November 25, 2021

"The English expression 'the social fabric' was coined in the 1790s, the age of the machine loom, when observers worried..."

"... that the growth of factories and cities, and the movement from farms and towns, was leaving people isolated and alone. Over the next century, all sorts of thinkers, from the Romantics, De Tocqueville and Marx to Hegel and the utopian socialists, agreed that something called 'society' was coming apart.... In a 1953 book called The Quest for Community, the American sociologist Robert Nisbet lamented the modern state’s 'successive penetrations of man’s economic, religious, kinship and local allegiances.'... Nisbet, the man who quested for community, was something of a misanthrope. At home, he liked to watch Gunsmoke on the family’s black-and-white television, play croquet with his kids and potter in his rose garden. He went to church only at his wife’s insistence. He did not enjoy society. 'I very much like individuals,' he’d say, adapting a quote from Linus Van Pelt in a 1959 issue of the Charles Schulz comic strip Peanuts. 'It’s people I can’t stand!' There is no such thing as society, Thatcher would say later. There are only individuals. Thatcherism, in the end, came from Charlie Brown. Conservatives had long placed their faith not in society, but in the free market. But the gap between liberalism and conservatism closed in the 1950s, when liberal intellectuals, terrified at the prospect of a collapse of liberal democracies into totalitarianism, lost faith in the idea of society and abandoned their commitment to social democracy.... Instead, they strove to protect the individual, and the individual’s ability to make choices, as if the act of choosing, and the market-driven rhetoric of choice, could inoculate the masses against becoming a mass...."

Lots more at the link. If the part I've quoted seems sketchy, there's much more connective material at the link.

47 comments:

Will Cate said...

Haven't researched it recently, but I always thought it was Lucy who said "I love humanity, it's people I can't stand." It just seems like more of something she would have said, rather than Linus.

Michael said...

The social fabric of vast majority of towns in this country are held together by a combination of churches, schools, and service organizations (Rotary, Kiwanis, etc).

The government lock downs have shredded this social fabric. It will take years to stitch it back together, if it is even possible.

Lem said...

Coincidentally, Heather Heying and her husband have this very discussion in the latest clip of their podcast I watched last night. Their discussion centers around a Heller ‘Catch-22’ quote “It’s better to live on one’s feet than to die on one’s knees”.

link to video clip

Mike Sylwester said...

'I very much like individuals,' he’d say, adapting a quote from Linus Van Pelt in a 1959 issue of the Charles Schulz comic strip Peanuts. 'It’s people I can’t stand!' There is no such thing as society, Thatcher would say later. There are only individuals. Thatcherism, in the end, came from Charlie Brown.

My blog articles about Peanuts:

The Gospel According to Peanuts - 1

The Gospel According to Peanuts - 2

The Gospel According to Peanuts - 3

James K said...

Instead, [liberals] strove to protect the individual, and the individual’s ability to make choices, as if the act of choosing, and the market-driven rhetoric of choice, could inoculate the masses against becoming a mass...."

This is laughably counterfactual. Liberals never wanted individuals to be allowed to make economic choices and face the consequences--hence the minimum wage, rent control, indeed the entire welfare state. And now it's devolved into control of our medical choices, freedom of movement and of association.

hawkeyedjb said...

"Despite Thatcher and Reagan's best efforts..."

What a universe of ignorance is contained in that sentence. But not unexpected from those who confuse "the State" with "society."

Iman said...

Reagan and Thatcher were momentary respites from the steady slide downward, signified by Pigpen’s liberalism.

Amadeus 48 said...

Well...the Guardian.

Do you believe in macroeconomics or microeconomics? Macro has always seemed fishy and reductive. You supply the inputs you want to get the outputs you want. Micro recognizes that the economy reflects the individual choices of millions of producers and consumers acting in a way that reflects their individual preferences.

At a time when the UK had an "incomes policy" that attempted to dictate from the top how much individuals should make for their work and the UK budget could be severely impacted by union wage demands in nationalized industries, Thatcher was trying to get the debate re-focused on individual decisions and individual responsibility. Her opponents put up a fog of resistance by saying that "society" demanded this or that allocation of national wealth in a top down, command economy. Thatcher won the argument, and the socialists at the Guardian never forgave her and still have nothing good to say about her.

The situation in the US was different, but Reagan also won the argument with the public. But the Left never quits.

Temujin said...

" in the 1950s, when liberal intellectuals, terrified at the prospect of a collapse of liberal democracies into totalitarianism,..."

Liberals are always fearing and bemoaning the impending collapse of democracy and the falling into totalitarianism because of Conservatives. Yet the totalitarianism always seems to come from and fall upon the socialist regimes. Always.

