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A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream

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A leading conservative intellectual argues that to renew America we must recommit to our institutions Americans are living through a social crisis. Our politics is polarized and bitterly divided. Culture wars rage on campus, in the media, social media, and other arenas of our common life. And for too many Americans, alienation can descend into despair, weakening families an A leading conservative intellectual argues that to renew America we must recommit to our institutions Americans are living through a social crisis. Our politics is polarized and bitterly divided. Culture wars rage on campus, in the media, social media, and other arenas of our common life. And for too many Americans, alienation can descend into despair, weakening families and communities and even driving an explosion of opioid abuse. Left and right alike have responded with populist anger at our institutions, and use only metaphors of destruction to describe the path forward: cleaning house, draining swamps. But, as Yuval Levin argues, this is a misguided prescription, rooted in a defective diagnosis. The social crisis we confront is defined not by an oppressive presence but by a debilitating absence of the forces that unite us and militate against alienation. As Levin argues, now is not a time to tear down, but rather to build and rebuild by committing ourselves to the institutions around us. From the military to churches, from families to schools, these institutions provide the forms and structures we need to be free. By taking concrete steps to help them be more trustworthy, we can renew the ties that bind Americans to one another.


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A leading conservative intellectual argues that to renew America we must recommit to our institutions Americans are living through a social crisis. Our politics is polarized and bitterly divided. Culture wars rage on campus, in the media, social media, and other arenas of our common life. And for too many Americans, alienation can descend into despair, weakening families an A leading conservative intellectual argues that to renew America we must recommit to our institutions Americans are living through a social crisis. Our politics is polarized and bitterly divided. Culture wars rage on campus, in the media, social media, and other arenas of our common life. And for too many Americans, alienation can descend into despair, weakening families and communities and even driving an explosion of opioid abuse. Left and right alike have responded with populist anger at our institutions, and use only metaphors of destruction to describe the path forward: cleaning house, draining swamps. But, as Yuval Levin argues, this is a misguided prescription, rooted in a defective diagnosis. The social crisis we confront is defined not by an oppressive presence but by a debilitating absence of the forces that unite us and militate against alienation. As Levin argues, now is not a time to tear down, but rather to build and rebuild by committing ourselves to the institutions around us. From the military to churches, from families to schools, these institutions provide the forms and structures we need to be free. By taking concrete steps to help them be more trustworthy, we can renew the ties that bind Americans to one another.

30 review for A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I recently heard this author speaking on NPR, then followed up with a longer interview on a podcast. Intrigued, I bought his book and enjoyed it. It's not long (a little more than 200 pages). My only complaint is that it was a bit too general. I would have liked to seen more specific examples of the phenomena that author described to well: the failure of institutions. What institutions, you ask? The family. The church. The government. Civic and civil groups. The media. Colleges and universities. I recently heard this author speaking on NPR, then followed up with a longer interview on a podcast. Intrigued, I bought his book and enjoyed it. It's not long (a little more than 200 pages). My only complaint is that it was a bit too general. I would have liked to seen more specific examples of the phenomena that author described to well: the failure of institutions. What institutions, you ask? The family. The church. The government. Civic and civil groups. The media. Colleges and universities. The military. His work reminded me a little bit of Robert Putnam's seminal Bowling Alone in that both writers discussed the negative consequences of isolation and the concurrent loss of social capital. In Levin's case, the author discussed how the loss of the formative power of institutions has left our nation a weaker and lonelier place. I was reading this book during the week of February 6th, 2020 when President Donald Trump was acquitted by the United States Senate on two charges, as was allowed to remain in office rather than be removed due to impeachment. As luck would have it, the President also delivered his third State of the Union address the day before the end of the Senate trial (which everyone knew would go his way). Before the State of the Union, two new representatives (a part of what's called 'the Squad') very publicly announced that they would not be attending. President Trump then refused to shake the hand of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who--at the end of Trump's remarks--ripped up a copy of his speech in front of the cameras. All of these examples are the performative virtue signalling that the author so presciently described. Rather than comport themselves to the norms of the institution in which they serve--the White House, the House of Representatives, the federal government-- everyone involved used their position to grandstand and draw attention to themselves. It was all so very undignified and petty. Embarrassing, really. Reading this book gave me some perspective about the institutions that I have belonged to, and continue to belong to. While Americans are wildly independent people, the author argues that we are actually better off when we are formed, and tempered, and supported, by our membership in institutions. I have found this to be true for myself, certainly. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, I am a veteran of the United States Navy, and I am a person who can't seem to shake the whole Catholic thing. These three institutions have helped to turn me into the man that I am today. Other institutions--my college, for example, or the public schools where I have worked--did not, and have not, had that same effect. Perhaps that's partly my fault for not embracing the ethos of these places more intentionally. Or, maybe, there is not real ethos to comport to since, as public institutions, they cannot take strong moral stances. This is a good book. 4/5 stars because I would have liked more examples. It has certainly given me a lot to think about. As I read, the phrase 'ordered liberty' kept coming into my mind. Seems appropriate.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brian Denton

    In his new book, A Time to Build, scholar Yuval Levin identifies the hollowing out and decay of our institutions as the primary cause of contemporary American civic corruption. According to Levin institutions are the durable forms of our common life that serve as the frameworks and structure for what we accomplish together. These can range from Congress to Community Boards, churches to Cub Scouts, newspapers to labor unions. Institutions are important, writes Levin, because "by restraining and b In his new book, A Time to Build, scholar Yuval Levin identifies the hollowing out and decay of our institutions as the primary cause of contemporary American civic corruption. According to Levin institutions are the durable forms of our common life that serve as the frameworks and structure for what we accomplish together. These can range from Congress to Community Boards, churches to Cub Scouts, newspapers to labor unions. Institutions are important, writes Levin, because "by restraining and bounding us, institutions can provide for the forbearance and patience that are so lacking in our common life. By structuring our action and thought, they can provide us with stability and confidence and a place in the grand scheme of our society. By embodying our ideals, they can help satisfy our hunger for meaningful belonging and offer relief from the suffocating cynicism of a populist age. By giving us a constructive path to social status and recognition, they can answer the temptation to mistake notoriety for glory, celebrity for accomplishment, and vain performance for character-forming work." The problem with contemporary American institutions, for Levin, is that we have transformed them from being molds of character to platforms for performance. The performative nature of our national politicians is impossible to argue against. Just look at our president. Examples abound on both sides of the aisle in Congress as well. Representative Pelosi's recent tearing up of the president's speech, for example, is an example of the performative politician. Performing for the GIF. At any rate, the solution, according to Levin, is to recommit to our institutions and rebuild them from the ground up, asking ourselves along the way how we should behave in our institutional roles rather than how we can use the institutions as platforms to elevate ourselves. I like very much what Levin has to say here. A Time to Build is the first of three books published this year that treat contemporary American civic and political ailments. I plan on reading all of them. Something has to change.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heath Salzman

