You Can’t Go Home Again
National Affairs editor and conservative policy wonk Adam Yuval has written a very important and very dense book as to how we arrived at our current political mess and how we may get out of it. He argues rightly that both the baby boomer Right and the baby boomer Left are nostalgic for the 1950s and early 1960s. As more than a few wags have put it liberals want to work in the 1950s while conservatives want to live there. In the words of Thomas Wolfe, “you can’t go home again.” Simply put the 1950s represented a unique period of economic and social consolidation that was rendered obsolete by the full weight of globalization, technology, immigration and the social revolution of the 1960s. Thus no matter how the politicians may yearn we are not going back to the social mores of the 1950s and similarly the cozy big labor/big business model of that era has long been buried.
To Levin our politics today evolve around the radical individualism brought about by the rights revolution of the 60s and 70s joined by a highly centralized national government that has crowded out the space for intermediating institutions. Levin elevates the principle of subsidiarity which entails that policy ought to be implemented closest to the local level as possible. By this he means family, religious institutions, civic organizations (including by the way labor unions) and local government. Where Levin is dead right he notes that radical individualism has brought with it rights without obligations and those obligations are largely to the local institutions mentioned. How we modify the rights mentality to accommodate is vision of subsidiarity is a big question mark. Further the forces of globalization and technology that are still well in train work to destroy the local institutions he wants to strengthen.
I also wish he would have discussed the implications of Jonathan Haidt’s “Righteous Mind….” on healing our fractured republic. Haidt’s thesis is that conservatives and liberals differ because they have different moral matrices. While liberals and conservatives are informed by care/harm, liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating; however conservative morality is also informed by loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation. Thus if our republic is to be made whole the conservatives are going to have to give up on a host of obligations or the liberals are going to have to buy in to the idea that some of their individualism is going to have to give way for the good of society. We can hope, but it is going to be tough slog.
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