Society such as it is, is made up of its smaller units. Those units- individuals- choose to cooperate with each other, or not, to form communities. Those communities agree to- or not- form towns, cities, become parts of states, and in our case, eventually agree to form a union of states- a nation. As 300,000,000+ individuals, we will never agree on all things or even many things, but with a common law, we can at least agree to live within certain rules and guidelines. We allow or offer up the protection and enforcement of the rule of law to individuals. It is their job to maintain those guidelines to keep 300,000,000+ individuals from running amok, all the while allowing those 300million+ individuals to make 300million+ individual choices every day about a massive number of daily decisions.

It is the best system ever devised, but only works as long as the individual citizens retain the power to make those individual decisions. When we relinquish those decisions to a government, and when those put in place to enforce and maintain the guidelines, shove those guidelines aside to further their own political or personal needs, then cracks form in the 'arrangement' we call society. We can survive a few cracks. But when the entire arrangement is gone, when those given the charge to maintain the guidelines, ignore the guidelines en masse, and move unconstrained to change those guidelines without consultation of the 300million+, then that is a waiting disaster for the arrangement. And when the individuals forget that they hold the power, and instead offer their individual power to a central head in hopes of being kept safe, there is no safety for anyone.

The cracks in our society have been opening up for decades. We're about to burst open now. Those given the charge to maintain the guidelines don't even see guidelines. They follow no laws. They rewrite the script to fit their own selfish needs. This is when society will reorganize and rewrite itself.

I'm not sure what direction we're going to head in, but one thing I know for certain. It has never been the case in the history of humanity that a central authority can make decisions for the market, for the overall society, better than 300,000,000+ individuals can for themselves and, hence, for the overall market.

tim in vermont said...

Reagan and Thatcher were the ones who stood up to the crushing boot of socialism. Socialism is a cult that runs on the belief that it will make people's lives better, yet whenever it is tried, the power of people it requires becomes irresistible to the Stalins, Castros, Kims, Hitlers, and all opposition is crushed and it becomes the untrammeled will of the sickest person who will do whatever it takes to climb to the control of that power.

Ché used to like to shoot the people that he disagreed with politically, in the head, while they were pushed up against the garden wall of his beautiful estate by his thugs, and that chore done, he would sit down to a pleasant breakfast.

Reagan and Thatcher indeed. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, try.

Lurker21 said...

That is a "strawman" in so far as Reagan is concerned. Reagan never denied the existence of society. IMO we were united as a society in the Reagan years to an extent that we weren't in the Sixties and Seventies and certainly aren't today. Democrats and Leftists didn't like Reagan, but the divisions were much less embittered than today. Some people have a rosy, romantic picture of pre-Reaganite America as a land of harmony, community, and solidarity, but that doesn't take in the stagnation and frustration of 1970s America.

With Thatcher, it's complicated. I don't think she ever denied the the existence of civil society, but she hated the rhetoric of "society" always needing to "do something" through government and looked to individuals and families acting on their own. This didn't exclude people coming together in groups and organizations. It didn't even exclude government action, but Thatcher wanted to move the focus away from blaming society and relying on government.

Unfortunately she gave her opponents a perfect quote to use against her. Many of the enthusiasts of those years also went in for constant talk about free market individualism and ignored the importance of social ties, and in the next decade this would become an enthusiasm for a borderless world and an unhindered global flow of goods, capital, and people. I can see why Lepore thinks as she does, but in going after the usual villains, she oversimplifies.

I'm watching The Crown season four now. They really don't like Thatcher. Gillian Anderson gets her mannerisms right but seems to concentrate too much on those mannerisms and too little on getting to who Thatcher really was. Maybe that was the point of the performance and the episodes: that Thatcher had no soul. Still, it's an annoying performance.

I was disappointed when Meryl Streep won the Oscar for her Thatcher. It seemed like they were saying that nobody's acting was any good this year, so let's give it to Meryl yet again, but Streep's performance came across as more nuanced and human than Anderson's, which I guess was to be expected.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

How can society be coming apart when a postal carrier dies and they fly the American flag at half-staff?

Iman said...

Society Dies in Dung… https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/defiant_ls_wapo_rittenhouse__brooks_waukesha_11-24-2021-scaled.jpg

Sebastian said...

"they strove to protect the individual, and the individual’s ability to make choices"

Well, that was half of what they did, to humor women wanting to wear miniskirts to school and get rid of their babies.

The other half consisted of building massive bureaucracies to run welfare states.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

To over-generalize: conservatives who are not libertarian sometimes have a memory of an actual society, like a church community. They think actual families are more good than bad. "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams" (from a different context), and we might as well add, crimes against women and children, the family along with other old-fashioned groups achieved some realistic goals. Liberals who are not libertarian believe a kind of big society supported, maintained and propagandized by the welfare state will be better if less personal. It's hard to believe anyone is going to love this Maoist shit about how I hate heteronormal white males, I love my expert masters on TV and social media. And yes, having a few friends who can be cherished as individuals, somewhat regardless of what is going on in the world, is a kind of miracle.

mikee said...

