President Trump’s repeated thrashing of norms both political and interpersonal—and his ability to leverage this insurgent-style behavior into popular support among a significant segment of the American population and victory at the polls—shocked just about everyone in 2016. While it is easy to call him out or dismiss him for his antics, as many have done, it’s a much more complicated task to get at the deeper dysfunction in society that can explain his success. The widespread acceptance and even approval that Trump receives for breaking a wide range of long-standing norms shows that something fundamental about those norms has changed.
Social norms—the rules for how to treat other people or act in public, established and enforced by one’s group or the broader society—are a major part of a larger set of formal and informal institutions that shape behavior. Over the past two generations, the decline of informal social institutions has shifted many well-established norms, with the general effect of sharply increasing freedom from many historically imposed constraints. This has arguably yielded many benign effects across American society: more opportunity and equality for women and minorities; more freedom to explore new ideas, lifestyles, and places; and a more inclusive, democratic and competitive political system.
But whereas the benefits of increased autonomy and self-expression are often touted in politics and popular culture, the less desirable consequences connected to these same changes in social norms are rarely noted. Tradeoffs are generally not acknowledged, and indeed it has even become a sign of extreme political incorrectness to suggest that some bad outcomes may be mixed with the good. As David Goodhart writes, “Along with the decline in bad discrimination (based on race, gender and class) there has been a decline in good discrimination too—discrimination that helps to reinforce good, virtuous behavior in everyday life.”1 Along with new individual freedoms have come weakened family life (and worse outcomes for children), social breakdown (which has brought devastation if not exactly “carnage” to many communities), rising rates of social isolation, anomie (as seen in rising rates of suicide and drug abuse), and declining employment and civic engagement rates. The erosion of authority has undermined the capacity of institutions at every level of society to play constructive roles. This is even apparent at the national political level, where it is ever harder to assemble the coalitions necessary to get much of anything done. Thus the normative shift has percolated up from informal society into our formal politics.
The deterioration of the social institutions that have historically nurtured constructive norms has created a vacuum into which a set of novel destructive norms—or anti-norms—has flowed. Data from the World Values Survey and elsewhere help us specify connections between the changes in norms and changes in personal and political behavior. An analysis of this data offers several suggestions as to how both policymakers and civic leaders can contribute to the reconstruction of more virtuous norms.
Social Norms and Institutions
Institutions, the relatively stable sets of rules and structures that shape human activity, come in four forms: state organizations such as courts; state rules, such as laws issued by the government; social organizations or entities, such as communities, families, and churches; and the norms, rules, and values that social organizations and networks create.
Operating independently of the formal rules and laws made up by and enforced by the state, social institutions—the latter two categories—are essential to the development of complex social organization and cooperation because they efficiently guide behavior and frame choice. They are what Douglass C. North calls the informal “rules of the game” that “define the incentive structures of society.” They exercise authority in two ways: by providing meaning and defining ambition in ways that individuals see as desirable; and by pressuring and, as may be necessary, coercing individuals to comply.
These norms and codes, which can be positive or negative, depend in turn on the training of the various institutions (and networks) a person belongs to or participates in, especially early in their life: family, community, education, and social and work life as one ages. They include everything from whether one stands in line, jaywalks, litters in public spaces, speaks politely, talks loudly on a cell phone on a bus or train, showers regularly, leaves proper tips, claims a public benefit to which one is unentitled, and in general acts responsibly, honestly, and with a recognition of expectations of reciprocal altruism. Broader norms would include how one views women, children, people from different ethnic groups, strangers, dating, marriage, sex, work, charity, the law, and other kinds of formal authority.
Although there is usually some disagreement between people of various political and religious hues over which norms are constructive—for example, debates over everything from the role of religion in the public square to dress codes—a large body of norms that everyone can agree are constructive (generosity, honesty, acting lawfully) does exist. It is this latter group of norms that is the focus here.
