David Brooks has a column today about the problem of American decline and the need both for government and private intervention to improve the situation. It’s a generally unremarkable column but this paragraph toward the end caught my eye:
Finally, there is the problem of the social fabric. Segmented societies do not thrive, nor do ones, like ours, with diminishing social trust. Nanny-state government may have helped undermine personal responsibility and the social fabric, but that doesn’t mean the older habits and arrangements will magically regrow simply by reducing government’s role. For example, there has been a tragic rise in single parenthood, across all ethnic groups, but family structures won’t spontaneously regenerate without some serious activism, from both religious and community groups and government agencies.
The call for government and religious/community groups to engage in “serious activism” to regenerate the “social fabric” of the family left me with this question. If we are interested in this kind of re-generation in order to solve what Brooks sees as the problem of “segmented societies,” don’t we also have to have a fairly firm idea of what we mean by the family? If there is disagreement — perhaps even deep and irreconcilable conflict — among government agencies, religious, community, and other groups about what a socially healthful family structure looks like, why should Brooks predict that activism from all of these quarters to re-generate the family as a social structure would serve to alleviate the problem of the “segmentation,” and possible fragmentation, of America? Wouldn’t exactly the opposite be true — that as groups with increasingly different ideas about the healthy family become more active in expounding their respective views, social and cultural segmentation would increase? — MOD [X-posted, MOJ]