Change does not come without costs. The rapid social changes of the past few decades have left us with more overall prosperity and a dynamic culture — but have also seen those same forces erode and destroy American communities and the ties that bind us.
Today’s America is wracked with existential anxiety, with the Left longing for the economics of 1965 and the Right longing for the heyday of President Reagan. How can today’s politicians and today’s people look towards the present, and rebuild our social cohesion, our social contract? Reform conservative Yuval Levin has the cure in The Fractured Republic.
Levin combines the narratives of social decline from the Right and the Left — the decay of values and the decay of community institutions — into a unified problem, one that touches both on social and economic issues. Traditionalists who see the 1960s as the beginning of a slouch towards Gomorrah will be able to see the economics of this decay; those who focus more on the economic atomization of the American middle class should be able to appreciate how the destruction of traditional values has exacerbated and enabled that problem.
How can America solve this problem? Levin starts by addressing the hollow nostalgia Americans have for the mid-20th century, and the postwar period in particular. He mentions the books of liberal Paul Krugman and the conservative Charles Murray as indulging in this idolization of the early 1960s, and then mentions the ways conservatives idolize the 1980s. In attacking the roots of these complexes, Levin sets himself up for his solution — that while some parts of life in those times was admirable, their models can no longer be applied to a modern America.
His main theme, in the early part of the book, is that Americans have been divorced from their civil institutions. He opens the book with a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, and his highlighting of civil institutions is deliberate. The social alienation of America parallels its alienation from politics, and its descent into anxiety and frenzy.
His solution, then, is to find a way to accomodate social changes within rebuilt and reinvigorated institutions. This is where traditionalists might feel disquieted — Levin himself is not a partisan in what he calls the “Subculture Wars”. Nonetheless, Levin’s goal is to reintroduce the importance of nongovernmental institutions into American life, an initiative which any conservative can get behind.
Anyone who like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, and anyone interested in the Kirk and Nisbet line of communitarian conservatism will definitely want to pick up this book. At less than 300 pages, it’s also accessible to the average reader, who will be able to go through Levin’s sections with relative ease.
If you want to make America great again, Levin’s case for a new social contract is a great place to start.
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