    Reading this book reminds me of why I am a conservative. Levine highlights the best of the Burkean tradition to propose a the solution to the societal fragmentation that we are experiencing today. In many ways, this book also builds on observations made by Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone”. The institutions upon which a well-ordered society is built are fragmenting. This is in part due to the hyper-individualism of our time, which is in part due to the natural trajectory of liberalism. What we ne Reading this book reminds me of why I am a conservative. Levine highlights the best of the Burkean tradition to propose a the solution to the societal fragmentation that we are experiencing today. In many ways, this book also builds on observations made by Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone”. The institutions upon which a well-ordered society is built are fragmenting. This is in part due to the hyper-individualism of our time, which is in part due to the natural trajectory of liberalism. What we need is not a revolution so much as institutional reform and renewal. Institutions are what form citizens to be virtuous and productive members of society. They are also the places where community is built and isolation is kept at bay. The challenge to the reader is to think about how we engage with our societies core institutions (e.g. the family, church, schools, the profession, and politics) and to risk trusting them again in the hopes of coming back together as a culture. I don’t think this is THE answer, but I think it is definitely one of the most important. This work draws together thinking that I have followed in the above mentioned Edmund Burke and Robert Putnam, but also contains threads of influences (whether intentional or not) of thinkers like Aristotle, Augustine, Abraham Kuyper, David Brooks, and James K. A. Smith. Absolutely loved it!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    If I was choosing a benevolent dictator, I think Yuval Levin would be my choice. Brilliant, deep and balanced. If you want to better understand where we are as a country and what we can do to change for the better, read this book. It is insightful, challenging, and yet ultimately hopeful. tl/dr --> We need to commit to rebuilding institutions that are formative nor performative; that form us rather than giving us a platform to raise our profile and become a celebrity. This is not a partisan messag If I was choosing a benevolent dictator, I think Yuval Levin would be my choice. Brilliant, deep and balanced. If you want to better understand where we are as a country and what we can do to change for the better, read this book. It is insightful, challenging, and yet ultimately hopeful. tl/dr --> We need to commit to rebuilding institutions that are formative nor performative; that form us rather than giving us a platform to raise our profile and become a celebrity. This is not a partisan message or book. Readers of all perspectives can and should read and think about the issues Levin raises.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    Levin writes “We all require formation, and the weak are often oppressed by the strong. But which is the primary problem? Which would need to be taken first in order to enable us to address the other?” I need more that answers this question. Because I find Levin’s institutionally-based conservatism appealing. Until I remember that halfway down nytimes.com this morning was a story about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery who was gunned down while jogging. Need I say he was black? How do we rebuild instit Levin writes “We all require formation, and the weak are often oppressed by the strong. But which is the primary problem? Which would need to be taken first in order to enable us to address the other?” I need more that answers this question. Because I find Levin’s institutionally-based conservatism appealing. Until I remember that halfway down nytimes.com this morning was a story about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery who was gunned down while jogging. Need I say he was black? How do we rebuild institutions that are built on so rotten a foundation as the subjugation of human beings? I disclaim that revolution is not my goal (but isn’t it in the DNA of this nation?) but truly - how are we to reform institutions we are locked out of? I appreciated Levin’s pro-institution approach, how he charitably speaks of his ideological opposition. I was taught to be conservative, and I lean that way in some respects. But the cognitive dissonance isn’t going away, and I want to know, honestly, if conservatism is only available those with privilege. The conversation in this book is important, and I want more, and a response from the progressive side.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ivan

    Yuval Levin digs deeper into what he explored in his book ‘The Fractured Republic.’ He speaks my institutional love language. Keen analysis on some of the cultural fracture we’re observing and how institutions are becoming more platforms rather than molds of character. Problems today, he argues, are a sign of the excesses of institutional weakness. At their best, though, institutions ought to embody a formative ethic (not a performative one)—they make people more trustworthy. Several striking in Yuval Levin digs deeper into what he explored in his book ‘The Fractured Republic.’ He speaks my institutional love language. Keen analysis on some of the cultural fracture we’re observing and how institutions are becoming more platforms rather than molds of character. Problems today, he argues, are a sign of the excesses of institutional weakness. At their best, though, institutions ought to embody a formative ethic (not a performative one)—they make people more trustworthy. Several striking insights—like how the RCC is marked by a corrosive insiderism whereas evangelicalism, he says, is marked by a corrosive outsiderism (think Falwell Jr.).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Todd Davidson

    I read this book as Jerry Falwell Jr. was getting drunk with his wife's assistant on Yacht paid for by the beneficiaries of his Christian University's nascar sponsorship deal. With that as the backdrop I can't really argue against Levin's the central theme. His theme is that institutions are failing to shape the individuals in those institutions (think liberty university making good god-fearing capable intellectuals and leaders). Instead, institutions are used as platforms by their leaders to po I read this book as Jerry Falwell Jr. was getting drunk with his wife's assistant on Yacht paid for by the beneficiaries of his Christian University's nascar sponsorship deal. With that as the backdrop I can't really argue against Levin's the central theme. His theme is that institutions are failing to shape the individuals in those institutions (think liberty university making good god-fearing capable intellectuals and leaders). Instead, institutions are used as platforms by their leaders to pontificate in the culture war. As the leaders engage in the culture war they neglect the their institutions and often don't adhere to values the institution stand for (see Jerry Falwell Jr. instagram). As a result public trust in institutions decays and we are left with a destructive nihilism prevalent today. Levin points out this trend in institutions throughout society: Politics, media, church, academia, family, etc. His solution is a call to action to revive institutions. He is asking all of us to be institutional insiders and make our institutions better by asking "what is my role here?" Not clear to me that this will be enough to fix a lot of society's disfunction but it can't hurt and sure we should try it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stan Lanier