Social institutions, also known as intermediate institutions, play a major role in strengthening society and bettering the human condition. When they work to promote constructive behavior (honesty, commitment, long-term perspective) and social cohesion (relationships within a community, inclusiveness), they promote positive social outcomes by binding groups together, curtailing dysfunctional behavior, and promoting desirable social outcomes as a complement to individualist aspirations. By increasing cooperation and commitment to the group, intermediating institutions reduce slacking and cheating, and mitigate other forms of selfish behavior. Such mechanisms strengthen groups and societies in a unique manner, and evidence from anthropology suggests that, while cultures differ in many ways, all of them possess such elemental mechanisms.
Laws, regulations, and tax codes—all formal institutions—have limited influence when societies do not provide an institutional ecosystem that supports their implementation. Many poor countries, for example, have laws and government bodies that on the surface look very similar to those of rich countries. But to varying degrees they lack the social mechanisms (and capacity)—the “social reality,” as Russell Kirk wrote—to ensure that these work as they should on paper; corruption, cheating, and deception thrives without the necessary underlying social ecosystem.2 Similarly, policies in the United States aimed at fighting poverty, strengthening education, increasing social mobility, and so forth do not work as expected without the social mechanisms to support them—in this case, robust families, dense social ties, and constructive norms and institutions. Women’s rights can be inscribed in law yet be spited by the behavior of powerful people—corporate executives, media moguls, and spouses—as recent events have made manifest.
Despite ample evidence of the importance of informal social institutions and the norms they nurture, only a handful of researchers—including Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1960s and Charles Murray and Robert Putnam in recent years—have zeroed in on the connection between decayed social institutions and the decline of constructive social norms, on the one hand, and social breakdown, truncated social mobility, and deteriorated family life, on the other. While researchers have long examined the connection between norms and political outcomes (such as the role of middle-class values and democracy), their focus has mainly been developing countries undergoing democratization; until the rise of populism across the West there was less interest in these connections in consolidated democracies such as the United States. There is little research and only limited discussion on the link between individual social norms and politics, books such as Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult (2017) being an exception.
This would surprise those writing a century ago or more. Even before modern sociology came into being, political thinkers such as Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville grasped the connection. Taking their cue from inherited assumptions, early sociologists clearly understood the danger of social disintegration in one form or another. Indeed, the field was founded to some extent to study such issues. Much of Émile Durkheim’s work is concerned with how societies can maintain their integrity and coherence and avoid becoming highly anomic as modernization weakens the social connectedness produced by strong ties to family, religion, and community. Similar concerns concerned Durkheim’s near-contemporary German colleague, Ferdinand Tönnies. The most recent U.S. election suggests we need to return to such concerns, and to look especially at how they contribute to destructive social norms and political decay.
The Impact of Declining Social Institutions
In an earlier era, people in the United States grew up embedded in and connected to a wide range of local neighborhood and communal social institutions that encouraged constructive, prosocial behavior, while providing greater integration of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds than is common nowadays. Today the state, porous peer groups, and various media play a more formative and mediating role; social institutions have decayed, lost influence, or even disappeared in many places. Television shows such as American Idol, Game of Thrones, and WWE Raw; social media; and the whole panoply of content available on the web shape the norms of millions in a way that was inconceivable only a few decades ago. Not only does society lack the instruments to impress upon citizens—especially youth—the basic values necessary to uphold laws and participate in government, but it also hosts large numbers of individuals with weak communal ties and low exposure to constructive norms.
Growing individualism and self-centeredness is both a contributor to and product of the decline of many important social institutions. As Charles Taylor has written, a “cultural revolution” has produced not only “moral/spiritual and instrumental individualisms,” but also “widespread ‘expressive’ individualism.” In A Secular Age, he calls the post-1960s era the “Age of Authenticity” after the “understanding of life” that emerged among the elite with the Romantic expressivism of the late 18th century. This understanding holds
that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or from religious or political authority.
