tv ISI Conservative Book of the Year Award - Yuval Levin A Time to Build CSPAN August 19, 2021 8:34am-8:59am EDT
>> good afternoon the president of the intercollegiate studies institute i'm pleased to welcome you to our annual conservative book of the year award. this year you've all is the author of the book. i've been a longtime fan of the work who introduced me to the author by e-mail and i was a young fan so i have listened to his podcast and read his book and showed up at his office very eager of a notepad of 30 questions and try to make my way through the
questions in about 45 minutes. i peppered him with edmund burke, thomas paine , rebuilding associations of civil society. i think he thought it was amusing and endearing student at his feet at the end of the conversation he told me i had a big job in front of me. which at the time i had just become executive director of the american conservative and four years later he said the same thing to me you have a big job ahead of you when i came to isi. what i love is he takes a lot of young conservative leaders under his wing, mentors them invites into his office and speaks of them and there are so many and people in dc that connected to each other because of the work that he does. i personally oh at that gratitude as a mentor and as a friend he is one of the most profound and deepest thinkers on the right today.
his book makes a refreshing case for a bottom-up vision for how to restore, revive america by supporting and renewing local institutions, churches, stool on - - schools and voluntary associations. also he's very insightful and higher education and i'm sure he will share insights how isi can do a better job to educate for liberty on college campuses. joining book of the year award winners including charles taylor and many more. the director of social and constitutional studies at aei and also the chair of public policy there. the founding and current
editor of national affairs and senior editor of the new atlantic and contributing editor to national review. please join me to welcome our guest. [applause] >> thank you very much. i appreciate that i remember the list of questions. it was very daunting to look at you checked through them one by one. i'm quite sure i offer no useful answers but i was very impressed. it is my pleasure to be here and or mislead humbling to see so many friends gathered here to appreciate what it has done for me since i was an undergraduate and what it has done for so many people like me who have looked for substance and community to try
to make their way through and often hostile culture to be connected to the ideas that are central to us as americans. we were talking about how energetic isi is and how great the publications are. this is a high watermark for isi. also thank you for this extraordinary honor. especially given the other fantastic books you might have chosen this past year, even among those finalists. i can tell you having read them they are all better than my book. [laughter] i am not ashamed to say so. i am grateful to whatever clerical error has landed me here rather than those authors
progression of satan very insanity because to me i always find those serial bouts of insanity what has added up to the life of our culture the last few decades. i thought i stood against temporary sanity and for permanent sanity that kind of permanent that is required to sustain our culture rooted in a sense of the worthiness of inheritance as americans and the civilization passed down and also in the sense that gift is so valuable it can deal with permanent human problems that we always face. our culture has been a long train of insanity because those problems are durable and we have to learn from the ways in which they have been dealt with by wisemen in women over centuries and not imagine they
don't apply anymore. that we don't need the institutions and the rules and conviction and path to truth the prior generations paved for us. as i remind college students, they did not invent the human condition. it was here before them. they have something to learn how people made the most of that and the hunger for meaning that they feel is not new and there are ways to feed that hunger that are a lot better and what they are offered from where they are. that act of reminding those enduring truths what conservatives are for. it is often countercultural because it is often a mass exercise in self-harm but countercultural does not mean regressive. the culture presses us over and over to regress to pre-
civilization barbarism into resist that is to make real progress possible. that is a core inside of conservativism and what it means to save a book built upon the understanding of the human person that may be of noxious now that conducive to true culture to the genuine preconditions for the flourishing of the human person. johnny suggested i say a few words about the book on the off chance somebody may not have read it. [laughter] so very briefly i want to put the book in the context of that conservative insight and purpose and how it to the predicament we find ourselves in american elder briefly. i promise a conservative book is almost unavoidably rooted in the idea as a creature in need of formation.
genuine culture a lot of conservative books either begin or end with the basic idea and beginning and ending with that. on its face the book you're doing a great honor of recognizing tonight and with that insight and tries to walk the reader toward it in the hope that could reach readers who don't start off as conservatives and provided that amazon does not ban it they could meet them where they are and walk them been taken by the hand to show them a different way than what they have been shown. the argument goes from the contemporary social crisis that anyone with eyes can see living in a divided and dysfunctional time and the trouble presents itself not in ways that can be measured through economics but relational terms that
ultimately is best understood as a breakdown of institutions. what are our institutions basically a social form the structure of human society that shapes and contours. some has something like a corporate form hospital school or business and technically legally formalized may be they are shaped by a lot or rules but the family is the first and foremost institution of every society. a traditional marriage the laws. it is institution to keep its shape over time in which it operates and flash mobs are not institutions. but most important what is distinct it is a form , structure or contour or the shape in the organization
speaking of purpose and function so institution is not just a bunch of people, budget people ordered together to achieve a purpose advance in a deal and pursue a goal to give the relation to the other. some institutions by their nature are formative of us. structure, interactions they structure us, our habits and expectations and our characters and our souls. they hope to form us. that formative role has a lot to do how institutions relate to that crisis. thinking of the role of institutions of american life now, we start with our loss of trust. that's a trend we hear a lot about the measures are easy to find across a very wide array of restitution to corporations and labor unions media schools universities, americans have lost trust in institutions for
a long time now and not loss of trust has accelerated this century but what do we mean when we say we don't trust institutions? part of the answer has to do with our confidence or they are up to the task they claim but the core is the formative character of institutions to say we don't trust institutions as we don't think they are forming trustworthy people. every significant institution carries out an important task educating children or enforcing the law or providing a service or meeting in need. it does that by establishing a structure in the process to combine people's efforts. and in the process it forms those people to carry out that effectively and responsibly and reliably to shape the people to be trustworthy and gives them a particular form there is such a thing in the
world as an accountant or lawyer or journalist or member of congress or not to mention a priest we tend to stress such people when they let it shape them into something better than they were before. that formation is setting boundaries institutions power is by constraining us i trust an account not because he understands how to carry interest but there are things an accountant would not do so of confidence in what he does i trust a journalist the weekend remember a time when we trusted a journalist. because that person's work is formed by a process of verification and correction of is my trust for them but it was my sense that process is able to form and constrain and shape that individual. that loss can happen in a variety of ways.
