This piece by EPPC President Ed Whelan is part of the Federalist‘s symposium on EPPC Hertog Fellow Yuval Levin’s new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. Below is the introductory text from the Federalist, followed by Mr. Whelan’s contribution to the symposium:
Yuval Levin is not yet 40 years old, and already he is one of the leading intellectual lights of the conservative movement. His laurels are almost tedious to list, but it’s worth noting that in 2013 he won the prestigious Bradley Prize. Levin is currently the editor of National Affairs, which has fast become essential reading for its insightful essays on policy and cultural debates. Additionally, he is the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a senior editor of The New Atlantis, and a contributing editor to National Review and The Weekly Standard.
As such, the recent release of his fourth book, “The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism,” qualifies as something of an event. The book attempts to address a problem that is at once timely and acutely felt by the conservative movement: how do social conservatives — and anyone else hoping to maximize individual freedom — escape the cultural and political hegemony of the American Left, which is now so total as to make a federal civil rights case over sex-specific bathrooms in public schools?
The Federalist asked four notable writers and thinkers for their thoughts on Levin’s book, and how it can help us piece back together our fractured republic.
It won’t surprise anyone familiar with the outstanding work of my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague, Yuval Levin, that deep wisdom and sparkling clarity radiate from nearly every page of “The Fractured Republic.”
Where are we as a nation? How did we get here? What is the best path forward? No matter their politics, all readers will both learn from and be challenged by Yuval’s framework and insights.
For social conservatives — a group with which he and I both identify — Yuval offers a particularly sober assessment. The collapse of the family, “the core character-forming institution of every human society,” reflects the loss of a societal consensus about the value of the family. That bad news is compounded by the fact that many Americans who had been “nominally religious” have increasingly declared themselves to be nonreligious. This shift means that social and religious conservatives “have lost their place of honor in the moral life of our society” and are poorly positioned to plead for the family and for the traditional virtues that sustain it.
Instead, Yuval argues, amidst the widespread misery, loneliness, and despair that have resulted from the rejection of those virtues, social conservatives can best make their case for human flourishing by “building thriving subcultures.” We can most powerfully “illustrat[e] the possibility of a more appealing form of modern life by living it.”
Alas, in the face of the totalizing claims of modern progressives and their aggressive deployment of the judicial-bureaucratic apparatus to enforce those claims, it is far from clear that we will even be permitted the space needed to build our subcultures. I look forward to Yuval’s wise counsel on how to secure this space.
Ed Whelan is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.