This understanding has since expanded to become a “mass phenomenon,” but has produced a widespread sense that something has been lost, because “communities are eroding [and] families, neighborhoods, even the polity” are experiencing some sort of break-up.3
In this new age, as C. S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man (1943), “the business of debunking” has become central to how people think while “the doctrine of objective value”—whereby certain objects or attitudes “did not merely receive, but could merit our approval or disapproval, our reverence or contempt”—has fallen by the wayside. Lewis warned that if we were no longer able to “initiate” youth in fundamental values based on their “intrinsic ‘justness’ or ‘ordinacy,’” society would lose its ability to develop the very qualities for which it clamors. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. . . . We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”4
The rise of “expressive individualism” and a culture that, stripped of its various social mechanisms of constraint and responsibility, allows people to “do whatever you want and can get away with,” has, as former United Kingdom Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues, created huge, unappreciated and still not really understood or even acknowledged, costs:
People believed that the collateral damage could be dealt with by the state. It would care for the children of broken or abusive families. Its regulatory bodies would enforce financial and business ethics. Its tax regime would guarantee fairness in the distribution of rewards. But the state is no substitute for an internalised code of honour and personal responsibility.
Working and poor communities have been especially devastated by the rise of “expressive individualism” because they depended more than other groups on the communal social institutions, ties, and mechanisms that enforced normative standards. As David Brooks argues, “If you rob people of their good covenantal attachments, they will grab bad ones.” The severe social problems the country is now experiencing—such as the opioid crisis, the huge number of children growing up in unstable families, and major declines in health indicators for certain segments of the population—have few parallels (in terms of scale) in other advanced countries, probably because individualization and the alienation, loneliness, stress, discontent, and disorder it can bring has gone further here than elsewhere.
Even though the United States still has a deeper reservoir of nongovernmental organizations—what might be termed “visible” social institutions—than most other countries, the institutions that influence individual behavior—the “invisible” social institutions—have severely deteriorated, especially among the working class. This is a direct result of the decay of the religious and communal institutions that once knitted relationships around shared meaning and encouraged virtuous behavior—the two often going hand in hand.
Indeed, it is conceivable that some places have seen both an increase in non-governmental organization (NGO) activity and an appreciable decline in constructive social norms over recent decades—because the social decay that weakening social institutions brings about increases the need for NGOs to address the resulting deficits. But, as a rule, NGOs do not nurture, let alone re-knit, lost constructive social norms if nothing has replaced the institutions that once played such a role. For example, rising crime caused by social breakdown led to sharp growth in nonprofit groups responding to the violence “by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men.” Starting in the 1990s, “the number of nonprofits began to rise sharply across the country, particularly those addressing neighborhood and youth development,” according to the New York Times. Yet although some indicators of social breakdown improved during this period after decades of decline (such as crime levels, which dropped significantly), others continued their downward spiral unabated (for example, marriage norms, employment rates, and health indicators).
The Rise of Destructive Social Norms
Work, family life, civic engagement, and many other positive goods are all less valued today than they were in the fairly recent past. This “normative sea change” has been documented by Nicholas Eberstadt, Robert Putnam, Charles Murray, and others. But something even deeper is going on: Fundamental values such as responsibility, generosity, and honesty are now valued less and less. For example, there has been a significant decline in recent decades in the proportion of people who think undertaking unlawful acts like accepting a bribe in the course of one’s duties, cheating on taxes, wrongfully claiming a benefit, and avoiding a public-transit fare are never justifiable, as Paul Howe has shown using data from the American part of the World Values Survey (WVS). The number of people who see such behavior as at least somewhat justifiable is much greater—and growing much faster—among the young. Whereas in 1981, the year of the first WVS, roughly one in six people surveyed in the 18 to 29 age cohort believed that all four unlawful acts were at least somewhat justifiable, the proportion climbed to almost one in three in the most recent 2011 WVS. Similar but less significant rises are evident across all age groups, and especially among those who grew up after the 1960s.