Make a government designed to support of individual rights and limited in authority and oddly enough society takes care of itself, as individuals live their lives.

rehajm said...

Humanity will thrive when allowed to act in their own self-interest and will suffer when they do not, despite best efforts of little shits like this to pejorize individuals acting in their own self-interest.

Ann Althouse said...

"Haven't researched it recently, but I always thought it was Lucy who said "I love humanity, it's people I can't stand." It just seems like more of something she would have said, rather than Linus."

It's easy to do an image search. It's Linus, talking to Lucy. He says: "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand." Lucy provokes him telling him he could never be a doctor because he doesn't love mankind.

Ann Althouse said...

So the problem with Lepore's idea — "He did not enjoy society. 'I very much like individuals,' he’d say, adapting a quote from Linus Van Pelt in a 1959 issue of the Charles Schulz comic strip Peanuts" — is that Linus wasn't saying he loved individuals. "People" mean individuals. He was saying he loved the group, the abstraction, but didn't like the individuals. Lepore is okay if by "adapting" she means completely reversing the meaning!

Ann Althouse said...

"... shredded this social fabric. It will take years to stitch it back together...."

We're not cloth though. It's a metaphor, and it's not necessarily a good metaphor.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Amazing how Reagan and Thatcher are still to blame for everything. You can just shove them in anywhere, can't you? It would be an easy exercise to write the reverse essay that those two did valiant work in preserving community in a rear-guard action of protecting traditional economic connections over imposed ones, which ultimately protects cultural ones. That oversimplification won't work either, but I think it's a good deal closer. The background whine of "Why won't you fools just do what we tell you?" is always present in Lepore's thinking.

Moral thinking is so much simpler when your opponents are always evil and utterly wrong. It saves you from having to do any moral reasoning yourself, as you can just reliably find the truth by hating them.

MikeR said...

Doesn't seem "sketchy". It seems like one more educated idiot who thinks she can lecture the rest of us on the secrets of the universe.

Roger Sweeny said...

Stitch back better!

Rollo said...

Whatever Nisbet said, Linus said, "I love mankind ... It's people I can't stand!" It's Linus. Lucy wouldn't claim to love mankind. Notice how well "Peanuts" fit in with "The Age of the Crisis of Man," when one could still speak of "mankind," Albert Schweitzer was a global hero, Faulkner could talk about Man Prevailing, and people still believed in the UN. Notice too, how Schultz expressed a gentle skepticism about the hopes of his age.

Kai Akker said...

Lepore. Ax. Grind. Oww.

"Despite Reagan and Thatcher's best efforts... "

Ms. Lepore is living in the past, when dissing two great leaders could still command some coin in her world.

Especially revealing is one little word: that "must" in the subhead -- "what shape [society] must take in a post-pandemic world".

The totalitarians of the world always know what the answer is -- whatever they prefer, and of course in an order which they will get to dispense from their anointed places.

This is such old hat I am surprised to see it on here.

I did note Lepore's reference to Catcher in the Rye, which just figured in the great books discussion yesterday. She says it has "impressive popularity" among the youth of today.

Not in my experience. Our two sons and their friends from a competitive-admissions high school in Philadelphia were noteworthy for their near-universal distaste for the book. So different from what I recall in my generation's adolescence. I was surprised; and then surprised to realize how relieved I was by their reactions.

So Ms. Lepore must live somewhere else, and I think it is mostly in the past, when her ideology had more power. What a lengthy article; I finally stopped on it, it seemed so tired in its thinking.

Patrick Henry said...

One must remember that if the Guardian ever publish something true, it's only to advance its agenda of communism. And, it will only publish the bits of truth out of context.

I'm not saying anything in this piece is true, or not, just reminding the readers that Guardian is propaganda and not news.

Mark said...

The energy it would take to try to figure out what ever irrational lunatic ravings this chick is saying about conservatives is not worth it.

Not only have conservatives trumpeted civil society for centuries -- which is a body distinct from the progressives idolatry of government -- but they have recognized that the first unit of society, the unit that progressives have tried for decades to destroy, is the family. And that society has existed and is inherent in the nature of the human person ever since the opening pages of Genesis.

narciso said...

it's very clear what thatcher meant, the eclipse of the individual and the rise of the State, why people can be locked down, thanks to fergusons algorithms and the welcome trust, all of whom were part of schwab's geneva shindig in 2019

Bilwick said...

"Amazing how Reagan and Thatcher are still to blame for everything." Especially to lockstep members of The Hive. I'm familiar in a general way with Ms. Lepore's writings, and my impression is she is just another State-shtupper.

Tom T. said...

