We conservatives talk about the primacy of family, so we should consider what parents do. Parents take great efforts and make great sacrifices to put their children in good schools and in good programs for sports, music, or art. We aim to live in a good neighborhood and often to expose the kids to as much of the varied splendor of the human and natural world as possible. We try to make the home a loving and educational place. Our choices of decor and music are often influenced by this same desire: to place our children in an environment that maximizes the odds they can grow up as happy and successful adults.

So however much we talk about self-determination, we act as if a person’s environment has a massive effect on their chances in life. If we didn’t think so, we’d just say, “Hey kid, do the right thing,” and skip all the hard work.

I spent much of the last two years writing “Alienated America”, a book that pins the working-class woes — wage stagnation, a retreat from marriage, deaths of despair — on the erosion of local community. The closure of the factories is a huge element in that, but the closure of the local diners, the bowling leagues, and most of the all the closure of the churches are the core problem here.