it could just be plain corruption and institution that fails to form trustworthy people but acts as a shield of misbehavior. when a member of the clergy abuse as a child. obviously the kind of gross abuse of power undermines public trust institutions. a familiar form of corruption. it is not new. there are plenty of examples so it doesn't exactly explain how a distinct loss of confidence another way they can lose the trust is that they failed to impose it doesn't even seem to see that as its purpose what they no longer see as a mold of their character or behavior but just as a platform for themselves to raise their profiles when we don't think our institutions as formative our political institutions are stages for outbreaks when university becomes virtues signaling and they are harder
to trust their not asking for trust just attention the book lays out how that has happened in a series of key institutions with the academy and the media corporate america parts of suit civil society into the role of social media and then a character and ultimately that they could push back just a little against the trend. that has the assertion of personal commitment and responsibility with a great and asked question of our time, not just what do i want or need as a member of congress or parent what should i be doing? the book needs to ask this
kind of question because we require formation to be capable of freedom poor conservative insight it is made in a divine image crooked or fallen and then if that person has formed and is capable of extraordinary things. the opposite view is a poor premise that the person is born free everyone is in chains so they require liberation to be free rather than formation a huge amount changes on the purpose of politics is to sustain formative institutions or liberate the individuals certainly the core institutions they are all
subject of intense controversy in dispute and why an argument for formative institutions is a substantive one not how to turn down the temperature but which side is right and wrong? in this sense the aim is from everyday's experience of social crisis too often toward the understanding of the fundamental anthropology of conservativism. those among friends but also in the other direction to shed light into different way. i am jewish so i like to read books from right to left. [laughter] if you read this from the end to the beginning to the promised for the understanding of our cultural crisis come it makes the case of failure to begin with an understanding of the imperfect nature, the need for formative social institutions is at fault.
so what argues for restoration of our commitment from the bottom up to recover the potential for human flourishing in modern america. the troubled institutions are experiencing not vague and cultural decay but in particular a failure to grasp the nature of the human person and the life of society but the premises and priorities are at fault for what has gone wrong in the path to recovery depends on the reassertion of the other side of the conservative side. recovery in reassertion depend on our being more persuasive and successful to shape the next generation. by the way is not quite a coincidence the book can be read forward and backward the text is framed white
concentric circles where the first and last of the nine chapters are the broad contours of the cultural crisis. the second and next-to-last are about personal formation third and seventh politics and civil society and the fourth and sixth about media and social media and the middle chapter, the fifth chapter at the heart of the book is the heart of the case about the university. and it is not by coincidence that the university is at the core of the argument. i will close with this because let's return to isi essential work there at the center of the crisis because it's a source of a lot of our most terrible ideas. this is a crisis of terrible ideas. at the center because where we are formed in the crisis of you the formation but also because of what the university can and must be a place to
understand ourselves. as human beings in citizens and individuals and as a nation. the ideal means university is something to fight for. not just fight against and for space to persist in room to be heard and to be persuasive to offer some portion healthier or more nourishing than what is being said now that is what success can look like. it's important to remember that ambitious idea of success. this is a moment where the shenanigans of the left can drive us crazy but we have to be careful not to go crazy. keep ourselves focused on the rising generation beginning with the sensitivity to the inescapable fact solutions begin with us however deeply we might understand the roots you cannot diagnose your way to a cure so even if the
problems we faced solutions have to begin with others or at least thinking how we could change others which in a free society means how we can persuade others and therefore make what we offer more appealing, more attractive to others. we don't think enough about that now. we fail to notice how unattractive some of what we offer has become. being more attractive doesn't mean bending to fashion but it is very appealing in a moment like this but it does mean meeting people where they are starting with a sense of what has gone wrong. confident they will see why they should go. shirley that means avoiding despair in the effort to do so. it is terribly offputting. it is unjustified and the failure of hope and gratitude. our case has to begin not with
the depravity of the status quo but the potential for a numeral not with resentment or complaints but with love and promise and we start with what the other side has done wrong we can only reach the already persuaded to start with what we have to offer and we have a lot to offer conservatives are appealing showing the rising generation why their inheritance is appealing offering access to the deepest stores of wisdom and sanctity and happiness. today's americans are told they want none of them and it's up to us to show them otherwise. we should always ask ourselves are we doing this? it's doing it at the center of the action and the belly of the beast that could not be more important.