Conservatism, properly understood, has long championed the essential role played by the mediating institutions of civil society — Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” — the churches, the schools, the men’s and women’s clubs, soup kitchens, scout troops, youth sports leagues, and neighborhood associations. It is here that we learn how to interact with each other. It is here that a healthy dependence of mutual obligation is formed. It is here — enmeshed in a layered, vibrant web of social interactions and commitments — that manners are learned, habits of virtue are cultivated, tradition is discovered and appreciated, and young people are taught who they are and how to live. …
Ryan argued that “the federal government has a role to play” with respect to community, but that “it’s a supporting role, not the leading one.” This is generally true. Government should distance itself enough from the individual that civil society — which exists in the space between government and citizen — can flourish. Speaking generally, government should help support these institutions, but it should not do their work for them.
But this is not to say that a communitarian ethic should be absent from politics and public policy — quite the opposite. Proceeding with a spirit of community would help conservatives formulate and support better policies. Let’s discuss a few.
The most obvious and immediate need for a spirit of community in the public-policy space is in the labor market. We still have two million fewer jobs than when the official “recovery” from the Great Recession began. More than four million of our fellow citizens have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.