These attitudes do not operate in isolation, and they have manifest political implications. They are strongly correlated with aggressive, even violent, tendencies, as evidenced by answers to questions related to the justifiability of parents beating their children, a man beating his wife, and undertaking violence in general. They also correlate with anti-democratic views, as evidenced by answers to questions related to whether it is good “having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections,” whether “having the army rule is a good thing,” whether civil rights are necessary to protect people’s liberty from state oppression, and whether it is absolutely important to live in a country governed democratically. Such sentiments are substantially more common among the less-educated portions of the population. As Howe, one of the few people who has been examining the links between social norms and politics, notes, they indicate that “indifferent feelings towards democracy are interlaced with a broader set of self-interested and antisocial attitudes that are present among a substantial minority of the U.S. population.”
As the groups with unconstructive norms get better established, they naturally reinforce their values and norms in much the same way that groups with more constructive values and norms do—through interconnectivity, feedback loops, and various incentives. As S. L. Price writes in his portrayal of a western Pennsylvania steel town, “decline worked like acid on everything. . . . Definitions . . . shifted: little by little, behaviors considered immoral or fringe or ‘crazy’ edged toward the center. The town’s idea of convention gradually split from the world’s.”5 Whereas the latter operates in a virtuous cycle (as with trust encouraging trust), the former is trapped in a vicious cycle (as with mistrust encouraging mistrust). While the decline in social institutions provided the opening for such social changes, the growth of the internet and social media has accelerated the dynamic because of how these media provide an alternative unfiltered source of values and norms. As a report published by the Citizen Crime Commission of New York City notes, the “unique features of social media have created an environment in which healthy social norms are not ubiquitously followed.6
These changes have had an enormous impact on political outcomes. As Emily Ekins and Jonathan Haidt argued in a February 2016 article, voters who “score high on authority/loyalty/sanctity and low on care . . . are significantly more likely to vote for Donald Trump. These are the true authoritarians—they value obedience while scoring low on compassion.”7 As the proportion of such voters has increased, the chance that someone like Trump might win an election has increased. On the other hand, as Timothy Carney and Michael Barone have documented, the places with the highest levels of social connectedness (as measured by indicators such as Penn State’s county-level measurement of social capital, Putnam’s studies on social capital, divorce rates, disability insurance rates, church attendance, and ethnic and religious backgrounds)—and thus constructive social norms—consistently gave Trump lower levels of support in the primaries than comparable regions. According to Barone, whereas Trump received only one-fifth to one-third of the vote in the primaries and caucuses in the 13 states with the highest levels of social connectedness, he received one-third to one-half of the vote in the 11 states with the lowest levels of social connectedness.8 Republicans in heavily Mormon Utah, for example, which has very high levels of social connectedness compared to most other places, only gave Trump 14 percent of the vote in the primary. A March 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that Republicans who attended church every week preferred Ted Cruz by 15 points; Republicans who did not attend church preferred Trump over Cruz by 27 points.9
These social trends suggest that the growing mistrust, discontent, and alienation that flavor American politics—and account for the rise of Donald Trump and his populist cohort—may have less to do with objective analyses of government performance and economic conditions and more to do with the growth of a narcissist, self-indulgent mindset and the hyper-individualist norms that accompany it. Social dynamics and values color political opinions. The decline of constraints in the private sphere has laid the groundwork for the decline of constraints in the public—political—sphere.
This would explain the decline in trust and legitimacy of institutions—government, media, universities, banks, and so forth—which has been the most common explanation for the rise of Trump and other populists. But it would clash with the common view that Trump’s rise is primarily caused by a dissatisfaction with government performance, or with corruption in Washington. The latter is the view of political scientists such as Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, who believe that the cause is the lost “trust of many citizens who no longer believe that democracy can deliver on their most pressing needs and preferences.”10 This view may be partly correct, but it is unlikely to be the whole answer given the aforementioned data. It explains the success of someone like Bernie Sanders—an outsider who never violated traditional political and social norms—but only a “normative sea change” can explain the rise of Trumpism.