    I thought the author exhibited great explanatory power in his picture of current society. I have genuine respect for the kind of conceptual conservatism operating behind this work. Sometimes I think he sacrifices complexity, eg. liberation theologians believe in the formative nature of institutions, yet they, also, think social and political transformation are necessary to address the evils and ills of our time. In the end, I believe his solution is simply a sophisticated version of we make a be I thought the author exhibited great explanatory power in his picture of current society. I have genuine respect for the kind of conceptual conservatism operating behind this work. Sometimes I think he sacrifices complexity, eg. liberation theologians believe in the formative nature of institutions, yet they, also, think social and political transformation are necessary to address the evils and ills of our time. In the end, I believe his solution is simply a sophisticated version of we make a better world one person at a time. Levin's intellect, his clarity in writing, and his generosity of spirit makes this a wonderful book to read. My, what a superlative intellectual conversation partner he would be. So, regardless of your political persuasion, read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    The election of Trump occasioned a strange new genre in conservative commentary. The US is led by a corrupt gameshow host, & buffoonish authoritarians hold sway in many other nations. The rot in US society & its capacities has become undeniable, as the government does little against or exacerbates crises of ecology, health & mental well-being, & sustainable employment, which all contribute to cultural outcomes conservatives claim to abhor. A few game conservatives like Jordan Peterson & J. D. Va The election of Trump occasioned a strange new genre in conservative commentary. The US is led by a corrupt gameshow host, & buffoonish authoritarians hold sway in many other nations. The rot in US society & its capacities has become undeniable, as the government does little against or exacerbates crises of ecology, health & mental well-being, & sustainable employment, which all contribute to cultural outcomes conservatives claim to abhor. A few game conservatives like Jordan Peterson & J. D. Vance still prescribe bootstrapping for people suffering from these crisis, but it’s patently insufficient. So, conservatives must rediscover the hoary old internet cliché that ‘we live in a society tho’ & pivot from austerity politics & the joys of self-reliance to assays into social analysis & reform proposals beyond slashing higher-earner & corporate tax rates & bemoaning individual life choices. An example of this conservative pivot to social analysis & reform is the Seattlite president of a conservative think tank convincing liberal wonk outlet Vox to produce his self-titled vanity podcast, The Arthur Brooks Show, internet audio filled w/ celebration of Brooks’s own deliberative virtue & anodyne analogies of US partisan polarization to a failing marriage. In season 1, episode 7 of the show, we finally, after all the bad background music & earnest talk, reach the inane point: healing polarization requires viewpoint diversity on US college campuses. &, I thought liberal academics had an inflated sense of universities' importance! My contempt for this as analysis or policy is capacious, yet I genuinely admire how Brooks grifted one of the most annoying & pretentious liberal media sites to produce & publish this show, which basically climaxes its first season by advocating a Koch-funded center on every campus. Unlike Brooks podcasting marriage counseling to our two-party system, one must at least credit Yuval Levin’s Time to Build: From Family & Community to Congress & Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream w/ understanding society exceeds the mere aggregation of individuals. Instead of aggregation, Levin analyzes mediation, specifically the mediation of institutions. Institutions, in Levin’s account, are weakening & losing their formative capacities to mold individuals. These malformed individuals lack proper loyalty to the institution as anything other than a platform for self-aggrandizement, which creates a vicious cycle where poorly functioning or selfishly used institutions further weaken in the public eye, allowing greater individual capture of institutions, & so on. Conceptually, Levin’s vicious dialectic of individuals-institutions-society is intriguing. His focus on social form in interviews & the constructive rhetoric of the book’s main title, Time to Build, drew me in, for it recalls one of last year’s best left books (a book I was lucky to read alongside works by Jodi Dean, Leo Panitch & Sam Gindin, Martine Rothblott, & Eliane Glaser), Anna Kornbluh Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, & Social Space, which is scintillating case for attention to form as necessary for reviving literary study & critical theory as we seek to build social forms adequate for life in an era of crises. However, the important distinction between Levin’s & Kornbluh’s concept of form or institution is not just avowed politics, but the sophistication of Kornbluh’s conception of form, which understands form as antagonistic & malleable, while Levin downplays institutional antagonism beyond a mere dialectic of institutional loyalty & individual selfishness, which locks him into a moralistic binary where the only change institutions might have are positive rededications or negative selfish declines. Levin’s focus on moralism, necessarily freighted w/ the individualism he deplores, becomes a backdoor to smuggle in opposition to democracy, as his most substantive policies generally are calls for strengthening institutions by reducing democracy & transparency, especially in the context of Congress & political parties. Levin is little concerned about the institutions & forms of our politics: relatively little space is spent on the government, perhaps because conservatives have scored large victories on that front ever since the Reagan Revolution. Much more space is spent about areas supposedly hegemonic in their liberalism: the media, social media, the academy, supposedly ‘woke’ corporations, & the nuclear family breakdown. Although, I would never deny that media & the academy do face real problems of credibility & sustainability capped off by those institutions’ tepid centrism & hollow genuflections to identity politics, one cannot help shake the feeling that Levin’s calls for ‘renewal’, like Brooks’s, entail a conservative cultural revolution to dedemocratize already fairly undemocratic institutions. &, of course, the phrases ‘union’ only appears twice in the book, ‘family policy’ not at all. If conservatives are serious about reversing familial decline in the US, then, like some on the left, they need to talk unionization & redistributions—tax credits, like this book, are a poor attempt to grapple w/ the scope of what our moment of crises requires.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vadim Polikov

