Rewilding Civil Society

Jan 9, 2019 by

In conservation biology, a complex ecosystem whose health was slowly compromised over time can be revivified through a cascade of positive changes set in motion by reintroducing one of that system’s previous components. That’s exactly what today’s civil society needs, and conservative policymakers can help. We mustn’t shy away from using policy to achieve important ends—not just freedom, but the lessons, beliefs, and norms that make a free society succeed.

A number of today’s most troubling and stubborn domestic challenges—toxic polarization, dispiriting alienation, crushing addiction, depressed workforce participation—put at risk the health, happiness, and stability of our fellow citizens and communities. But, politically speaking, they also challenge core elements of conservatives’ longtime policy playbook.

Leaders on the right have argued for decades that the nation’s well-being depends on our pushing power down to local bodies and individuals. If we do so, the argument goes, the animating energies of liberty, pluralism, and community will kick in. But, after surveying today’s thorniest problems, it’s difficult to conclude that things would naturally solve themselves if we could only clear away the barbed brush cultivated by federal mandates and the administrative state.

Unprecedented numbers of able-bodied men are choosing not to work. People are suffering loneliness and disconnection while simultaneously feeling under assault by those with different views. Population loss in many rural communities and small towns is hollowing out swaths of America. Staggering numbers of “deaths of despair” speak to the depth and reach of the pathology.

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