tv Yuval Levin A Time to Build CSPAN February 21, 2020 12:06am-1:06am EST
uniting those forces and allowing us of the vitality of the institutions from family and school to churches military. and the founding editor director of constitutional settings at the aei contributing editor cofounder and editor of the new atlantis and the great debate the essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications including the new york times and washington post of the wall street journal among many others. please join me welcoming to politics and prose, yuval levin. [applause]
>> thank you very much i appreciate the welcome. i'm excited to chat about this book and what it might say and it takes a little work to understand. so what's gone wrong in our country in recent years what we can do about it's reasonably clear about what it is isn't as clear as what we can imagine but we are living through we can see from the polarization and the resentmentsa and isolation and alienation and that epidemic of opioid abuse in recent years and very different parts of society we have some common roots is not easy to say but
part of that crisis is that we can't quite seem to get a handle on what that is those economic concerns don't cut it. it ended more than a decade ago and now through one of the longest economic expansions with the inflation and interestnt rate rates. and with those enormousis crisis. and they don't offer to be as healthy and safe as they have ever been. and some people argue the frustration are rooted in imaginary grievances. that they themselves and to
take these complaints as those gestures of self-indulgence anden gratitude looking over at wealth and health and those complaints on all sides of politics and to be that an discriminant pessimism and to put into a hopeless cause to drain the swamp or empower the charismatic tyrants. but surely these kinds of responses are understandable in part is not just self-delusion especially that reveals itself in such a broad ptrange of symptoms the happy data is the encouraging economic indicators but if
this doesn't explain the rating symptoms of our time we should ask ourselves what these indicators might be doingg es or science we might be missing. those unusual measures of wealth and health as important as they are and they assess the well-being on her own but we cannot experience well-being at the junctures of individuals that the trouble really shows itself. many of the struggles seem rooted in relational problems alienation polarization these are the kind of the failures of sociability so how do we explain a crisis of connectednesste cracks it is philosophical or metaphysical
because they fail to offer a sufficient vocabulary. other people say there are traditional measures of growth and prosperity may look fine but the problem is still economic in the deeper sense and contemporary capitalism has a level of inequality making it impossible for equal parts of a larger hole to believe in the legitimacy of political economic order people asked to just like external pressures like racism identity politics have left us incapable to hang together and there is some truth to all of these things because they treat the human person as embedded in a larger goal errather social or economic it has to do with the way that we live out but still missing something crucial thinking about our problems in these
ways we tend to imagine society and a vast open space as people having trouble linking cans so to level the playing field to the narrative there is a missing step so what we are missing is a structured shape to give identity. if american life was a big open space is not a space filled with individualsle but estate filled institution and if we are failing to foster belongingg more than a failure of connection institutions do a lot more than connect us so in terms of what they are and what they do they look at the
crisis in a new light. that is the understanding so what is an institution cracks there are a lot of different academic institutions but let me suggest what draws together to support the problems we confront in society those durable forms of common life the shape and structure of what we do together they are organizations like a corporate form a university or civic association that are technically and legally formalized maybe they are shaped by laws or norms or rules without a corporate structure we could talk about the institution of marriage or
tradition or profession and the rule of law itself is an institution but it keeps its general shape over time so hathat shapes the realm of life it usually changes only very gradually and incrementally in flash mobs don't count but it is a form in the deepest sense of structure and contour the shape of the whole, the organization speaking of the prof on - - the process not just a bunch of people but to achieve a purpose and to pursue a goal to advance the ideal that they are also formative to structure interactions and as a result they structure us a our expectations and characters
andch souls to help to form us in the formative role and how they relate to the social crisis. and with loss of truss and then to paint a very grim picture and in the early 1970s and continues to do it on a regular basis. into the branches of the federal government and it was plummeted consistently. 80 percent of americans said there was confidence in
doctors and hospitals. 37 percent. forty years ago they had great deal of confidence the last year last one - - less than 40 percent 60 percent but confidence in public schools in the early seventies just about one third did last year. even one year after richard nixon resigned in disgrace those that express confidencens the 12 percent and really wonder who are these people to have confidence in congress. for just all of those institutions the all the major exception that is unmistakable the american public has gone from extraordinary levels of confidence to striking levels
