Meritocracy and its Discontents   /   Summer 2016   /    Book Reviews

Diffuse Democracy

Ryan Shinkel

Illustration by kup; Shutterstock, Inc.

Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, is a leading intellectual of the reform conservative movement. These “reformocons”—whose ranks include Bloomberg View columnist and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, Slate writer Reihan Salam, and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat—believe that the well-being of civil society is the primary purpose of politics. They envision a domestic policy that overhauls the tax code and middle-class entitlements to support working- and middle-class jobs, families, and social mobility. Instead of relying on Reagan-era solutions, they propose policies such as child family tax credits that can achieve old conservative ends in new ways.

In his newest book, The Fractured Republic, Levin provides both an intellectual brief for the reformocon movement and an introduction to its theoretical underpinnings. The book is also a call for critical reflection on Americans’ unhelpful nostalgia for the first two decades after World War II. Just as the current American political scene is polarized and hence “fractured,” Levin claims, so is it also besotted by a shared nostalgia, albeit one that is diversely expressed. From Occupy movements and the Tea Party to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Americans believe that something good has been lost and that it must be recaptured if a cataclysmic outcome is to be averted. Today, regardless of political affiliation, everyone selectively picks what he or she would like to bring back from those days: strong labor unions, vibrant mainline Protestant churches, a booming auto industry dominated by Detroit’s Big Three automakers, or a popular culture shaped by the three major TV networks.

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