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Gertrude Himmelfarb

Civil society reconsidered

Among those who study social science and matters of civic engagement, the idea of civil society is regularly held up as a sort of be-all-end-all solution to the many social problems that vex our communities. George L. Kelling’s and James Q. Wilson’s “broken windows” theory (observing that minor infractions like broken windows in a neighborhood spur on more and more serious infractions) and Robert Putnam’s diagnosis of Americans as “bowling alone” (more Americans are bowling, but fewer are doing so with one another) continue to encourage  research that laments America’s declining “social capital” and its weakening communities.

While acknowledging the truth of these trends, Gertrude Himmelfarb, writing in The Weekly Standard,  finds the appeal to simply strengthen civil society as missing something fundamental.