of mistrust. but what do we mean when we say we don't trust institutions cracks it has a lot tost do with what institutions are and do it goes back every significant institution carries out an important task of society to enforce the law or serve the poor to make a product and it does that by establishing a structure and the process to accomplish that task. in the process for those to carry out the task effectively and responsibly andd reliably to shape the people within it to be trustworthy we trust the institution that makes the people within it more trustworthy we may trust the political institution when it
takes seriously the obligation of public interest and informs the people in it to do the .same. and that clearly shaves people to do that we trust the business because it promises the need that we have. we trust the school because it builds culture to make people devoted and we trust the journalistic institution because it has high standards of accuracy and that makes the people reliable to lose faith in an institution with that ethical or formative role but when they claim to have that responsibility but instead to shield empower like when a bank cheats its customers that
gross a abuse of power obviously undermines the public trust of institution the familiar form of corruption is not new there are plenty of examples in our time and with that distinctive loss of confidence and then a related in different ways and with that purpose and those in the institution no longer see it as a mold of behavior but as a platform for themselves to raise their profile to be seen in society. it seems not to be worthy of our trust because it doesn't even seek to desire it so when
we don't think of our formative when the presidency and congress are for political outrage and the university is a venue and it is distinguishable from activism when the church becomes a political stage it becomes a lot harder to trust are not asking for our trust just attention a lot of the most significant social and cultural intellectual institutions in the country are in the process of going to this transformation with few exceptions most notably the military the most formative can prove the rule because they are one of the few in which. they are losing faith. and truly those institutions of the 21st century are inherently shaped as a platform.
and thaton change of attitude is in the expectation is at the heart of the faith and social crisis because they understood the platforms with the stages to perform on or to shave their character to offer subjects of loyalty sources of legitimacy to build mutual trust. examples of this transformation is everywhere around us. in many cases they are mated to platforms not just for any performance but the formative virtue and outrage of the vast polarized cultural war so much society is living through. one institution after another people think of themselves as insiders shaped by the
integrity of the institution they are in instead of functioning as outsiders this is obvious in politics if there is any doubt donald trump sees the presidency as a stage and he is a performer acting on it rather than the executive to act in it or through it what is hen doing when he tweets displeasure from the department of justice? they work for him. if he hadf a sense of his job shape he would direct the executive branch rather than complain about it maybe it's a good thing he doesn't know he can do t that but a sense of his job is another stage for the reality television show his life has been many members of congress of both parties run for office less to be involved in legislative work to have a prominent platform to become
more visible on cable news or talk radio using mostly as a platform to complain what they work so hard to enter they see that as they are always performing for their audience.no with two major political parties anything more than platforms to have a function other than displaying remember the roles of the political party is supposed to be think of the profession of journalism the institutional strength on the formative integrity a process of editing and verification to help to be sure what it provides is reliable but constantly stepping outside of those constraints to address the public directly on social media or cable news to build their own brand on a platform
rather than participating in the work of institutions on twitter right now you find a lot of professionaler reporters d professionalizing themselves journalist who complain how trump behaves in office should consider if his behavior is relative to the presidency could lead to the behavior to journalism but to play out that self-indulgence of the celebrity version to render them less able to do their appropriate work you can see the same pattern in the academyl just to form portion of the learning a lot of people use the institution as a platform for theatrics version of the c same thing for institutions that exist to be used is that a platforms for
political theater with the cachet from those that express themselves we can see that pattern that distortion of institutionalism with a great and asked question of our time given my role how should i behave and a lot of the trouble of the institutions could be described as widespread failure given my role here how should i behave as a member of congress or teacher oris scientist or parent door neighbor what should i do? the people that we most respect asked that question before they make important judgments and i bet the people that drive you w crazy seem somehow to constantly fail to
eyask that question so we always find ourselves saying how would they do that cracks it's one way to understand the transformation of expectations with a broader set of problems we are dealing with but to anleave with ascendancy institutions can be trusted and are not in the business of earning trust with the belonging and legitimacy. it is one important factor behind the crisis because we aren't very good to see institutions grasping at what they are for the only notice that when something is wrong. what do we do about it? we have a fine chapter to diagnose a complicatedap problem
