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Civil Society and the Future of Conservatism

National Affairs magazine editor Yuval Levin, writing in the October 8, 2012 issue of The Weekly Standard, noted that this year’s presidential election seemed to have deteriorated into a contest between a “simple-minded and selfish radical individualism,” on the one hand, and “a simple-minded and dangerous radical collectivism” on the other. However Levin insisted that:

“To see our fundamental political divisions as a tug of war between the government and the individual is to accept the progressive premise that individuals and the state are all there is to society. The premise of conservatism has always been, on the contrary, that what matters most about society happens in the space between those two, and that creating, sustaining, and protecting that space is a prime purpose of government. The real debate forced upon us by the Obama years—the underlying disagreement to which the two parties are drawn despite themselves—is in fact about the nature of that intermediate space, and of the mediating institutions that occupy it: the family, civil society, and the private economy.”

Other than in remarks by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in Cleveland, however, the role of civil society as a source of solutions to our national problems made almost no appearance in the contest?s discussions.

Are conservatives overlooking a critical element of their own intellectual heritage by ignoring civil society? Could a rediscovery of civic engagement play a central role in conservatism’s revival? How important is civil society likely to be as we enter a new period of severely constrained government spending?

Required Reading
Harry Boyte, We Build What? The Vanishing Society, The Huffington Post, August 29, 2012.

Harry Boyte, The Work of Citizenship, The Huffington Post, September 9, 2012.

Yuval Levin, The Hollow Republic, National Review, August 13, 2012.

Yuval Levin, The Real Debate, The Weekly Standard, October 8, 2012.

William Schambra, Moderator

Director, Bradley Center

Harry Boyte, Panelist

Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College

Jimmy Kemp, Panelist

President of the Jack Kemp Foundation

Yuval Levin, Panelist

Founding Editor of National Affairs

Robert Woodson, Panelist

Founder and President of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

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