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Denis Smith, who served in the Ohio Department Olof Education, monitoring charter schools, has often reflected on the incoherence of the basic idea of chartering schools to compete with public schools. He reminds us here of the deep divide between traditional conservatives, who try to preserve community institutions and the new market-based “conservatives,” who love disruption and count themselves successful to the extent they destroy traditional institutions, icons, and brands.
In this post, he analyzes a column by David Brooks about how excessive individualism is tearing apart our social fabric. Smith wonders why conservatives don’t recognize that their own ideas contribute to the attack on social cohesion.
“It’s not often that some of us can find common ground with the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, but his recent piece warning about “four big forces coursing through modern societies” struck a chord. On the other hand, while many might agree with him on some of the causal factors of massive societal change, Brooks and his fellow conservatives may in fact be enabling or even accelerating some of this change as a result of one of their public policy positions.
“The column and commentary by Brooks arose from his analysis of a new book, Commonwealth and Covenant, where the author, Marcia Pally, writes about the tendency in modern life to both explore as well as be “situated” – i.e., having a sense of community.
“Leave it to others to dissect the long-term impact of global migration, globalization, and the Internet to transform both individuals and those political entities called nation-states. But Brooks’ exploration of the fourth big force, individual choice, should make us want to further examine his identification of choice as one of the keys to social change and instability.
“All of these forces have liberated the individual … but they have been bad for national cohesion and the social fabric,” he observes. Nevertheless, he continues, “The emphasis on individual choice challenges community cohesion and settled social bonds.”
“Brooks is concerned about a now weakened social fabric that, as a result of global migration, globalization and the Internet, might appeal to alienated youth and, as one example, make ISIS attractive for those who might opt for that fourth force – individual choice. He then asks his readers: “In a globalizing, diversifying world, how do we preserve individual freedom while strengthening social solidarity”?
“Pally’s individualism, or “separability,” inevitably results in undesirable outcomes, including greed and control of scarce resources, but it is not clear if Brooks clearly discerns the consequences of this in our society caused by his party’s promotion of educational choice, and how such a policy further adds stress to scarce public resources while also impairing the process of community-building.
“His question about how we preserve freedom serves to illustrate the certainty of unintended consequences for conservatives, viz., how can you promote the concept of choice, particularly educational choice, as a desired public policy outcome, while also warning about weakened community cohesion and a frayed, tattered, strained social fabric?
“Can conservatives have it both ways? Nope.
“If Brooks is correct when he says “We’re not going to roll back the four big forces coursing through modern societies,” why would he and his fellow Republicans nevertheless encourage further weakening community cohesion and place additional stress on our social fabric by developing a parallel system of “public” education through charters, let alone vouchers?”