the author offers an agenda all we wanted government to do but this book doesn't have a chapter like that because this requires ablem change of mindset looking at responsibility to demolish or uproot and to conclude only outsiders that's why the energy of politics is tearing down powerful establishments but we don't need more outsiders to pretend they areres critics we need more outsiders for their framework and the acceptance of the duties that accompany power those who have the most power need to resist the urge that they are outsidersno but everyone else
does too that we should brace for whatever position we hold to ensure those obligations and restraintss protect and empower us to inhabit those institutions love them when necessary to reform them and understand ourselves and to act accordingly and ask ourselvess not just what do i want but what should i do given my role in position it may seem like a small response but how we begin to work to a change of mindset to make a difference if the leaders ask morem often the professionals in many fields more we could trust that expertise to their
claims. . . . . are not trustwoh it's also important to recognize that there are somee serious reason to be careful and skeptical about institutions in american society. there are a lot of ways institutions can be impressive and limit the freedom of choice they impose hierarchies on us and can be slow to change and hard o to move and be institutionalized racism isn't a metaphor it arose for serious reasons and the argument for transparency for individualism
too rigid and imperial institutions. words like that are serious but we have to see populism and individualism and anti-institutionalism also involves serious trade-offs. institutions canff be impressive and if we cannot do without them. it's true they can reinforce the rule of the strong or the privileged but it's also true that without functional institutions, they have no hope of vindicating their rights. they sometimes embody oppression but sometimes embody the highest ideals. to defend institutions is not to defend d the status quo or the privileged. functional institutions are most important for people who don't have power or privilege. institutions can become cold and if you're a credit to your essential to attracting on the warmest sentiments without them we grow isolated, alienated, disillusioned. this is the iron irony about the
conference now in american life the failures of the institutions that have led us to demand that they be uprooted or demolished but we can't address the failures without renewing and rebuilding those very institutions. we are right to be setup with them so we needed them to be respectable andd legitimate. it's right that it should guide our reactions against the excess institutional strength in american life but our problems today are more like excessive institutional weakness so they required the recommitment and reform rather than resentment there is nothing weaker in american life now than the establishment and i say this because it has to change. civic and religious life of the common denominator because the people in those institutions have to want them to happen and
that means they have to first to see that the way they are not behaving are a big part of the problem and making them impossible to trust are contributing to the profound and destructive set of socialbu t dysfunctions. in one arena after another of the international life we face the challenge of drawing alienated people back into the institutions and we can point to all kinds of complicated theories to build trust that the simplest way is for the people that inhabit the institutions that is for all of us to try to be more trustworthy and we each can work on it. we can give the institutional responsibilities more time and effort and identity and self-consciousness and understand ourselves as defined by those institutions that matter most in our own lives and hold up to those ideas and take seriously the forms of integri
integrity. for the autonomy of the independent contractor but for the rootedness of the member and partner and the worker and the owner and the citizen there is a word for attitudes like that. the word is devotion what is required of us now is devotion to the work we do together with other people in the service of the common aspiration and therefore devotion to the institution so that we compose and inhabit. that does call for sacrifice and commitment. it calls on each of us to pledge ourselves to an institution we belong to unabashedly to abandon the distance and dispassionate analysis we want objects of devotion to commit to that we don't see what we are looking br is right within our reach. it's easy to be fashionable rebels and harder to remind ourselves of why the poor commitments are worthwhile and that is the kind of case that
institutionalism now involved in why it iss so crucial. what i am proposing is a modest change in the stand towards the country and towards the social crisis that confronts the social revolution or political transformation at least not directly at least in the belonging and naming established in our lives and so a greater care about some habits we've entten into that tend to cut us off from them. they've left us feeling like there's no one we can trust except the cynicsne and outsides and nothing we can do except register ourur outrage at people and ideas that we disagree with. with. but as with the life of our society would look like without functional institutions but the fact is there are many functional institutions and it could have many more if we devote ourselves to strengthening and reforming those that we are part of and if we respond to the needs and problems by building and rebuilding institutions rather than expressing frustration from the outside thinking and speaking differently about how
