Monday, June 27, 2016
Review: The Fractured Republic
Yuval Levin has created a thinking man’s book on where America is today, versus where many liberals and conservatives think it is, and where it should go from here. This is a thinking man’s book because it would be easy to debate his words from a biased point of view, until we think about the bigger picture he presents.
He notes the liberal desire to build on the Great Society begun in the ‘60’s and the conservative desire for a community-focused society like after WWII (or of the Reagan years) but he notes that at those times our culture and economy were at different points than today, and we can’t wish them back, or even create their return. It’s like longing for the days of our youth; you can’t go back. The way forward from today starts with where we are at today. And Levin gives examples of our current muddled thinking about where we are at and about how to move forward, like recognizing this is an age of individualism and self-deemed uniqueness, and yet wanting a single government program to meet everyone’s desires. That’s illogical.
He notes that in “opening ourselves to an immense diversity of cultures, we have weakened the roots of mutual trust, (and the) mediating institutions of family, community, church, unions and others.” In praise of diversity, “our culture is becoming a sea of subcultures,” and the “Nominally Religious”, who have generally composed nearly half the population … are becoming “Nones” in their quest for individualism.
Levin offers no simple answers to “Where do we go from here?” He does, however, point to a need to reinforce our mediating institutions but not from the top down, but rather through subsidiarity --- “the entrusting of power and authority to the lowest and least centralized institutions capable of using them well --- a key to addressing the particular problems of our age of individualism”. Capable of using them well is a good phrase, but a most debatable one. But I agree with the general premise he makes that we must work hard together at the lowest levels, not the highest. A government can’t unite us; we must know each other, in our diversity, to unite together in purpose.
With his focus on subsidiarity, I’m guessing Levin would favor Britain’s Brexit, as well as state lawsuits against the Executive Office dictates. I think he would favor e pluribus unim over “celebrate diversity”. And I suppose he’d favor orderly immigration, with local-developed plans for a “melting pot” rather than communities of like-minded people setting up their own laws (and flags) within our country.
I grew up in a Polish ethnic neighborhood, but we were Polish-American, not Polish, period. We didn’t speak Polish in school, and we expected to learn and love American ways, rather than expecting others to change to ours (except, of course, we expected others to learn to like kielbasa). And then we all moved away from those neighborhoods. I don’t think Levin is proposing we go back, we can’t, but rather that we know our neighbors today, and work together in our local churches and communities.
I think Yuval would have liked Magnus, whose book The Shed That Fed A Million Children I recently reviewed. When Magnus saw something needing to be done, even halfway around the world, he rallied his neighbors to help those in need. That’s subsidiarity at its fullest. I think I heard it described in yet another Book as “love your neighbor.” And you can’t delegate that to a government.