Americans are living through a social crisis, contends Yuval Levin
in his 2020 book A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream
(Basic Books, 2020)
In Levin’s view, acrimony reigns in the media, both social and traditional. Public discussion of crucial policy matters has degenerated into finger-pointing. Congress is more of a platform for demagogues than a workplace for serious legislators who put the national interest above their own personal brands. Donald Trump embodies this performative style of politics. Church attendance and other forms of worship are in decline. Academia is awash in identity politics. Even questions of what constitutes a family are in dispute.
Meanwhile, our major social institutions, in past decades the bulwarks of comity and social progress, from universities to government at every level, from the Boy Scouts to the Catholic Church to National Public Radio to Hollywood, have been tarnished by scandals from admissions ones to those related to sexual abuse or harassment. The federal courts have been politicized by both sides.
And, as if things were not bleak enough, we are in the midst of a pandemic and consequent economic catastrophe.
Depressed yet? Take heart, readers! Levin’s book charts a way out of this mess—as the title suggests. Or do you even agree that things are as bad as Levin paints them or that a renewal of American institutions is the way forward? Let’s hear from the man himself on the moral state of the nation and let’s get the lowdown on why he thinks institutions, troubled as many of them are, can rise from the ashes and why we, as a people, desperately need them to do so.
Give a listen.
Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.