to live together can make a bigger difference than we might imagine and it can help us see what we have been missing to do what we've been neglecting small steps like those are what make the change is possible. they are constructed so they build upon each other and turn us all into folders. where they are headed is going to be up to the builders and rebuilders and that is what each of us should seek to be. thank you very much. >> it gives me an overview of the book i'm happy to take questions and dig in deeper. >> that was a great talk. i'm curious the extent to which you think this is an american problem. do you look beyond the countries
where this is more or less a problem and what are the lessons we can learn from the? the picture of the crisis i start with them a similar crisis happening around the west. the trust in government and in particular is actually lower in europe in the united states and has been for a i long time and that is saying something because it is quite low but there are some distinct ways americans look through institutions and treat them as invisible or we identify authenticity with unmediated directness in a way that many other people are. the culture is rooted in a kind of protestantism that just doesn't trust the mediating institutions. i once direct access we are
coming out of the second world war depression and decades of mobilization. we have very high confidence and i think that wasn't the norm, that was an odd moment, that it was an odd moment it's kind of defined or send so living now in an america that has no trust inn institutions feels much more broken and much more peculiar than it otherwise might. we still live with those norms the baby boomers grew up with and their leaders still are. we are testing now just how elderly they can get, and it turns out, pretty elderly. [laughter] there is something distinct about this approach to the institutions that contribute to this problem that understanding the part of the solution, but
the breakdown of social trust and the rise of populism obcertainly is not just america. >> thank you for your talk. we have watched two different versions of reality play out in the politics recently. your points on institutional failures and performance through some actors are very well taken but i think that you haven't properly addressed another contributing factor to both expertise and experts. the declining trust in the major newspapers eye to toy students d more than they watch and read to get a dopamine head of righteousness. [laughter] what would you do to address the problem.
it's why we trust institutions to say we trust them when they are formed in a way that gives them greater authority than the average person on some particular subjects. before they say something they've gone through a process that helps them figure out what is likely to be true and whatig isn't and we do trust that that happens. it's to show there is a method that makes it worthy o of our trusted expertistrust and experl works that way and the transformation of a lot of the professional institutions that form experts that way for political performance but in any case the sense that the public
has it has a lot to do with the public's loss of trust. if you have access to all the knowledge in thess world and we- that isn't what experts are. they don't just acknowledge the experience that is what the culture doesn't want to hear you can see in politics it requires some knowledge and experience
and you wouldn't think so now. when people run for office, they proclaim how little experience they have. it gives them a shape in the life of society and it's a way to make them trustworthy ando because individuals trustworthy. we still want expertise in some level. you don't want to hear from your surgeon it's kind of average. that's not great news. you want to hear from someone who knows what they are doing and that they can prove it. we don't admit to ourselves that expertisees is value. it's part of the cultural picture that they are trying to draw.
>> you've certainly given me a lot to think about. your most recent comments i think it ought to do with my question, maybe answering my question. if you want to include professions and among the institutions and your comments about doctors and medicine and so forth along those lines. but i'mar not clear about the ls of faith in professions in your mind is true from people from the outside of those but i don't get the sense't that from inside of the scientific community or insidin spite of the medical community forni that matter butt is a crisis of confidence in their own institution. >> it's hard to sustain the confidence when the public doesn'tt trust you.
>> i would say the core professions there is a sense that the educational institutions and institutions of practice but if placed in the profession have lost some of their authority and people do look for shortcuts and look for ways to gain prominence. it's too work their way through a kind of normal steps involved in gaining parties. you have to know some particular things to practice medicine. >> you can't just pretend to know them there's a way that the larger society's loss of preference in the institution is connected to a decline in confidence people in the majoror professions now are happy with
their professional lives. then it has become much harder to justify to yourself the kind of commitment necessary to become an expert and fries in the field. you see it in some places more than others. it's not the same everywhere you see it in the legal world and certainly in journalism that is subject to these pictures and forces. i would argue to some extent american doctors are much less satisfied than they were even as generation ago let aloneca midcentury america with their place in society. >> i've got myself agreeing with your analysis almost entirely. that's great to hear.
