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New Book by Howard Husock on Civil Society

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New Book by Howard Husock on Civil Society

September 10, 2019

“In this new, multilayered, and accessible book he [Howard Husock] sketches thoughtful portrayals of the work of American social reformers in order to help us discern the path forward.”

Robert D. Putnam, Research Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids

“Howard Husock has offered a powerful diagnosis of the dysfunction at the heart of our social ills...This is an essential read for understanding contemporary America.”

Yuval Levin, Editor of National Affairs and author of The Fractured Republic

“Howard Husock’s new book exhumes the bourgeois norms of personal and social uplift that preceding generations championed but that our current bureaucratic systems stifle and even discredit.”

Peter H. Schuck, Emeritus Professor, Yale Law School; Scholar in Residence, NYU Law School; author of Why Government Fails So Often and One Nation Undecided

NEW YORK, NY — At a time when America struggles with such social ills as the opioid epidemic, criminal violence, and workforce dropout, Manhattan Institute Vice President for research and publications, Howard Husock argues that over the past century we have lost sight of the most powerful antidote to such problems: positive social norms―a community’s shared values which influence healthy behaviors.

Today, government-run social programs funded with tax dollars, are thought to be the “solution” to such problems.  But in his new book, WHO KILLED CIVIL SOCIETY? The Rise of Big Government and Decline of Bourgeois Norms (Encounter Books; September 10, 2019; 978-1641770583; $23.99), Husock shows that historically, it was our civil society—settlement houses, the YMCA, Boy and Girl Scouts, operating independently from government revenue and its mandates, which promoted the habits and values that lay the foundation for upward social mobility and living life as a contributor to one’s community.

Today’s social service state focuses on the “reformative” rather than the “formative,” attempting to fix problems with programs rather than preventing them in the first place by modeling healthy norms. Through a series of profiles of civil society pioneers such as Jane Addams, Grace Abbott, Wilbur Cohen, and Geoffrey Canada, among others, Husock argues that the advent of government contracting with independent sector civil society organizations, is what diverted the work of those organizations from “formative” to “reformative” and led to a de-emphasis of what as of late have been called “bourgeois norms.” Husock defends such norms as inclusive, not exclusive—as providing those of modest means with the tools for upward mobility. He argues that “bourgeois norms” must again be championed by civil society separate and apart from government programs.  

WHO KILLED CIVIL SOCIETY? is not just another conservative screed critical of the welfare state broadly but, rather, a critique of the social service state, as exemplified, for instance, by the $53 billion distributed via contracts by the Administration for Children and Families. By its nature, government, Husock argues, addresses problems, rather than promotes values.  But the civil society organizations that do promote values have declined, in part because of their reliance on government support.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Howard Husock is vice president for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.  A City Journal contributing editor, he is the author of Philanthropy Under Fire (2013) and The Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy (2003).

Formerly, Husock was director of case studies in public policy and management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where he was also a fellow at the Hauser Center on Nonprofit Organizations and an adjunct lecturer in public management. ​His writing has appeared in the Wall Street JournalNational AffairsNew York TimesNew York Times MagazineSocietyChronicle of PhilanthropyJournal of Policy Analysis and Management, PhilanthropyThe Wilson Quarterly, and Public Interest​.

A former broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker, his work has won three Emmy Awards, including a National News and Documentary Emmy (1982). Husock serves on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He holds a B.A. from Boston University’s School of Public Communication and was a 1981–82 mid-career fellow at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR WHO KILLED CIVIL SOCIETY?

“Most decent people on both sides of the political spectrum nowadays recognize that the widening gap between rich and poor is a grave threat to American democracy. What is to be done? For too long, too many on the left and the right have been caught in a false debate about whether the problem is ‘really’ economic and structural or ‘really’ cultural and normative. The debate is false because the answer is: both. Howard Husock has long been a thoughtful leader in this discussion, emphasizing the role of cultural norms. In this new, multilayered, and accessible book he sketches thoughtful portrayals of the work of American social reformers in order to help us discern the path forward.”

Robert D. Putnam, Research Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids

“Howard Husock has offered a powerful diagnosis of the dysfunction at the heart of our social ills. He shows that healthy norms are essential to a healthy society, and that the institutions that might form such norms have grown weak in our time. But more important, he shows what might be done about it. This is an essential read for understanding contemporary America.”

Yuval Levin, Editor of National Affairs and author of The Fractured Republic

“Howard Husock’s new book exhumes the bourgeois norms of personal and social uplift that preceding generations championed but that our current bureaucratic systems stifle and even discredit. By portraying the institutions these civil society pioneers built, and by spotlighting some of their successors’ work today, Husock argues that recovering and selling these norms—‘preaching what we practice,’ in Charles Murray’s apt phrase—is necessary for sustained progress for our most disadvantaged Americans and thus for the quality of our community life. I think he’s right.”

Peter H. Schuck, Emeritus Professor, Yale Law School; Scholar in Residence, NYU Law School; author of Why Government Fails So Often and One Nation Undecided

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