Only a generation ago, theorists like Christopher Lasch were talking about two American cultural groups–a lower-middle-class culture that valued continuity, place, and institutional loyalty, and an upper-class, elite culture that valued mobility, rootlessness, and individuality. But since the time that Lasch and others like him wrote, the first group has been decimated, and one of the primary reasons for its fall has been the destruction of its communal institutions, including its religious ones.
A new and interesting book by Timothy P. Carney discusses and elaborates on this view–and in particular the effect that the collapse of churches as social institutions has had on the lower-middle class: Alienated America: While Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse (HarperCollins).
“Respected conservative journalist and commentator Timothy P. Carney continues the conversation begun with Hillbilly Elegyand the classic Bowling Alone in this hard-hitting analysis that identifies the true factor behind the decline of the American dream: it is not purely the result of economics as the left claims, but the collapse of the institutions that made us successful, including marriage, church, and civic life.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump proclaimed, “the American dream is dead,” and this message resonated across the country.
Why do so many people believe that the American dream is no longer within reach? Growing inequality, stubborn pockets of immobility, rising rates of deadly addiction, the increasing and troubling fact that where you start determines where you end up, heightening political strife—these are the disturbing realities threatening ordinary American lives today.
The standard accounts pointed to economic problems among the working class, but the root was a cultural collapse: While the educated and wealthy elites still enjoy strong communities, most blue-collar Americans lack strong communities and institutions that bind them to their neighbors. And outside of the elites, the central American institution has been religion
That is, it’s not the factory closings that have torn us apart; it’s the church closings. The dissolution of our most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, civic organizations—has not only divided us, but eroded our sense of worth, belief in opportunity, and connection to one another.
In Alienated America, Carney visits all corners of America, from the dim country bars of Southwestern Pennsylvania., to the bustling Mormon wards of Salt Lake City, and explains the most important data and research to demonstrate how the social connection is the great divide in America. He shows that Trump’s surprising victory was the most visible symptom of this deep-seated problem. In addition to his detailed exploration of how a range of societal changes have, in tandem, damaged us, Carney provides a framework that will lead us back out of a lonely, modern wilderness.”