>> i would like to push you more toward specific policy because my concern i look at this politics and prose audience those that are so inclined and intentional will hear your message and maybe try but for the vast majority this is almost speaking a foreign language so wondering what to think about the policies like right choice voting in universal basic income and other reforms that are designed to bring people together. >> i'm not sure that i agree this doesn't speak to most people's in some ways but the same it's harder now to find people to trust the problem for everyone and not just in washington for were a certain l of education.
ways of trying to diagnose that in terms that relate to people's experience could apply more than that, but i agree at some level they also have to take the institutional reform and in the institutions that are broken, congress is a great example is the broken and the tension in politics at this point. whatever you think of donald trump, i could send -- could spend an hour talking about donald trump. the various complaints we have about the other branches are largely functions of various failures of the legislature to o take its responsibility seriously. and reforms of the congress that would encourage its members to think of themselves as insiders not outsiders and to think of themselves as legislators and notrs performers would have to a quickpr changes to the budget process, the committee system in ways that invest people more in the actual work of the institution. i think we have got into a place now where most members really take one big vote a year on the
big-budget film and have nothing to do with creating the leadership offices before the government shuts down and the structure of the work of congress have a lot to do with that. there are reforms that could change that but in some ways it's dangerous to say this on c-span there are ways the transparency has gone too far and there are no quiet spaces cer members to talk to one another. the only protected spaces for those at midnight before the government shuts down and those are the places all the work gets done. c-span is a godsend but they also have to be some places for members to bargain and deal with each other and there is no such thing as bargaining in public if you see people bargaining in public you are watching a show, not the real work of the legislature. i think congress have to be more self-conscious about the way it into structures itself.
the quality of life is pretty low and they could do something about it. i think younger members in particular don't even know what they are not doing. they didn't see the congress function the last real bipartisan bill i would say that happened in the early bush years and congress hasn't felt itself functioning in quite a while. that's an institution that makes its own rules and could change them and there would have to be incentives to do that. to surface these problems in these terms because it is and how we tend to see them and actually points in the opposite direction from how we tend to see them set to tear these things down the establishment is too strong they can understand we need to build things up we need functional institutions and right now we don'tct have them.
>> i have two questions i want to start by saying thank you to the presentation. you are making a wonderful contribution to the discussion into the issues. the first part is since you are from what i gather from the presentation, and you're asking for a new attitude and a change of mindset. what would it take for us culturally for that to get launched in addition to more than just writing this great book and getting us all to read it. >> with the reform part, what kind of structure -- part of the problem isn't -- it has to do with the way we've organized oud our society and that we are, our
institutions have been handed down from a kind of first then industrial but now we are in industrial and then digital age. the structures,s, the hierarchis that we created don't work now and we have undermined how we used to be organized by the personal connections in the community and the personal relationships. what kind of structural reforms can you think of that might help restore personal connections and things that restore a sense of kind of order. they've been related. if one thing you asked is how did we start to change attitude the only answer to that is to articulate for households the problem in a particular way to
think about the everyday decisions a little bit differently. that would be a very powerful way to change. i don't think this can be a top-down change. the trouble wit trouble to the f institutional reform is it has to come from within. the people that are empowered to want themm to change. there has to be a demand for it. if you can write a book maybe you should write a book that if you look at an institution that can stand this kind of change, i think it's important to speak up for it in peace terms. at the same time, when you ask what kind of reforms might be plausible, i think the way you put it is valuable to say american life has changed in dramatic ways and we have seen
big changes in the cultureng and society. some are proving very durable. i think what is troubling is we haven't seen a response to it it's not just to restore and recover what they have but to respond to the novel problems to the new institutions it's where we had similar problems in some ways the dramatic economic change of growth in the scale and scope of the economy and massive waves of immigration we responded to thiss with institution building.
