Society has chosen to denigrate the institutions and ideologies that founded the American democracy. Together, they bound the citizenry within the Republic. How cohesive can the democracy be if the citizenry is not connected? Or worse, if they’re so uninformed that they won’t take a stance at all? Decline in social capital has left a good portion of the country in ruins.
Robert Putnam, a political scientist and professor of public policy at Harvard, studied this decline in group association. Pulling on decades of data, Putnam found that membership in a wide variety of groups has fallen precipitously. Similarly, after analyzing time-budget surveys, he found that even time spent socializing or visiting decreased by 25%. Willingness to participate in political action dropped too. Joining a group, listening to speeches, or attending a rally are all less favorable among the public.
Defining social capital, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that fellowship and camaraderie were pivotal in order to fortify a prosperous society, one free from anarchy or despotism. Local government and voluntary associations worked to prevent a chaotic political cesspool (596). Power is easier to steal from the people and centralize when institutions grow weak.
A 2012 survey from Xavier University found that one-third of native-born citizens failed the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test. The survey also pointed out that if the minimum score to pass the test was 70%, as opposed to 60%, then at least half of native-born American citizens would’ve failed.
These results should be worrisome to anyone who understands the danger of an uninformed nation-state, namely radicalism. According to the annual report by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, millenials are now more in favor of socialism than capitalism. Generation Y’ers show a drastic misunderstanding of socialist ideology, communism, and the infinite number of crimes that have occurred under the guise of Marxist thought. Without knowledge, the populace will fall victim to the utopian promises of extremist regimes.
Once social capital is lost, the individual responsibility that arises from interpersonal relationships is lost too. Individuals decide that government should fix society, rather than citizens helping each other. Thus, when the obligation to fellow citizens is gone, an inclination towards collectivism grows. Self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” try to fill this emptiness by removing the safeguards against an overreaching, omnipotent government.
Americans would be prudent to remember the words of Maximilien Robespierre: “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.” The path to maintaining American exceptionalism is not difficult. It involves an emphasis on the family and local institutions. It includes a recommitment to a basic civics education. It means walking outside and knocking on your neighbor’s door for a conversation.