Magazine February 24, 2020, Issue

Can Today’s Soulless Institutions Be Revived?

The U.S. Capitol at sunset, November 22, 2019 (Loren Elliott/Reuters)
A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream, by Yuval Levin (Basic Books, 256 pp., $28)

We are “born as crooked creatures prone to waywardness and sin,” Yuval Levin writes in his new book, A Time to Build, originally delivered as the Charles E. Test Lectures at Princeton. As a result we continuously “require moral and social formation” to refine and develop our defective characters. What we have largely forgotten, Levin argues, is that institutions play a part in these processes of soul formation: They “structure our perceptions and interactions, and as a result they structure us. They form our habits, our expectations, and ultimately our character.”

But our institutions are breaking down. In an age that

This article appears as “Twilight of the Institutions” in the February 24, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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Michael Knox Beran — Mr. Beran is a lawyer and writer. His book WASPs: The Splendors and Miseries of an American Aristocracy is to be published this year.

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