it's how we respond to problems by building institutions and b it's an american thing. alexis de tocqueville was here erd wrote a letter to his father which if we get fo included fous togetheif we get four americansa treasurer. that is one way to understand the national character but we lost a little bit of thatd tendency now and respond by organizing around it because we have all these ways now to just express our dissatisfaction and we are inclined to express the reforms rather than structural organizations. we have done something about the problem, but saying on facebook that you are y on the right side of something, that isn't doing anything at all and it is a way of avoiding giving some in. >> is even worse than that. it leads us to respond to
problems in a kind of confrontational way rather than thinking about how to build around them, so i would say part of what we need is a recovery of the kind of building instinct and the only contribution i can make to that is to try to articulate and help people see when they face a problem maybe thamay bethat as one might thint it. >> i have good news given the context of this evening. i worked at georgetown today program on modernizing congress and there was a whole committee created a year ago this month to update and modernize institutions. it's got six democrats and six republicans. it's run in a participatory way. i go to all the hearings and work very closely with them. they all ask questions and contribute a unified staff manning the staff work together
all the time and just three weeks ago they introduced a bill based on recommendations over the last year that came out of committee is that legislation to reform the institution and it's huge becausitshuge because it to account building digital infrastructure and bringing back the deliberative process and all the things we hear about like devolving power back to the committee is and allowing members more chances to lead in te process. cthink what relating to the other comments, when congress is down to 30 to 50% of its hearings, we see a the hearings likeke benghazi and the impeachment hearing, but it's really not. not. it stopped doing the deliberative process and it's now funding itselfs at 1980 levels of in-house expertise. expertise. cicada thing i have noticed a lot and i would love your comments on this is the problem
with data and digital is that it has weaponize transparency. every public place you can imagine has been organized at this point and the hearings people want to watch you can watch all of them they are tremendous and bring in a lot of people working on this. they have ways to curate the incoming. incoming. they love c-span by the way that they need something like a c-span channel for. it would be far more curate and local and create a voice that talks to congress on its calendar m like committees of jurisdiction. not all members can kerry everything at one time. it seems there also has to be a real fundamental coming to terms with the monetization of data. it's not -- it's serving deliberative democracy right now, and that has to do with everything being in a sort of
free-market fundamentalist model. and unless we come to terms with unregulated capitalism as itli s coming, that is another massive institutional setth of changes that we need. i would love for you to talk about that. i've received a lot of memos on the otheros side from the staff. >> thank you for that question and the work you are doing. there is a kind of committee of the american sciencece associatn but i've been a membernd of and we've offered some recommendations to the house reform committee and they've taken some of those. i think the work they are doing is enormously important. there is a question that needs to be asked in aa more ex- licit way. the two ways to answer the question and going both directions at the same time t wn
we inform i think the purpose of congress is like the purpose of the european parliament which ie ajto empower the majority is to govern while they are majorities and the public takes away their power. on the other hand you could say the purpose of congress is to compel the accommodation among the differing groups or factions and force compromise. i think that's the original purpose of madisonian purpose. i also think it is absolutely the american legislature is decidedly not a european parliament. it is intended to force people of differences to come to some agreement. ..
>> accepting the fact ultimately the people you don't like are not going away is the beginning off civil politics premised right now on the idea maybe next time they will go away that's how we approach every election cycle all parties do this and it is completely disconnected from any understanding of what american life looks like the needs help coming together. i think a set of congressional
reforms to that need wooded force less majority and authoritarian congress i would not get rid of the filibuster i'd much rather have filibuster the house and get rid of the one in the senate because it forces you to have more than a narrow majority to get anything done. those types of changes too breakdown the big two with these two parties and instead try to change over time the complicated political society we live in might require electoral reforms are structural reforms of congress the power is much too centralized in the leadershipad these were all done for a reason but the institution is
not functioning as happened in the forties and seventies congress needs to make a change. the 12 members of that committee are the only 12 people in the house that want to do anything right now maybe ten senators between the two parties you are interested in structural reform getting more of them interested in is .ssential thank you very much. >> we will have signing at the table fold up your chairs and put them against something solid. thankst you. [inaudible conversations]