    I typically don’t read books that have anything to do with contemporary politics, but this author, Yuval Levin, kept impressing me each time I heard him interviewed on my favorite (non-political) podcast. This is the second one of his books I’ve read, and the better one in my opinion. As a disclaimer, Levin is a conservative thinker, works at the conservative leaning American Enterprise Institute, is a strident critic of Donald Trump, and has written in both the Wall Street Journal and the New Y I typically don’t read books that have anything to do with contemporary politics, but this author, Yuval Levin, kept impressing me each time I heard him interviewed on my favorite (non-political) podcast. This is the second one of his books I’ve read, and the better one in my opinion. As a disclaimer, Levin is a conservative thinker, works at the conservative leaning American Enterprise Institute, is a strident critic of Donald Trump, and has written in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In hearing him speak and reading two of his books, he seems to be authentically committed to thoughtfully analyzing and attempting to solve the difficult problems of our age. I loved this book. It proposed a model of our current political, social, and cultural environment that helps put many strange and disconcerting trends we’ve all been experiencing into a framework, a model, that gives some order to the chaos. I doubt it is a perfect model, but just like Newton’s model of planetary motion was a better model of reality than Ptolemy’s, and was ultimately replaced by Einstein’s model, it comes one step closer to explaining reality. It also implies certain steps we can take as individuals and citizens to make things better. I like this book better than his 2016 book - it is a much more creative and original work. The book starts from the counterintuitive position that we have lost respect and trust in our institutions (a common finding among social scientists) precisely because they are no longer trust-worthy. Institutions have specific functions and as they have abandoned those functions and forms, they have lost our respect (my intuition was originally that the causation ran the other way - something about us caused us to care less about institutions that then caused them to wither). It is important to understand what Levin means by institutions, because the book is an extended metaphor of the “molds” of institutions, their roles in society, how they have been degraded, and what can be done about it. Here is an extended set of passages that define institutions and set up the metaphor for the rest of the book: “[Institutions are] the durable forms of our common life. They are the frameworks and structures of what we do together. Some institutions are organizations and have something like a corporate form. A university, a hospital, a school, a legislature, a military, a company and a civic institution are all institutions… Some institutions are durable forms of a different sort: they may be shaped by laws, norms or rules but lack a corporate structure. The family is an institution: in fact it is the first and foremost institution of every society. We can speak of the institution of marriage, or of a particular tradition or profession as an institution, or even of the rule of law… [Institutions] share two distinct elements… That they are *durable* is essential. An institution keeps its shape over time, and so shapes the realm of life in which it operates. When it changes, it generally does so by incremental evolution of its shape and structure, not by sharp and disjunctive transformation, so that its form over time exhibits a certain continuity that is fundamental to what it is able to accomplish in the world. Most important, each institution is a *form* of association. What’s distinct about an institution is that it is a form in the deepest sense: a structure, a shape, a contour… An institution in this sense is different from a group of people in the same way that a form is different from the matter of which it is composed - as for instance, the shape of a candle is different from the raw wax of which it is made. The institution organizes its people into a particular form moved by a purpose, characterized by a structure, defined by an ideal, and capable of certain functions. In other words, institutions are by their nature formative. They structure our perceptions and our interactions, and as a result they structure us. They form our habits, our expectations, and ultimately our character. By giving shape to our experience of life in society, institutions give shape to our place in the world and to our understanding of its contours. They are at once constraining and enabling. They are the means by which we are socialized, and so they are crucial intermediaries between our inner lives and our social lives… One of the most important ways that institutions accomplish this task of formation is by giving each of us a role and therefore a shape or form in the world. Healthy institutions often function as molds for the people inside them. We pour ourselves into our family, our community, our church, our work, or our school, and in doing so we begin to take the institution's shape. That shape then enables us to be more effective. It both protects us and empowers us to interact with others. We aren't just loose individuals bumping into each other. We fill roles, we occupy places, we play parts defined by larger wholes, and that helps us understand our obligations and responsibilities, our privileges and benefits, our purposes and connections. It moves us to ask how we ought to think and behave with reference to a world beyond ourselves: ‘Given my role here, how should I act’” Robert Putnam famously identified how social capital allows us to work together (and how it has decreased since the 1950’s) in his seminal work Bowling Alone. Levin adds to Putnam’s diagnosis: its not that our time is unusual for the level of pressures and stresses we are feeling, it is instead unusual in the “weakness of our institutions - from the family on up through the national government, with much in between. That weakness leaves us less able to hold together against the pressures we do face. It leaves all of us more uncertain about our places and less confident of the foundations of our common life. And it leaves us struggling with something like formless connectedness, a social life short on structural supports.” I love the metaphor of a landscape of forms that help mold us, resist stresses, and populate our social and political spaces. These are the civic organizations that De Toqueville described were uniquely strong in the US. So, what has gone wrong? Why have we lost trust in our institutions? First - Levin defines how an institution gains trust: “Each institution works to accomplish some socially important task (say, educating the young, making laws, defending the country, serving God, helping the poor, producing some service or product, or meeting a need) by establishing a structure and process - a form - for combining people’s efforts towards accomplishing that task. In effect, then, the institution also forms people so they can carry out that task successfully, responsibly, and reliably. It fosters an ethic that defines how they go about their common work, which in turn shapes their behavior and character. That ethic often involves a way of achieving the institution's core goal effectively while guarding against some of the dangers of social life - like individual selfishness, avarice, ambition, lust, or vice. This is part of what we value about our institutions: in addition to carrying out their intended work, they form people to do so appropriately, properly, and ethically. We trust an institution, then, because it seems to have an ethic that makes the people within more trustworthy. We trust political institutions when they take seriously their obligation to the public interest, and when they shape the people who work within them to do the same. We trust the military because it values courage, honor, and duty in carrying out the defense of the nation, and forms men and women who do too. We trust a business because it promises quality and integrity in meeting some need we have, and rewards its people when they deliver. We trust a university because it is devoted to the search for truth, and shapes those within its orbit to pursue that search through learning and teaching. We trust a journalistic institution when it holds itself up to high standards of honesty and accuracy, and so renders the work of its people reliable. We lose trust in an institution, therefore, when we no longer believe that it plays this ethical or formative role, serving as a forge of integrity for the people within it. One way this might happen is when an institution plainly fails to protect us, or even actively betrays our confidence, in the performance of its work - as when a bank cheats its customers or a member of the clergy abuses a child. In such situations, the institution is revealed to have been corrupted into serving those within it at the expense of its core purpose. Rather than shaping the people inside it, it comes to be deformed by them for their own ends. This is a betrayal by insiders - a mode of institutional corruption we might call “insiderism” - and it is perhaps the most obvious factor driving the loss of faith in institutions… Alongside plenty of familiar insiderism, we have also seen in this century another less familiar form of institutional deformation. We might call it “outsiderism,” and it involves institutions that fail to form men and women of integrity because they fail even to see such formation as their purpose. Rather than contain and shape individuals, these institutions seem to exist to display individuals - to give them prominence and gain them notice without stamping them with a particular character, a distinct set of obligations or responsibilities, on an ethic that comes with constraints. Such institutions are unworthy of our trust not so much because they fail to earn it as because they appear not to seek or desire it at all. In fact, because this kind of institutional deformation is so prevalent, our very understanding of what institutions are for has been changing subtly but fundamentally. We have moved, roughly speaking, from thinking of institutions as molds that shape people’s characters and habits towards seeing them as platforms that allow people to be themselves and to display themselves before a wider world. This subte, gradual change in expectations has dramatically magnified our loss of trust in institutions.” So this leads to an better understanding of why it feels like we are in a constant cultural war everywhere and no matter where I look (news, friends, neighbors, family, work) people want to engage in political or culture war discussions: “As different institutions come to be seen (by both the people in them and the larger public) as platforms for displaying individuals, they also come to lose their distinctions from one another and so tend to become homogenized into increasingly interchangeable stages for the same sorts of cultural-political performances. Their distinctive integrities, each shaped by a unique professional code, organizational history, or communal ethos, meld together and leave the complex institutional topology of our society more flat and barren. In this way, a culture at war with itself comes to be at war everywhere, so that, for instance the worst facets of college-campus culture (where performative outrage sometimes overtakes academic investigation) are now apparent throughout our political, media, and business cultures too. It isn’t quite that the culture of one institution has invaded the others as that the boundaries and distinctions have broken down and everyone, inside and outside, is participating in the same obnoxious quarrel.” This diagnosis makes a lot of sense to me. All the quotes above come from the first third of the book, and the remainder is about examples tracing where institutions have been corrupted (like the university, politics, the professions, and the family), who has done the corrupting (the Internet with its free access to information previously only available to specialists, social media, our own desires for freedom from the restraints institutions provide), and what to do about it (rejoin institutions, build them back up, devote ourselves (without cynicism) to an institution (especially a service based one)). Along the way, there are some really interesting insights that I think are worth repeating: On Universities: “[there are] roughly three understandings of the purpose of the university as an institution all of which have been part of the American University from its earliest days and are powerful forces on campus now. The first suggests that the university exists above all to give people the skills our economy requires. This is by far the most commonly expressed expectation of higher education, especially outside the academy. The second suggests that the university exists to give students a consciousness of the moral demands of a just society. We tend to imagine this facet of American higher education is relatively new, maybe a creation of the student protest movements of the 1960’s, but in fact this was an original purpose of the university in America. The third suggests that the point of the university is to expose a rising generation to the deepest and best of the wisdom of our civilization, and so to enable a search for the truth wherever it leads, without regard for economic or sociopolitical utility. This has always been a minority pursuit on campuses, but it has also been a core purpose of the academy since Plato first applied that name to his school in Athens in the fourth century BC. These three visions amount to three intermingled cultures within the modern university: a culture of professional development, a culture of moral activism, and a culture of liberal education.” He goes on to say that all is well when these three are in balance, but the culture of moral activism has become too strong and the culture of professional development has just tried to ignore the other two, leading to issues in campus culture. He puts a lot of blame on the degrading of institutions on social media, which I thought was also dissected in an interesting way, bringing in the lens of “formality”. I don’t know whether it is just a happy coincidence or these are indeed related that institutions give us “forms” and “formality”: “Although we often cannot tell if the world of social media is public or private, indeed precisely because we cannot tell, we can certainly call what happens in that world *informal*. We might even think of social media as a massive informality machine, robbing our interactions of structure and of boundaries. This is why moving more of our social activities onto the platforms of social media tends to bring the most dramatic and fundamental changes to those of our social interactions that would otherwise be most formal - like the presentation of professional work product, the intricate dance of dating and courtship, or the pronouncements of public policy. It is also why social media is uniquely corrosive of institutions, which are after all precisely social forms. Continued in comments...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joseph L.

    Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at: https://youtu.be/QzAJqBsqdc4 Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at: https://youtu.be/QzAJqBsqdc4

  12. 4 out of 5

    James Anderson

    Totally understand his opinion on the need to build greater engagement in our institutions.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zak Schmoll

    This is a thoughtful book and well worth your consideration. As institutions have largely ceased to become molding institutions and rather have become platforms to be exploited by individuals who desire celebrity and acclaim, we have consequently lost trust in those institutions the standard for the principles they once held. This is far beyond the political book, and it touches on just about all areas of society. He may not be right about everything, but I think his overall approach.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Don

    I've always believed there is much value in reading a book by someone who you would disagree with philosophically. This book, by Yuval Levin, who is described as a leading conservative intellectual, proves the point. His premise, that for a variety of reasons, our institutions - political parties, government, professions such as law, journalism, medicine, our universities, media, etc. - are all failing. While I certainly have disagreements with some of Levin's ideas in this book, and approach th I've always believed there is much value in reading a book by someone who you would disagree with philosophically. This book, by Yuval Levin, who is described as a leading conservative intellectual, proves the point. His premise, that for a variety of reasons, our institutions - political parties, government, professions such as law, journalism, medicine, our universities, media, etc. - are all failing. While I certainly have disagreements with some of Levin's ideas in this book, and approach them from a different philosophical bent, I tend to agree with his underlying premise about our institutions having a legitimacy crisis. Levin's diagnosis seems spot on, and his discussions about how we've permitted our institutions to no longer be formative in their nature, but rather performative, is incredibly clarifying. His best example, I think, is Congress. Congress used to form its members, pose various restraints and permitted it to function as an actual legislative body. Now, because it has become performative, people get elected to Congress to perform a role, to complain about Congress, the very institution to which they joined. Levin shows this again and again throughout many institutions, whether it be as foundational as family, economic such as various professions, or educational. I believe there are some points he misses, or glosses over (but such could certainly simply be a result of our different starting points and approaches). In particularly, at some points it seems he draws a false equivalence between the degree to which particular institutions, such as journalism and law, have been attacked or degraded by the Left and Right. Also, in his focus on education as an institution, he seems to focus squarely on the campus, which is to say higher education. Certainly, some of his criticisms there are fair. But in so doing he fails to look at the institution of all public education, K-12, which could arguably be more important because of the amount of people it directly impacts. That said, as one can see, his book and his arguments make me think. I found two ideas from the book incredibly useful to understanding. First, as mentioned above, understanding the difference of institutions being formative as opposed to performative. This is such an accurate diagnosis in my opinion. Second, his description of the Left as seeing things as a struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors, and the Right seeing things as a struggle between order and anarchy. Seeing this distinction, while perhaps oversimplifying, allows us to easily see why partisans tend to talk past each other - they both have the moral high ground but are having different arguments. Ultimately, this book was the best type of commentary/non-fiction book - it challenges, it clarified my own thoughts, it helped me understand different arguments. And, it reinforces my firm belief that it is good to read things not just by people you agree with, but by those you disagree with - it clarifies your own thoughts, but also can make you realize how much is still in agreement.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Patrick C.

    I became interested in this book after hearing an interview with the author on NPR Morning Edition ("When Institutions Are Used As Stages, People Lose Trust, Book Argues" 01/30/2020 - https://www.npr.org/2020/01/30/800922...). The author is addressing the current "social crisis" in America, and his analysis focuses on the breakdown in the many "institutions" (family, professional political, etc.) upon which our culture and society are built. He is a well-known conservative, and is very transparent I became interested in this book after hearing an interview with the author on NPR Morning Edition ("When Institutions Are Used As Stages, People Lose Trust, Book Argues" 01/30/2020 - https://www.npr.org/2020/01/30/800922...). The author is addressing the current "social crisis" in America, and his analysis focuses on the breakdown in the many "institutions" (family, professional political, etc.) upon which our culture and society are built. He is a well-known conservative, and is very transparent about his conservative values and politics that underlie his approach. However, I think he is pretty fair and objective in his analyses, and does not hesitate to "find fault" with different individuals, regardless of social or political affiliation. He clearly has a bias towards governance and leadership by "elites", and places disproportionate emphasis (IMNSHO) on the nuclear family.... His primary analysis is focused on the obvious facts that the majority of our institutional functioning is failing us today - "We trust an institution when we think that it forms the people within it to be trustworthy — so that not only does it perform an important social function, educating children or making laws or any of the many, many goods and services that institutions provide for us, but it also at the same time provides an ethic that shapes the people within it to perform that service in a reliable, responsible way. He discusses how members of prominent institutions function more as "outsiders", and use their institutional membership more as a platform for their own "celebrity" and "personal branding/agendas". He equally cites Ted Cruz (R) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) as examples of those whose performance within their respective political institutions serve primarily as a base for critiques of the very foundations of those bodies, and to self-promote their external political ideologies/agenda - I agree on both accounts! I especially responded to his theses in thinking of my own "institutional" affiliation as a member of the mental health counseling profession. (Confession - I have taught professional ethics for counselors and social workers) I respond strongly to his ideas of institutional affiliation posing both a challenge and opportunity for personal growth and development, and to emphasize becoming effective within and through that affiliation. I have long had exactly these same conclusions about the field of journalism, especially broadcast news. I just had never conceptualized the concern so clearly as I believe he has. So, I recommend this book, but with a reservation. He is definitely a conservative, and many may not align with all of his viewpoints. On the other hand, if you, like me, find it valuable to encounter optional viewpoints, then here is an excellent opportunity to "reach across the aisle"....

