by Ben Domenech, The Federalist

09 June 16

I have been reading Yuval Levin’s new book, The Fractured Republic, for an upcoming review and an interview next week. It is in many ways a discouraging read, and very accurate in its assessment and understanding of the political and social fracturing of the nation over the course of the 20th Century – I am yearning for a more hopeful conclusion! We wanted to acknowledge the importance of this work, so we gathered a group of folks at The Federalist into a forum on the book. http://vlt.tc/2fgr

Jonah Goldberg: “Conservatives and libertarians have been making the case for federalism, and before that, subsidiarity for a very, very long time.  { THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBSIDIARITY:  “One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.” – David Bosnich }   Simply put, pushing policy decisions to the most local democratic level possible is simply the best way to maximize human happiness; more people get to live the way they want to live.

“If all he did was explain this point to a new generation, Levin would be providing a useful service. But he goes further than that. He explains how our national sclerosis is driven not just by the usual collective action problems described by countless scholars since Mancur Olson; it’s fed and fueled by a crippling nostalgia on both left and right. The Left wants to live in 1965, the Right in 1981. Both nostalgic visions involve a conception of government unsuited to the age we live in now — or will live in tomorrow.

“One can see the cognitive dissonance most clearly in young liberals, who want a bespoke lifestyle-on-demand yet think an ever larger centralized government can secure it. The iPhone generation votes for a post office party. Young conservatives, but particularly older ones, also have a vaguely nationalistic yearning to live in a continent-spanning culturally (if not necessarily ethnically) homogeneous society. Both desires are understandable, but neither is realistic. In other words, everyone has an understandable (I would argue innate) desire for social solidarity, but the means they pursue cannot yield the ends they seek.

“The only practical way of providing people both individual liberty and a sense of real belonging in a community that reflects their own cultural preferences is devolve more sovereignty to local communities. As long as we think that the government in Washington can provide a sense of meaning to everyone the more people will feel alienated and aggrieved.”

Rachel Lu: “Dominated by a Boomer-oriented conception of what our body politic should be, we’ve been straining to return to a decades-old political model that can’t work for us anymore. By accepting that the middle-class conformity of the post-WWII era was largely a historical aberration, we may be able to free ourselves from that ill-fitting paradigm. Suddenly our political objectives might start to seem more relevant and attainable.

“Four years ago Charles Murray warned us, rather gloomily, that America was coming apart. Levin agrees, but points out that Americans through most of their history were far more “apart” than in the America of Murray’s childhood. We still managed to pull together and forge a great nation, so there’s reason to think we can do it again.

“To be sure, “The Fractured Republic” leaves us with a lengthy to-do list. Even if conservatives can agree that federalism and subsidiarity are the answers, how do we persuade everyone else? Is a resurgence of localism really possible now that so many of our citizens identify more as Americans than as Nebraskans, Floridians, or New Hampshirites? Now seems like an excellent time for delving into those questions.”

One question that emerges from the book is: Is community really possible in contemporary America? Unrelated to the book, Jane Clark Scharl writes on this topic: http://vlt.tc/2ffq   “For very few of us does “community” mean what it originally meant: communitas, or holding things—creative property, moral standards, liturgical traditions—in common, a holding that entails, in fact necessitates, the sacrifice of our personal inclinations. The contemporary interest in community is a reactionary impulse, pushing against the nineteenth century claim that each of us is ultimately alone in the universe. It is not, however, a healing impulse, because it is not prepared to reject the contention that each of us is capable of supreme fulfillment only as we cast off the bonds of morality and tradition (usually religious tradition) and define ourselves.

“If anything, radical and aggressive individualism is tightening its hold on us, often promoted by groups that are simultaneously calling for stronger community. Consider the attempts to enshrine self-definition in law by prohibiting any attempt to restrict someone’s actions based on his or her biological sex, up to and including allowing grown men to undress and shower with young girls. Radical individualism of this kind unmoors us (in fact bans us) from any shared standard of reality, which is absolutely indispensable for establishing true community.

“The problem in a nutshell is this: the modern soul consists of two contradictory impulses, an ache for community and an obsession with self-definition. Our attempt to have community without dealing with this contradiction diagnoses a symptom but ignores the disease. We recognize that we are alone and that we are in existential dread. But we confuse the causality; we believe that by surrounding ourselves with people, all of whom individually experience this existential dread, we will overcome it. We do not recognize that we are alone because of our existential dread, which is an indication of something much more profound than social isolation.”


{Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine, Confessions }

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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