MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Tuesday, July 9th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview. Today, a conversation with columnist and author Tim Carney.
Carney is an editor for the Washington Examiner. His new book, Alienated America, explores why some American communities thrive —while others collapse.
BASHAM: In this excerpt of his conversation with WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky, Carney explores the power of churches and civic organizations to not only build, but maintain a healthy society.
MARVIN OLASKY: I’ve been thinking about this sometime, and writing about this earlier about the efficient advantages of civil society as far as providing services to people and helping in that way. But reading your book struck me another aspect of this that civil society provides opportunities for people to take leadership positions in a variety of ways outside of either government or business. So the person who let’s say was ambitious, could become president of the Elks or the Kiwanis and satisfy that ambition in that way rather than everything fall falling into the political aspect of things.
TIM CARNEY: Now that I think that’s a great point. And I remember being in clubs in my 20s uh, there is this is a great group, America’s Future Foundation. And because everybody who runs it is in the 20s and their board is in the 30s, in my twenties, I had to organize a panel and then I had to run the committee that organized a panel and then I ended up on the board at age 28 and because this organization exists, I did that. So that’s almost an analogy for having a million of these things on a local level. One of the Aristotle lines I say again and again throughout the book is: “man is a political animal.” We are, we are supposed to not just to shape our own lives but to shape the world around us. And sometimes conservatives and libertarians get a little apprehensive when they say that cause they think you’re talking about being a busy-body. But no, we are really supposed to shape the world around us. And a lot of us can do that through our Elks club, through our parish, through our PTA. For me it’s through our parish, which is also our kids school. And I coach tee ball. I’m able to shape the world around me because I’m deeply plugged into these institutions. If you’re not, in the case of alienation, then you don’t have any good way to shape the world around you. So that’s again, what civil society does, is gives us a, a playing field on which we get to act as political animals.
OLAKSY: So we, we know this stuff. Yeah. And we know, we know it both at an abstract level and also on a practical level. So why have we moved away from it?
CARNEY: So a couple of reasons. First is that we say we know this stuff, but I came across a really interesting definition of alienation by Robert Nesbit who was an American Enterprise Institute scholar back in the day. And he said: “alienation is this state of being disconnected from society. And then not seeing the point of getting reconnected,” basically. That once you’ve lost that connection, you often don’t think it serves a purpose.
And then two, is just sort of the central planner mindset. People think, okay. As, I mean the technocratic talk that’s been going on at least since the age of Thomas Dewey is, well, if you’ve got smart enough people with enough power, they can do it much more efficiently than leaving it up to the haphazard nature. And so I do quote Teddy Roosevelt who believed this very much, that he said, um, “if you’re leaving things up to the local level, it’s, uh, too unequal, too haphazard where we have a new republic in which we get to centralize things.” And I think that’s very much the mindset in Washington D.C., is that we should centralize the decision making and almost liberate people from the duty of building their communities. This is the way that some people see it.
OLASKY: So what do you do at this point? Uh, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle at this point. What do you do?
CARNEY: The first one, like a lot of the 10 commandments, I can give some, “thou shalt nots.” The federal government should stop, uh, harming civil society. One main way it does it is it crowds out nonprofits and churches. Another though is explicitly chasing the church out of the public square. Um, and so there’s a lawsuit against Catholic hospitals for not aborting some of their patients. There’s a, the federal government, uh, you know, the side they took in Hobby Lobby, the argument they made in church under the Obama administration was there is no free exercise in religion once you’ve entered into the marketplace. And Obama, when he would say freedom of worship, that’s obviously not in the constitution. It’s a free exercise of religion. So the government has to stop getting in the way of people’s exercise of religion because—for the middle class and the working class—church has always been the core institution of civil society.
And alienation is a core problem of the working class and the middle class. So step one is to stop chasing the church and other institutions of civil society out of the Public Square. But ultimately, it’s going to take something of a great awakening of civil society and uh, and local churches, church communities doing it. And a lot of that is going to be reformed by the institutions, specifically the churches. They don’t escape the blame for people falling away from civil society. Churches that have either become overly politicized, or my own church that covered up horrific abuses or churches that um, you know, that either went too lukewarm or tried to become too modern and then weren’t any different from day to day life and chased away people by not offering, by not actually talking about their, their core beliefs. So that’s going to be a big part of it, is churches, existing churches doing a better job of being distinctive and not just trying to blend in with the world.
Um, and then also I have friends who are engaged in the church planting effort. If you’re going to plant a new church, plant it as a community institution that’s distinctive from the broader culture that will bring people together and offer something they’re not getting, you know, by watching either Fox News or Home and Garden Television.
OLASKY: And church planning, at least in some denominations, uh, the hot places are either inner city places where there’s a certain buzz and excitement or very affluent communities where there’s a lot of economic support that people in the middle in Appalachia, for example, tend to…that’s, that’s not, that’s not a hot destination for your time.
CARNEY: If you end up in Buchanan County, Virginia or Fremont County, Iowa. Then you are really on the ground fighting this plague of alienation.