July 21, 2015
Has the American republic passed its zenith? A building chorus of social commentary suggests that it has. Works such as Os Guinness’ A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (2012), Donald J. Devine’s America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution (2013); James L. Buckley’s Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering Their People (2014); and Kevin D. Williamson’s The End is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure (2013) each seek to describe the illness besetting our contemporary political order and to consider whether we can halt the decline.
With By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray joins this chorus, which speaks to an increasingly palpable kairos, that opportune, and perhaps fleeting, moment in time when things must be said and done if a propitious outcome is to be achieved. Murray has been writing over the past decade—see his In Our Hands(2006) and Coming Apart (2012)—with a sense of urgency that has reached a crescendo in By the People, where he confesses in the tones of a jeremiad, “I am frightened by how close we are to losing America’s soul.”
Published in The Freeman Online, August 28, 2013
American public discourse is characterized today by predictions of decline and fall that offer little hope to the rising generations. From economic, social, and political critics, there is ample commentary on America’s self-destructive path.
Such prognoses have given birth to a mini-industry of Tocqueville studies, with partisans of all stripes hearkening back both to Tocqueville’s analysis of the strength of American democracy in our habit of association and to his awareness of a young nation’s underbelly, vulnerable to soft despotism.
“Like Tocqueville, I believe that spontaneous local activism by citizens is better than central state action not just in terms of its results, but more importantly in terms of its effect on us as citizens,” writes Niall Ferguson in his current bestseller, The Great Degeneration. So far, so good.
While I share the contemporary fascination with Tocqueville’s powers of description and prognostication, I am cautious about claiming that “civil society” holds the solution to our present decline. The current institutions and leaders of civil society to which so many are looking for answers have themselves been shaped by their partnership with the welfare state. Few are in a position to articulate, much less reclaim, their independence from the State.
Read more: http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/can-civil-society-save-us#ixzz2dHTdF9Wy
When administrators act, they constitute as well as manage. But what is being constituted—Leviathans or self-governing communities of relationships in compound republics?
The development of the Common Core, the model school curriculum standards that have been adopted by 45 states, offers us a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the democratic drift toward soft despotism. Proponents tout Common Core as “state-led” and say states “voluntarily adopt” the standards. Philanthropic and corporate America have gotten involved voluntarily. Parents and students—those most intimately affected by the initiative—won’t get to be a part of the voluntarism. But Common Core is so good, the argument goes, they’ll want it anyway.
Read more: http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/common-core-a-tocquevillean-education-or-cartel-federalism#ixzz2bEEH8yM5
Essay published online and in the July/August 2013 print edition of The Freeman.
Questioning the Common Core @ Philanthropy Daily
My essay, Exit, Voice, and Bourbon, for The Freeman (April 2013).
Conversations on Philanthropy: Emerging Questions on Liberality and Social Thought is a journal in English, and publishes original articles, essays, and book reviews addressing considerations of the role of philanthropy in a free society. Our aim is to promote inquiry and reflection on the importance of liberality—both in the sense of generosity and of the character befitting free individuals—for the flourishing of local communities, political societies, and humanity in general. As such we seek to open new perspectives on the theory, roles, and practices of philanthropic activities ranging from charitable giving, the actions of eleemosynary organizations, trusts, foundations, voluntary associations, and fraternal societies to volunteerism, mutual aid, social entrepreneurship and other forms of social action with beneficent intention (whether or not also combined with commercial and/or political purposes).
To facilitate conversations among traditional academic disciplines, Conversations on Philanthropy may include papers from a number of fields, including history, political science, economics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, philanthropic studies, religious studies, belles lettres, law, and the physical sciences, as well from philanthropic practitioners.
Editor: Lenore T. Ealy