This new American Experiment symposium grows out of a book of mine published just about a year ago, From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation, which examined many of the problems and shortcomings resulting from very high rates of nonmarital births, very high rates of divorce, and routinely short-lived cohabiting relationships. One of the book’s central themes is how such family churning—more specifically, the extent to which it hurts great numbers of children—is leading, and can only lead, to stunted mobility and deeper class divisions in a nation that has never viewed itself in such splintered ways.
The future of the family is a matter of enormous and incalculable importance, and the strength, health, and integrity of marriage and family life constitute an absolutely essential precondition for all other social, economic, and political goods.
A reasonable reading of the following 34 brief essays in American Experiment’s newest symposium—What Governmental Services and Benefits Are You Personally Willing to Give Up?—suggests that more Americans than generally assumed may be seriously willing to sacrifice when it comes to major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. In the interest of balancing the nation’s skewed books, the columns similarly suggest that more people than routinely thought may be willing to forgo various exemptions and other tax breaks, including near-sacred deductions on home mortgage payments.
The longer and more deeply one studies the American past, the easier it is to imagine that matters could have turned out very differently. It’s easier to see America not as a land of destiny but as something tentative, fragile. As an experiment.
Prof. Wilfred McClay discusses intriguing issues like these: Ever since the time of its Founding, our American nation has been understood as a great experiment, both by ourselves and by the world. But what does it mean to think of a nation as an “experiment”? Does it mean that everything about our society and government is open to constant revision, so that change is the only constant? Or is the idea of America as an experiment actually a deeply conservative idea, one which gives us insight into what American conservatism has been, and what it needs to become in the 21st Century?