Although party loyalty and the growing “tribal” nature of politics surely benefitted him in the general election, Trump thrived initially and throughout the competitive primary season because of, not despite, his repeated norm violations. His core base recognizes Trump as “one of them” at least partly because his set of social norms—notably different from that of other politicians—more closely matches theirs—as any visit to a Trump rally would show. A generation ago no such cohort would have existed, and so no such politician could have achieved the same level of success in attracting and mobilizing its support.
The astounding acceptance of such behavior by a potential, and now actual, head of state by a significant number of people can only be explained through the lens of social norms. If these had not changed so substantially, Trump never would have received the opening he did in the primary and never would have been accepted (however unhappily) by so many in the general election. (Of course, dislike for his opponent and for progressive ideology helped.) Trump is not just or even mainly a cause of political decay as much as he is a symptom or product of a larger social decay that laid the ground for his rise. Since becoming President, he has also been an accelerant for both, but it is misleading to focus on the man. Yet that is precisely what the mainstream media has done, contributing to the mass confusion about the nation’s circumstances.
Rebuilding Social Institutions and Norms
The only way to reverse the decline in virtue among politicians (and financiers and fathers) is to reverse the decline among the general population. But strengthening constructive, virtuous social norms is not something governments can do easily. Government arguably performed such a task in the civil rights era, but even there it more followed than led gradual changes in social attitudes embedded in the social institutions that matter most—families, schools, communities, churches, and so forth. The decline of these institutions—what Burke might have called the sinews of healthy social life—is the major reason that social and political norms have changed and Trumpism has flourished. Only the reinvigoration of these in some form can reverse the process that has brought us here.
Yet there is no significant political constituency today in the United States for an agenda to strengthen the underlying social system of the nation. Indeed, the opposite is true: Both Left and Right champion agendas that laud the removal of constraints in a way that would inevitably decimate the social institutions that underpin constructive social norms. Whereas the Left’s emphasis on individual rights and social justice encourages the systematic dismantling of social institutions, the Right’s emphasis on the market above all else is simply a different flavor of individualism—one that has also wreaked havoc on social institutions. The latter may not have explicitly called for their dismantling but pursued a policy mix that inevitably created great damage when pursued in isolation. As David Brooks argues, both have “individualistic worldviews,” promoting “policies designed to expand individual choice. Neither paid much attention to social and communal bonds, to local associations, or invisible norms. . . . no matter who was in power, the prevailing winds [have] been blowing in the direction of autonomy, individualism, and personal freedom, not in the direction of society, social obligations, and communal bonds.”11
If there were a suitable constituency or political leadership in place, what kind of policies could strengthen core social institutions and norms?
First, it is essential to encourage the growth and expansion of social institutions that build social connectedness and impart strong constructive values. Too often, government policies do the reverse today, such as when disagreements over the role of religious organizations limit their ability to offer public services (for example, orphanages, healthcare facilities, and so forth), when tax policy discourages marriage and childcare, and autonomy and choice are promoted without consideration for the implications. Instead, some sort of incentive (matching grants?) should be offered to any philanthropy, nonprofit organization, or religious body that establishes new programs or chapters in areas identified as especially low in social capital and that sought to build social connectedness and cohesion and to bolster constructive norms. This effort would parallel attempts to attract business investment into poor areas, but with a focus on social rather than narrowly economic impoverishment.
Similarly, incentives for marriage should be enhanced by, at the very least, lowering its cost. For example, housing could be made less expensive (by, for instance, rolling back land-use restrictions and expanding the supply of affordable and multi-family housing), mobility for work could be made easier (by, for example, easing commutes, paying for relocations, and expanding opportunities to work remotely), and tax credits for children raised by two-parent families could be expanded.