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Diffell

    What is an 'institution'? How does it function? Why are institutions so ill-favored in our society? What has changed to erode public trust in government, religion, business, science, etc.? How essential is that erosion in the dysfunctional social and political environment in which we find ourselves? How can we address it? This is my first book by Yuval Levin. It's thoughtful and does a good job laying out its main premise: that mass media has created a 'performative' culture that is more powerful What is an 'institution'? How does it function? Why are institutions so ill-favored in our society? What has changed to erode public trust in government, religion, business, science, etc.? How essential is that erosion in the dysfunctional social and political environment in which we find ourselves? How can we address it? This is my first book by Yuval Levin. It's thoughtful and does a good job laying out its main premise: that mass media has created a 'performative' culture that is more powerful to shape individual behavior than the institutions they belong to. This, he intimates, is a new development in society brought on first by the 24/7 cable cycle and then accelerated by social media (notably Twitter). I think this is right. People always want public acclaim. They used to get it by excelling within their particular institution and at their particular job. The public audience were others in their institution that expected certain norms of behavior and conduct. Now, however, it's easy for almost anyone to self-generate an audience from the either of the internet and perform for people's acclaim - people who do *not* know or care about the performer's institution's norms or expectations, and perhaps may be completely against those norms of behavior. It negates the power of the institution to 'shape' its constituent members, instead just allowing them a platform from which to perform publicly. It's no wonder these public performers end up behaving more like real-life public performers (e.g. celebrities) than responsible adult members of their various groups or institutions. Here's the problem with his analysis though: I think that even though he mentions it, he grossly underestimates the power of the 'dopamine rush' obtained by positive reactions to public online performance. I don't think he understands or accepts just how powerful a drug public acclaim really is, and how easy it is to obtain. Therefore, I don't think his proposed solutions are strong enough to overcome the fundamental problem (which is never going away until the internet does). If each of us were willing to allow our institutions to shape us and further willing to limit the performative aspects of our behavior, we wouldn't need his book in the first place! He tried to end on an optimistic note, but I found it unconvincing; the book is a real downer because I don't personally see any viable corrective to the problems he correctly identifies.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I feel like this book was both enjoyable and kind of frustrating at times. First, I think many aspects of his diagnosis regarding weak institutions have merit. I largely believe that many of life's biggest joys occur as a result of our commitments to things that go beyond the family but also stop short of being governmental. So the idea that some of our institutions need renewal, and need to shift from being performative to formative, has an element of truth. However, there are a few things I wi I feel like this book was both enjoyable and kind of frustrating at times. First, I think many aspects of his diagnosis regarding weak institutions have merit. I largely believe that many of life's biggest joys occur as a result of our commitments to things that go beyond the family but also stop short of being governmental. So the idea that some of our institutions need renewal, and need to shift from being performative to formative, has an element of truth. However, there are a few things I wish he engaged more or better. Levin recognizes that some institutions are deformative. As in, the people taking part in them become worse people for participating. While that statement could get a head nod from most people, the liberal tradition as a whole, as brilliantly covered in Jacob Levy's "Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freeedom", has a segment comfortable with these intermediating institutions and also a segment suspicious. In the sense that many of these institutions are inherently illiberal and restrict freedom, by design. Many people choose to restrict their freedoms to pursue some greater good or desire, yet the restriction isn't always desirable. I am pro-institution in Levin's sense, but he doesn't address that there are people out there who are legitimately happy about the weakening influence of some institutions, and for valid reasons (beyond mere insider corruption). Addressing their concerns, or at least in a more complete way would've enhanced Levin's argument. Second, and something I've seen with Levin before... there are footnotes, but not enough. I felt like I agreed with some of his critiques of journalism, but it lacked the hard examples to persuade someone not already sympathetic. The challenge here of course, is that if you cite a specific example, you'll have to defend it as being a proper example. This would probably have added 30-40 pages to the book, but it would've made it stronger. Overall, I think this was a solid book and if someone wants a better idea of a conservative vision of a society, this is a good starting place.... it just may not convince someone not already sympathetic. I actually think this is a good companion book to Klein's "Why We're Polarized." They're both unapologetic about their positions, but without the arrogance present in much of today's punditry.

  18. 4 out of 5

    E

    This book is an expansion of the some of the ideas first considered in The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. Levin's main points is that institutions (Congress, universities, social media, journalism) were traditionally considered to shape their members into the ethos of said institution, but now are being used merely as platforms to elevate the individuals within said institutions to a place of cultural prominence often higher than the instituti This book is an expansion of the some of the ideas first considered in The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. Levin's main points is that institutions (Congress, universities, social media, journalism) were traditionally considered to shape their members into the ethos of said institution, but now are being used merely as platforms to elevate the individuals within said institutions to a place of cultural prominence often higher than the institution itself. Just think of reporters using Twitter as their personal fiefdom rather than going through the editorial process of a major newspaper or television station. The problem, of course, is that we don't want to be shaped. We don't want to consider the accrued wisdom of generations. We'd rather get our 15 minute of fame and translate it into a regular gig on a talk show (or a book deal, though that might not have the cachet it used to). Levin argues hard for the value and importance of strengthening our institutions, but at the end he recognizes that we can only begin by walking the talk. Do we seek to serve the local church or synagogue? Or do we use it for our own interests and needs? Do we seek to align our goals with our employer's, or do we simply use our employer to further our own name recognition? Do we use Twitter to communicate, or to preen? (Wait, why would we use it in the first place.) Side note that isn't main point of book but still struck me harder than anything else: Have you ever wondered why the elites are so interested in making things more "fair"? Is it because they actually care about those less fortunate than they? Perhaps. Probably not. More likely they seek to make the system seem more fair in order to justify their continued existence among the elite! After all, if I'm the uppermost crust, and things are perfectly equitable and just, with all people regardless of background being able to make it to the top, then hot dog, gosh darn, gee whiz--I must really belong here!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mark Warnock

