In an important new book, political scientist Yuval Levin argues that we have lost faith in our institutions—public, private, civic, and political.
We need institutions, including families, associations, churches, corporations, trade unions, political parties, professions such as law and medicine, as well as the formal institutions of government such as Congress, the presidency, and the courts.
They are, as Levin puts it, “the durable forms of our common life.” They serve purposes or missions, like educating the young, resolving disputes, or defending the country. They give life meaning by assigning roles, teaching self-control, and enforcing standards. In the process, they form the character of those who participate in them.
But we no longer trust them. What went wrong?
From Molds to Platforms
There has been a big shift in the way elites, those who play a leadership role in our institutions, treat them. Instead of seeing their institution as a mold that forms and shapes their character and behavior, they treat them as platforms for promoting their own.
Think of a new member of Congress, who is less interested in learning and conforming to the traditions and expectations of the House than using it as a platform for gaining fame and celebrity. Congress—by its own will, Levin argues—has become increasingly weak and ineffectual. Its members seek publicity and fame through social media and other avenues even before learning or accomplishing anything of substance in Congress itself.