Religion, which has historically been the best producer of social institutions and constructive social norms, must play an essential role here. As Robert Putnam and David Campbell quantified in American Grace, those who frequently attend a religious service are more likely to donate money to charity, volunteer, help the homeless, donate blood, spend time with a person who is depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, or help someone find a job. Religiosity is a better predictor of altruism and empathy than education, age, income, gender, or race.12
Other studies show that regular attendance at religious services results in a host of constructive social norms like strong marriages, stable family life, well-behaved and emotionally secure children, reductions in occurrences of domestic abuse, crime, and addiction; and gains in physical health, mental health, education levels, and longevity. As Patrick Fagan notes, “these effects are intergenerational, as grandparents and parents pass on the benefits to the next generations.”13
Putnam’s work shows that too much individualism weakens social cohesion and a wide range of social norms and constructive values, while religion builds community, strengthens empathy and altruism, and shifts focus away from the self and toward others and the common good. Roger Trigg posits that societies without religion risk over many generations losing the very mechanisms—embedded in social institutions—that have held them together and enabled them to thrive historically.14
Other social institutions can have a similar effect, though usually on a smaller scale. These can include labor unions, guild-like associations, various types of regular volunteer activities, and even local political party organs that can provide deep meaning and dense social ties.
Of course, any initiative to expand the role of religion would require the lead of non-state actors (for example churches and philanthropies). At the least, government should provide more space for faith-based organizations to play a larger role.
A Philanthropy Roundtable initiative designed to “strengthen families and the religious participation that bolsters family life” in three cities (Phoenix, Jacksonville, and Dayton) shows how this might work. Recognizing the unique role marriage plays in the development of constructive norms, social mobility, the reduction of poverty, and the promotion of a wide range of positive social outcomes—and the unique role religion plays in promoting it—the Philanthropy Roundtable has launched the “Culture of Freedom Initiative,” a partnership aiming to strengthen families and the religious participation that bolsters family life. Secular programs or outreach to people from various religious backgrounds are not excluded, but religious participation occupies a central role. The term culture in the title indicates the importance of cultural norms to a healthy society. As the head of one of the partner institutions says,
A lot of families have never seen what healthy looks like. They’ve been in generational cycles of divorce and incarceration and poverty. . . . You have to be taught how to become a man or woman of your word. This is not automatic; it has to be learned. It’s cultural. Right now, for a lot of people, it’s simply not taught.15
The $50 million targeted for the initiative will be used to strengthen local nonprofits capable of having a substantial impact on the core issues.
A second approach to reinvigorating positive social norms might be a new voluntary national service program—the one top-down government initiative that could reproduce some of the impact that social institutions have on norms and beliefs.16 Youth are the most vulnerable to the breakdown in social institutions, as the WVS results show, but they are also the most open to change and thus are a natural entry point for any effort to revitalize constructive social norms. Political leaders could develop a national service program under which everyone 18 years old works for a period of time (say, for example, one year) doing a variety of public service work. This could be patterned after programs such as Teach for America or military service, with some preliminary training followed by time working on one of the country’s myriad socioeconomic problems (social support services, drug rehabilitation, urban development, youth development, prisoner reintegration into society, and so forth) with people from different backgrounds. This could start with work close to home (to avoid the startup challenges of housing huge numbers of people) and eventually be transformed into something that encourages participants to explore a different part of the country. The more the national service program forced people to work across social, economic, and political divides, the more it would help heal some of the divisions that have increasingly plagued the country.
