The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism

By Rod Dreher
August 17, 2016
The American Conservative

As we all know by now, ideas have consequences. No ideas have been more consequential for our own time than those that emerged in the middle of the 20th century. They ushered in what Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers called, in his 2011 book of the same name, the Age of Fracture.

“Across the multiple fronts of ideational battle, from the speeches of presidents to books of social and cultural theory, conceptions of human nature that in the post–World War II era had been thick with context, social circumstance, institutions, and history gave way to conceptions of human nature that stressed choice, agency, performance, and desire,” Rodgers writes. He calls our time “an era of disaggregation, a great age of fracture.”

Yuval Levin, not quite 40 and one of the leading conservative thinkers of his generation, has published an insightful, visionary book seeking a way forward for American politics through the ruins. To call The Fractured Republic cautious as well is no criticism: in fact, the modesty of Levin’s program is a virtue. He argues that by its nature, ours is not an age in which big, sweeping ideas can unify the nation and dominate our politics. Levin, who is himself Jewish, says the solution to “renewing America’s social contract in the age of individualism”—the book’s subtitle—comes from a core principle of Catholic social teaching: subsidiarity.

He makes a strong, data-driven case that by every measure, America today is a less cohesive nation than it was in the immediate postwar era. We are politically more polarized, economically more unequal; socially atomized, religiously diffuse. As the culture and the economy have liberalized, giving the individual more lifestyle options and consumer choice, the bonds holding Americans together have become much thinner.

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