A Hollow Republic?

Yuval Levin’s excellent essay at NRO further dissects Conservative and Liberal attitudes toward progress, its pace and its sources.

One of the problems we face is developing a better vocabulary and conceptual framework for what have long been called the “mediating structures” of civil society. Levin repeats this usage, which seems to grant merely a functional status to these organic institutions. I have proposed that we call them “constituting structures”, which might better suggests the mechanism by which our ways of organic methods of coordinating our actions in small social groupings precedes and gives rise to our political coordination in a constitutional republic. Only when we see our political institutions as things we have made and thus have the power to shape and reform will we be able to safeguard the institutions, traditions, and laws that contribute to our shared social knowledge and to value the political prudence that seeks to balance the promise of techne with the value of tradition.

Conservatives, however, should not be smug. The temptations of politics are many, and with politics as power (rather than prudence) can misuse both technology and tradition. To defend civil society and to dwell in it, Americans may need to re-evaluate our relationships to politics and our political ideologies, which have too often themselves become hindrances to the habits of civility and the pluralism of associations essential for a healthy civil society.