Third, schools and other public institutions need to invest more in the development of constructive norms. As Margaret Stimmann Branson of the Center for Civic Education argues, schools should play a much greater role teaching civic values, knowledge, skills, and disposition. This would require reduced emphasis on testing, metrics, and the deranged overarching message that a person is only as valuable as his or her economic output. For example, learning activities could include opportunities for students to cooperate through councils, mock courts, and mock elections to develop greater “civility, courage, self-discipline, persistence, concern for the common good, respect for others, and other traits relevant to citizenship.” Debating, evaluating, and defending ethics could be part of these exercises. Tutoring, cleaning up the environment, and volunteering for community service programs would develop greater “self-discipline, respect for others, civility, punctuality, personal responsibility, and other character traits.” The celebration of national, state, and local holidays and the achievements of classmates would build a greater “recognition of shared values and a sense of community.”17
This points to the fact that even though nationalism (and pride in one’s country) is sometimes disparaged or misused, it remains an essential tool for building the social bonds and developing the generosity, honesty, concern for the common good, respect for others, and other constructive social norms essential to the functioning of a modern society. When leaders emphasize “nation-building at home”—which both Trump and Obama have done in different forms—they should recognize that this requires a greater investment in social cohesion and social institutions as well as infrastructure.
Obviously, an agenda like this will be difficult to implement. Only a concerted, simultaneous effort by a coalition of political, religious, and civic leaders can hope to reverse the malign trends that have taken hold in so many places. If national leadership on this score is presently impossible, local political, religious, and civic leaders must take the lead, ideally in partnership with each other and with ample support from the latest marketing and communication techniques to advance their causes and monitor their progress.
Although it is rarely acknowledged, the liberal order is very much tied to the promotion of constructive values such as responsibility, duty, and virtue, as well as the social institutions such as family, community, and religion that nurture them. As James Madison emphasized when urging his home state of Virginia to ratify the Constitution, “No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.”
The only way to create “virtue in the people” is by promoting the social institutions which ensure that individuals learn constructive norms and curtail their autonomy and choice in some contexts. As Mary Ann Glendon argues, “Because individuals are partly constituted in and through relationships with others, a liberal politics dedicated to full and free human development cannot afford to ignore the settings that are most conducive to the fulfillment of that ideal.”18
Although existing legal and political vocabularies can easily handle issues related to rights, markets, and the state, they do not provide an easy way to value and make use of the smaller groups and systems that inculcate the values and practices that shape how societies and countries as a whole evolve, and thus how effectively their democracies and governments will work, Glendon added. Many of the problems the United States now faces are arguably products of a decaying social ecosystem. Only a concerted effort to restore or revitalize this ecosystem—to repair the torn social fabric—can reverse these trends. More humility about what individualism and unchecked forms of political egoism can accomplish would be a good start.
1Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 222.
2Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormality in Literature and Politics (Arlington House, 1969), p. 168.
3Taylor, A Secular Age (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 473-5.
4Lewis, The Abolition of Man (HarperSanFrancisco, 1974), pp. 14-26.
5Price, Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016), p. 342.
6Roberta Liggett and Stephanie Ueberall, Social Media Impacts Behavior and Norms (Citizen Crime Commission of New York City, 2016), p. 2.
7Ekins and Haidt, “Donald Trump Supporters Think about Morality Differently than Other Voters. Here’s How”, Vox, February 5, 2016.
8Barone, “Does Lack of Social Connectedness Explain Trump’s Appeal?,” Washington Examiner, March 27, 2016.
10Foa and Mounk, “The Danger of Deconsolidation,” Journal of Democracy (July 2016), p. 16.
11Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House, 2011), pp. 314-5.
12Putnam and Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Simon & Schuster, 2010).
13Fagan, “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1992, December 18, 2006. See also W. Bradford Wilcox, “The Latest Social Science Is Wrong. Religion Is Good for Families and Kids,” Washington Post, December 15, 2015.
14Trigg, Equality, Freedom, and Religion (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 22-3 and 139.
16Voluntary national service has been promoted in TAI over the years. See, for instance, “A Call to National Service” (January/February 2008), and Adam Garfinkle, “What’s Wrong and How to Fix It, Part 11: National Service” (February 2013).
17Branson and Charles Quigley, The Role of Civic Education, (The Communitarian Network, 1998), pp. 28-9.
18Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (The Free Press, 1991), p. 137.