    I loved this perspicacious argument from Levin. His thesis is that institutions, which one served to morally form those within them, have morphed in our day into platforms upon which individuals may flaunt their personal brand. The story behind how the priority of moral formation dropped off isn't nearly as important as the insight that it has, and that we need our institutions to recover the function of moral formation. Levin argues that with renewal, they can and must. As I think through our cu I loved this perspicacious argument from Levin. His thesis is that institutions, which one served to morally form those within them, have morphed in our day into platforms upon which individuals may flaunt their personal brand. The story behind how the priority of moral formation dropped off isn't nearly as important as the insight that it has, and that we need our institutions to recover the function of moral formation. Levin argues that with renewal, they can and must. As I think through our cultural institutions, from the most primal like the family and marriage, to the most elaborate like the Congress and the Presidency, Levin's thesis quickly passes inspection. The university, the Boy Scouts, churches of various kinds, all of these can be found to have transformed as Levin indicates. Exhibit A is how Donald Trump is standing atop the Presidency, parading his personal brand, and has not been morally formed by the weight and responsibility of the office. While the country endures one crisis after another, he stays up nights bitterly tweeting slander at journalists he dislikes. - Marriage ceremonies in which Disney princess aspirants write their own vows and perform rehearsed dances, - Senators grandstanding for the cameras in hearings rather than defending the country's interests, - New York Times journalist-provocateurs fulimating on Twitter, - or maverick pastors with large Instagram followings and podcasts independent of the churches which employ them --the transformation of institutions into stages is everywhere, and the need for renewal is also ubiquitous. The prescription for renewal isn't as clear or obvious, but Levin isn't proposing easy fixes. In a sense, the solution is found in the problem: what moral formation were these institutions designed to produce? Answering that question is the beginning of an action plan for their recovery. Very worthwhile read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Greg Mcneilly

    A TIME TO BUILD: From family & community to Congress & the Campus, How Recommitting to our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream | Yuval Levin, Basic Books, p241. Using the self-weakening history of the modern U.S. Congress, Levin argues that their short-term self-interest motivated them to cede Article 1 institutional supremacy to the Administrative State. His evidence is nearly irrefutable. He uses this demise as an example extrapolated to other institutions who have been in decline contri A TIME TO BUILD: From family & community to Congress & the Campus, How Recommitting to our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream | Yuval Levin, Basic Books, p241. Using the self-weakening history of the modern U.S. Congress, Levin argues that their short-term self-interest motivated them to cede Article 1 institutional supremacy to the Administrative State. His evidence is nearly irrefutable. He uses this demise as an example extrapolated to other institutions who have been in decline contributing to the growing dysfunction of our culture. In times of rising wages, low unemployment (pre-Covid19) and low interest rates, Levin doesn’t find the distress of American isolation, loneliness and disappear in economics nor morality rather in the demise of our institutions. And what is the self-interested betrayal we all succumbed too that has destroyed civil institutions of order? We have become a selfie culture of “micro-celebrity, in which we each act as own paparazzi, relentlessly trading in our own privacy for attention and affirmation and turning every moment into a show.” Institutions, Levin advocates, are organizations that restrict, mold, and direct its members for the accomplishment of socially important outcomes. His solution? An “anti-me” future, one where we restore roles and responsibilities. “We aren’t just loose individuals bumping into each other. We fill roles, we occupy places, we play parts defined by larger wholes, and that helps us understand our obligations and responsibilities, our privileges and benefits, our purposes and connections.” Rather than shouting our differences in wide open digital spaces, Levin prefers a future where we focus on solutions within the confines of constructive institutions. He offers a third-way diagnosis to the two bookends we are normally offered; itself a value-added contribution. His solutions, while potentially helpful, might be a too nostalgic to be pragmatic.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard de Villiers

    Yuval Levin is a national treasure. He is the rare public intellectual of this day and age - measured, thoughtful, articulate, humble and incisive. Levin does not pretend to be anything that he is not - he is a conservative but he's not going to hold it against you if you do not see things his way. What he wants is discourse, an exchange of ideas basically an honest conversation. In "A Time to Build" Levin more or less picks up where his brilliant "A Fractured Republic" leaves off. It is not nece Yuval Levin is a national treasure. He is the rare public intellectual of this day and age - measured, thoughtful, articulate, humble and incisive. Levin does not pretend to be anything that he is not - he is a conservative but he's not going to hold it against you if you do not see things his way. What he wants is discourse, an exchange of ideas basically an honest conversation. In "A Time to Build" Levin more or less picks up where his brilliant "A Fractured Republic" leaves off. It is not necessary to read the previous work to enjoy this one but it could perhaps give you a better appreciation. What Levin talks about here is about our institutions and how and why they are crumbling. What he stresses repeatedly is how institutions have transformed from molding behavior and personalities to servings as platforms for expression. An example is how newly elected members of congress knew that the only way to have any kind of influence was to work within the system to earn desired committee appointments or leadership roles. Now newbies like Matt Gaetz and AOC work outside the system to draw eyeballs and clicks to garner attention and pull. Levin also traces how this has affected other institutions such as religion and academia. There is a lot more than you would think in a book that barely clicks over 200 pages. Levin is as gifted a writer as he is a thinker. The subject matter isn't the most scintillating but you never lose interest. Do not miss the notes either, they are not there just so to back up his claims. Some notes flesh out his arguments or provide context. This is a great book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Ballinger

    I was drawn to this book by an interview with the author, where he laid out his question people should ask themselves: "Given my role here, how should I act?" The question asks us as members of any society to understand our role. I'm now using this question for one of my teaching units and as part of my overall ambition to bring restorative language and practices to classroom communities. Where I get frustrated with this book, it's in the author's conservative-leaning focus topics. The institutio I was drawn to this book by an interview with the author, where he laid out his question people should ask themselves: "Given my role here, how should I act?" The question asks us as members of any society to understand our role. I'm now using this question for one of my teaching units and as part of my overall ambition to bring restorative language and practices to classroom communities. Where I get frustrated with this book, it's in the author's conservative-leaning focus topics. The institutions and people he criticizes (grandstanding politicians, politicized journalists, college campuses that are mean to conservatives) are too predictable. The continued harping on "culture war" and "identity politics" are just shortchanging the thesis and call to action. He writes admiringly of, "the ideal family built around parenthood rooted in a stable marriage." Uck. But, I come around with the ideas of rebuilding institutions and community. He sees a need for encouraging private deliberations in groups, so ideas can be hashed out without cancellation. He wants stronger formative communities, those that make the individuals in them more virtuous. We need to make sure, "opportunities are available for others to rise into the elite and by using their own power and privilege with restraints and for the greater good." This, and a willingness to redefine merit, one based on a virtue of building belongingness and community. He writes, "no human being has ever lived a life in circumstances of utter individualism, without some degree of community." Yes! And, we should celebrate that.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Josh Ehrich

    A well meaning attempt to fix our broken society that unfortunately falls short. The authors main premise is that we need to fix institutions. If our institutions(gov, schools, professions, church’s etc.) were more robust they could control our bad impulses. His reformed institutions are made robust by giving up the culture war and any semblance of values for the supreme value of compromise. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the problem and what it takes to build strong robust ins A well meaning attempt to fix our broken society that unfortunately falls short. The authors main premise is that we need to fix institutions. If our institutions(gov, schools, professions, church’s etc.) were more robust they could control our bad impulses. His reformed institutions are made robust by giving up the culture war and any semblance of values for the supreme value of compromise. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the problem and what it takes to build strong robust institutions. Gutting them will never do that. He gives mere lip service to the real problem which is inherent in our institutions. It’s also clear there is no place for the person of faith in his reformed paradigm. The churches he described are devoid of ideology and committed to the cult of compromise. What he doesn’t recognize is that this has been tried. The compromised state Protestantism of the Eisenhower era or even at the turn of the century. These failed to hold precisely because they had no strong ideology except for compromise. They were about the state and the people and not the tenants of the faith. His attitude towards religious institutions is that they are all of equal value. But this only demonstrates that he doesn’t understand people of faith. He doesn’t understand the church. It is only resilient when it stands for its core beliefs. True reform doesn’t come through institutions whose purpose is state building but rather institutions that stand for something larger. The solution is on the tip of his tongue.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Minster

