In a recent podcast, Steve talked with Yuval Levin about his brilliant new book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism. In the interview, Yuval summarized the book’s themes and some of its key arguments. The discussion begins at around the 19 minute mark.
At 21 minutes, Yuval sets forth his core thesis. At 23 minutes, he begins his critique of contemporary conservatism.
I can’t improve on Yuval’s summary, nor do I disagree with much of what he says in interview. After reading The Fractured Republic, I’m persuaded that our politics are far more detached from reality than they should be and that much of the public’s frustration stems from its sense that this is so. I’m persuaded that both liberals and conservatives are, if not “blinded” (as Yuval says), hampered by nostalgia for major aspects of mid-century America (coupled for conservatives with nostalgia for the Age of Reagan). I’m persuaded that there is no returning to the America both sides exalt.
I’m persuaded that overcoming our excessive nostalgia is a prerequisite for finding a solution to 21st century problems. I’m persuaded that conservatives are more likely than liberals to find good solutions because they understand better the importance of the “middle layers” of society — e.g., localities, churches, and strong families — that can help detoxify our political culture, improve our character, restrain both excessive individualism and excessive centralization, and facilitate the quest for experimentation and diversity that may enable us to find solutions.
I’m less hopeful than Yuval that we will get there from here. But then, I’m more nostalgic than he is.
Here, though, is the main point I want to make about The Fractured Republic: it provides that which is so very rare in political commentary — perspective.
This is what enables Yuval to find the commonality, namely nostalgia, between the contemporary American left and the contemporary American right. It’s what enables him to grasp that the period[s] both sides idealize, not without good reason, were anomalous and cannot be revived. It’s what enables him to identify so clearly both the pluses and the minuses that have accompanied our dramatic departure from mid-century policies, norms, and attitudes.
It’s why I recommend The Fracture Republic so highly.