Michael Gerson’s column today serves as a reminder:
Much about the future health of the republic depends on Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam being wrong. Given the track record of Harvard social scientists, this might appear a reasonable bet. But, in this case, Putnam’s diligence and thoughtfulness make for very bad news.
Putnam has spent much of his academic life as America’s chief chronicler of declining social institutions — a dour task, cheerfully performed. In the 1990s, he began drawing together the disparate evidence of declining attendance at bowling leagues, church services and Moose lodges. His data points included the falloff in yearly picnic attendance and a rise in the incidence of drivers giving each other the finger.
of the power of social institutions. The decline in social institutions is one of the things contributing to a wide variety of social ills from rising income inequality to the violence committed by gangs. The one thing that those calling for radical individualism and those urging the professionalization and centralization of benevolence have in common is that both of their preferred solutions weaken social institutions. Entire books have been written on this subject.
We used to be a country notable for the breadth and depth of our social institutions. I don’t know that there’s any way to return home.
When the Soviet Union collapsed the only institutions left standing in the ruins were the military/KGB, the Orthodox church, and organized crime. The Soviet government had fostered the first and however hard it tried it couldn’t stamp out the other two. We should hardly be surprised when the society that emerged in today’s Russia is founded on those institutions.