    This book is outstanding. Levin brings perceptive, interesting analysis to all the major facets of our American society. He has a counter-cultural communal vision that cuts to the heart of the present social discord. Levin demonstrates that institutions are essential to everything we do, and as long as we have little confidence in our institutions, we'll have little confidence in our nation. The book was however light on practical solutions (Levin does however admit the difficulty in addressing This book is outstanding. Levin brings perceptive, interesting analysis to all the major facets of our American society. He has a counter-cultural communal vision that cuts to the heart of the present social discord. Levin demonstrates that institutions are essential to everything we do, and as long as we have little confidence in our institutions, we'll have little confidence in our nation. The book was however light on practical solutions (Levin does however admit the difficulty in addressing the problem). His only real practical proposal is that each of us devote ourselves to the institutions we're involved in, and ask ourselves "what action should I take, given my role?" It's a novel and a good idea, even if I'm unsure how realistic it is to create meaningful changes in the country. Bonus points for having endnotes worth reading.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eli

    I strongly disagree with the author about some things, and I think he misses some important points, but I resonated with his overall point that institutions can help address some of our challenges today and that they need to be focused on forming people rather than being a platform for people. I read this book right before reading Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build. Yuval isn’t that common a name. The books tackle some of the same problems but couldn’t be more different in their approaches. Very inter I strongly disagree with the author about some things, and I think he misses some important points, but I resonated with his overall point that institutions can help address some of our challenges today and that they need to be focused on forming people rather than being a platform for people. I read this book right before reading Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build. Yuval isn’t that common a name. The books tackle some of the same problems but couldn’t be more different in their approaches. Very interesting to contrast them. It would be even more interesting for someone to take what feels true about each of them and combine it. How institutions could work to reduce suffering. How leadership of institutions could benefit from recognizing their own ignorance. Etc. Although when it comes to religion I think there is no common ground between the two Yuvals.

  26. 4 out of 5

    mark propp

    i'm not going to rate this, because, for reasons i don't have to explain, i really couldn't fully engage with it. it was the wrong book to be reading at such a time, i suppose. i will say that i think the arguments levin lays out here are similar to ones seen in books by robert putnam, charles murray, jonah goldberg & tim carney, and while i have no doubt levin carries as much or more intellectual heft as any of those people, i found his writing style much less engaging. that's undoubtedly more o i'm not going to rate this, because, for reasons i don't have to explain, i really couldn't fully engage with it. it was the wrong book to be reading at such a time, i suppose. i will say that i think the arguments levin lays out here are similar to ones seen in books by robert putnam, charles murray, jonah goldberg & tim carney, and while i have no doubt levin carries as much or more intellectual heft as any of those people, i found his writing style much less engaging. that's undoubtedly more of a reflection on me than on levin. i'm not an intellectual, or even particularly bright probably, and his book may simply have been written at too high a level for me. i found it dense and difficult to digest.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Otto Jacobsson

    Every once in awhile you come across an idea that adds a layer of analysis to your outlook on the world. Yuval Levin does this extremely well in this book, where he makes sense of the current feeling of degeneration in the western world. He correctly (I believe) identifies the cause as a breakdown in institutions, and the capacity to form citizens they have. Seeing how institutions are corrupted into serving as platforms rather than serving their goals (e.g. journalist building their personal “b Every once in awhile you come across an idea that adds a layer of analysis to your outlook on the world. Yuval Levin does this extremely well in this book, where he makes sense of the current feeling of degeneration in the western world. He correctly (I believe) identifies the cause as a breakdown in institutions, and the capacity to form citizens they have. Seeing how institutions are corrupted into serving as platforms rather than serving their goals (e.g. journalist building their personal “brand” on Twitter) Mr. Levin suggests that a recommitment to our institutions are needed, if we are to move forward.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Reynolds

    Levin examines some of our institutions and finds them wanting. Levin says we should restore our institutions. Not a lot other than that. He dives into why journalism, religion, higher education, politics are failing us. Instinctively, we know all that. You already instinctively know everything in this book. He does occasionally have some aha insights. But there are no prescriptions. There are no solutions other than a woolly 'let's be better'. The book was disappointing, and even Levin seems to Levin examines some of our institutions and finds them wanting. Levin says we should restore our institutions. Not a lot other than that. He dives into why journalism, religion, higher education, politics are failing us. Instinctively, we know all that. You already instinctively know everything in this book. He does occasionally have some aha insights. But there are no prescriptions. There are no solutions other than a woolly 'let's be better'. The book was disappointing, and even Levin seems to know he is just curling around in a circle or constantly asking 'chicken or egg?' He's a good writer. But can't recommend.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    An analysis of the current cultural wars. The author sees that institutions and the elites that run them have fostered performance platform instead of formation for society. Americans are frustrated with a lack of integrity and trustworthiness, and the only way to accomplish change is not to tear down institutions, but for each one of us to recommit to working within and being committed to the very institutions we find grossly lacking. An academic read,the concluding chapter offers a rather shor An analysis of the current cultural wars. The author sees that institutions and the elites that run them have fostered performance platform instead of formation for society. Americans are frustrated with a lack of integrity and trustworthiness, and the only way to accomplish change is not to tear down institutions, but for each one of us to recommit to working within and being committed to the very institutions we find grossly lacking. An academic read,the concluding chapter offers a rather short explanation of "how to"form a better American society compared to the long explanation of how we got here.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Curtis

    This book is a fantastic expansion upon the lectures the author gave at Princeton a couple years ago. In this book, he argues convincingly that the reason polarization and factionalism have been significantly on the rise in our country is due to a loss of trust and severe decrease of health in our institutions. He makes a great case for the correct response to this crisis to be not to abandon our faith in institutions, but instead to work to rebuild these institutions and in some cases to establ This book is a fantastic expansion upon the lectures the author gave at Princeton a couple years ago. In this book, he argues convincingly that the reason polarization and factionalism have been significantly on the rise in our country is due to a loss of trust and severe decrease of health in our institutions. He makes a great case for the correct response to this crisis to be not to abandon our faith in institutions, but instead to work to rebuild these institutions and in some cases to establish new, robust institutions. I agree with him, and wholeheartedly endorse this book.

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