Restoring the Foundations of Civil Society

Ken Connor | Center for a Just Society | Thursday, November 29, 2012

Restoring the Foundations of Civil Society


In the wake of President Obama's decisive reelection, the GOP is engaged in some serious soul-searching.  Pundits on the right and left are cautioning Republicans that their party is facing extinction unless some major changes are made. They maintain it's evolve or die for the GOP. The question is, how much can an institution change without losing its identity? If "change" for the Republican Party means ceasing to stand for the conservative principles that have defined it since the time of Abraham Lincoln, is that what Republicans want? Is that what America needs?  

In a recent article for FrontPageMag.com, Daniel Greenfield suggests that the Democratic Party was victorious because they successfully exploited the new "post-family" culture that characterizes a wide swath of the American demographic:

"Family defines continuity. Enough families taken together form a community. The common culture of the community is a multi-generational heritage that shapes the identities of their children. Take away the family and you have rootless individuals looking for tribes to affiliate with, clumping in artificial groups based on some common characteristic and economic interest. And that is the Democratic Party."

Defending the family as the foundation of civil society has been a hallmark of the Republican Party for generations. While we champion the importance of individualism as it pertains to economic liberty and political freedom, we understand that the bonds of hearth and home are essential to the formation of virtuous citizens and are what makes our country strong. It is our families, neighbors, churches and other vital human relationships that unify us, not our Social Security numbers. If the Obama campaign machine and the larger Democratic Party organization are correct, however, and America's fundamental identity is shifting from "one nation under God" to "many tribes under Caesar," then the implications for America's future are dire.

It is undeniable that America's unparalleled diversity has contributed greatly to our strength as a nation. The success of our democratic experiment rests on our recognition that all men are created equal regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or religion. This collective recognition of our God-given liberties and the embrace of traditional norms and values are what enable our diverse multitudes to thrive as one nation. E pluribus, unum – out of many, one. If we reject everything that binds us together in favor of a ghettoized existence in which the only constant is the omnipotent hand of Uncle Sam, our nation as we know it cannot survive. Perhaps this is what the Democratic Party wants. Perhaps a loose collective of competing interest groups with no loyalty to anything but the federal government is exactly the kind of America they envision. It is certainly the kind of America that will vote the blue ballot every election day.

But a house divided against itself cannot stand, and an America deeply divided along ideological, socioeconomic and identity group lines cannot long prosper. It cannot stand as a beacon of hope and strength in a world so often torn by chaos and strife. Perhaps the lesson for the GOP in this election is not that we should cease to stand for the principles that have long defined us, but that the time has come to refocus our attention on the foundational institutions that have long sustained us: family, faith and community. For too long our politics have been fixated at the national level, convinced that the best way to impact the direction of the country is by seizing the White House and occupying both houses of Congress. But a focus on the national inevitably involves a neglect of the personal and the local, and it is at these levels that restoration must begin.  

The rebuilding of crumbling social institutions is a long-term task. It may take generations to get America back to a place where the things that unite us are stronger than those that divide, but no goal could be more worthy of the GOP's efforts and resources. Effecting real change is not a top-down process. Our republic will only be restored from the bottom up. If we fail to rebuild the foundations of civil society, this nation will not long endure.

Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. He is also chairman of the Center for a Just Society.

Publication date: November 29, 2012

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