The Corner

Civil Society in Action

When we conservatives talk about civil society, we tend to emphasize churches, civic and fraternal groups, charities, schools, small businesses, and the like. All of these are immensely important. But we tend to under-emphasize labor groups, which have also been crucial players in American civil society. Unions are both big and small—they’re national groups engaged in a vast corporatist enterprise, and they have long been so in America. But they’re also local groups engaged in a huge amount of bottom-up problem solving, civic education, and community building. 

This story about how a plumber’s union local in Michigan is helping deal with the water crisis in Flint brings out that side of things. It should warm the hearts of all friends of American civil society and champions of subsidiarity, and should remind those of us less inclined to credit unions in this regard of the role they’ve always played, and continue to play, in strengthening the mediating layers of our society—which stand between the individual and the state and help to keep us free.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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