss treatment." [6] Fuchs also does not explore important topics during this period like race relations and ethnic identity. Japanese Americans, for example, were never a monolithic group and distinctions did exist between generations, regions, and classes that are not addressed. His description of Hawai'i as a "social democracy" ignores social divisions and historical tensions between different ethnic groups that still continued even after the 1950s. Additionally, Fuchs' confusing citation style is also problematic leading Tuttle to also comment that "even Sherlock Holmes would be weary after a chapter or two, particularly since the scholarly trail often ends in a veil of secrecy." [7] For those desiring more information on certain topics cited in the book, it would take a dedicated search of page numbers and source titles that are listed separately. Overall, Hawaii Pono does achieve its goal as a general history of social and political change in Hawai'i, although it does sacrifice detail and complexity in favor of breadth of coverage.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , Kapi'olani Community College

For More Information

Beaglehole, Ernest. "Review of Hawaii: A Way of Life , by Anna Riwkin-Brick; A Century of Social Thinking in Hawaii , by Stanley D. Porteus; Hawaii Pono: A Social History , by Lawrence H. Fuchs." Pacific Affairs 36.3 (Autumn 1963): 337–38.

Martin, Douglas. "Lawrence Fuchs, Expert on Immigration, Dies at 86." New York Times , Apr. 6, 2013.

Nathan, David E. "Faculty, Alumni Remember Prof. Lawrence Fuchs." Brandeis Now , March 21, 2013.

Tuttle, Daniel W. "Review of Hawaii Pono: A Social History , by Lawrence H. Fuchs." Western Political Quarterly 16.2 (June 1963): 488–89.


  1. Lawrence H. Fuchs, Hawaii Pono, A Social History (New York, Harcourt, Brace & World) 1961), vii.
  2. Fuchs, Hawaii Pono , viii.
  3. Fuchs, Hawaii Pono , 152.
  4. Fuchs, Hawaii Pono , 241.
  5. Fuchs, Hawaii Pono , 303.
  6. Daniel W. Tuttle, Review of Hawaii Pono: A Social History , by Lawrence H. Fuchs, Western Political Quarterly 16.2 (June 1963): 489.
  7. Tuttle, Review of Hawaii Pono .

Last updated Jan. 31, 2024, 1:53 a.m..