Whenever someone refers to "the social fabric," they inevitable mean "the existing power structures that benefit me." Society really was coming apart during the industrial revolution. But the pre-industrial farm life that various nobles and gentry wanted to preserve was brutal and crushing, and the people fled that life en masse when the opportunity to work in a factory presented itself. For the first time in human history, working people had a choice, and the people who had been at the top of the heap hated that.

So when authoritarians like LePore talk about society, they mean the things *they* like about the world we live in. And when they want to limit "the individual’s ability to make choices," she's not talking about limiting *her* choices. She wants to limit yours and mine.

Michael K said...

Socialism does a good job of keeping people together in penury.

Enlighten-NewJersey said...

The progressive movement is built upon the assumption that government can be used to change and improve human nature. That’s why their socialists utopias are doomed to failure because they fail to take into consideration what motivates people, the individual. Conservatives believe society is a group of people with shared traditions and common expectations concerning the acceptable behavior of its members. Successful societies understand human motivations and develop systems with that understanding.

Here’s what Thatcher said in context:

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

Lurker21 said...

I'm torn between wanting to dig down deep into her argument and engage with it and recognizing that so much of it is rhetoric that goes here and there based on what's going momentarily through her consciousness and what she's feeling at the time. She gets carried away with the sound of her own voice and she doesn't make it easy to follow what she's saying.

Thatcher and Reagan often conflated the two – to diminish both – but society and government mean different things.

Seriously? Reagan didn't "conflate" society and government, and Thatcher was well aware that the word "society" had different uses or meanings most of which weren't synonyms for government.

The article does get more focused and organized in the middle and provide a survey of recent thinking about community, before drifting back into vagueness, abstraction, and personal anxieties, but yes, whatever the problem is with the "social fabric," the phrase "social fabric" has gotten quite moth-eaten and ought to be replaced with something else.

stlcdr said...

The corollary (?) to the Lucy quote: “I can’t stand the French, but I’ve never met a Frenchman I didn’t like.”

Individuals are what makes a society, not a government recipe.

Mark said...

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one."
--Common Sense

stlcdr said...

I was an apolitical teenager under (sic) Thatcher. Knowing nothing about politics, everything I heard from her made a lot of sense.

JK Brown said...

Society has its mechanism of coercion and compulsion, the state. The Left wants more state and less individual. Their fabric of society is a tight weave, with no ability breath or escape.

"We call the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion that induces people to abide by the rules of life in society, the state; the rules according to which the state proceeds, law; and the organs charged with the responsibility of administering the apparatus of compulsion, government."

Mises, Ludwig von, Liberalism

Wince said...

The "socialist fabric" is burlap.

Joe Smith said...

Our 'society' is headed either toward radical secularism, or radical Islam.

If it comes to a battle, radical secularism will win because there are more Chinese than there are Muslims...

The 'enlightened' West doesn't stand a chance because we won't fight.

Joe Smith said...

'We're not cloth though. It's a metaphor, and it's not necessarily a good metaphor.'

Now do the 'Melting Pot.'

Nothing's melted in the past half-century...

Greg The Class Traitor said...

"Is society coming apart? Despite Thatcher and Reagan’s best efforts, there is and has always been such a thing as society. The question is not whether it exists, but what shape it must take in a post-pandemic world" by Jill Lepore (The Guardian)

What horseshit. Thatcher and Reagan tried to save society from destruction by the ravening Left.

As are actual conservatives now

Narayanan said...

"... shredded this social fabric. It will take years to stitch it back together...."
-----------
when the needle pokes do individuals bleed? does the yarn strangle the individual when tightyended?

Narayanan said...

"We call the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion that induces people to abide by the rules of life in society, the state; the rules according to which the state proceeds, law; and the organs charged with the responsibility of administering the apparatus of compulsion, government."

Mises, Ludwig von, Liberalism
----------
did Mises ever brought up concept of rights?

per Ayn Rand : Individual Rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law

Ambrose said...

The gratuitous swipe at Thatcher and Reagan was all I needed to decline further reading.

Leora said...

The folks who abhor marriage, treat abortion as a sacrament, insist individuals can demand their chosen identities be recognized and honored and are not disturbed by property destruction of property for Social Justice would like to believe that the conservatives are the ones who don't believe in society.

ClovisPolar said...

The quotation from Margaret Thatcher is perennially misunderstood.
It's quite clear from context that she meant that society is composed of individuals and it's the actions of individuals which give rise to society's agency.

She was referencing the problem of ascribing agency to institutions.

Bunkypotatohead said...

In order to have a society there needs to be a nation for it to exist within. Wikipedia says "A nation is a community of people formed on the basis of a combination of shared features such as language, history, ethnicity, culture and/or territory. A nation is thus the collective identity of a group of people understood as defined by those features."

Whatever we have here and Great Britain has there, it is not that.
A bunch of mongrels sharing a cage doesn't make for a civilized society.