But Levin’s case is not a counsel of despair. Far from it. Nor does he simply dismiss our nostalgia. Instead, we need to learn from it: “To learn from nostalgia, we must let it guide us not merely toward ‘the way we were,’ but toward what was good about what we miss, and why.” Or, as we’ve suggested here before, we need to “remember forward.”
That endeavour informs the second, constructive half of The Fractured Republic. The diagnosis is important: the same mid-century developments we celebrate were Trojan horses that unleashed forces hostile to the institutions, habits, and practices that made them possible. More specifically, what crawled out of those horses were agents of individualism that devoured the mid-level institutions of society, leaving atomistic individuals fending for themselves and/or looking to a behemoth state to save us. The result has been “the collapse of the culture of solidarity.”
The creative way forward, then, is to recover a culture of solidarity in the face of atomistic individualism and an abstract state. But what distinguishes Levin’s proposal from the nostalgia of others is his almost Hegelian attentiveness to the contingencies of history. So we can’t just turn back the clock to consolidation. Riffing on Alexis de Tocqueville, Levin concedes that the “diffusion” that characterizes our society is “a ‘generative fact’ of our particular time. It can be channelled and directed, perhaps mitigated at the margins, but it cannot be meaningfully reversed, at least in the foreseeable future.