Do I Have the Courage to Demand the Return of Formative Institutions?

  The word “formative” has swirled in my consciousness recently, having first been introduced by Yuval Levin, the author of the new book, “A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream.

Many of us feel a lack of grounding in the turbulence of our society, largely, it’s fair to say, due to the unrelenting assault of the politisphere. Our disquiet and, as importantly, our overall lack of trust of others and of our institutions has another root, as Levin points out.

He posits that, “We trust an institution when we think that it forms the people within it to be trustworthy – so that not only does it perform an important social function, educating children or making laws or any of the many, many goods and services that institutions provide for us, but also at the same time provides an ethic that shapes the people within it to perform that service in a reliable, responsible way.”

The United States military remains a trusted institution. Clearly formative, the institution transforms members into self-starting individuals who value its structure, its ethics, and are trained to live by its principles. Members frequently bring those lived principles with them, after service, as assets to their future lives and future organizations.

Though we could evaluate any institution – governmental, private or public businesses, non-profits, even local volunteer orgs – what settles most importantly with me is the question of who among the field of presidential candidates will actively, publicly voice the need for legislative and executive branch institutional restoration.

The author observes that, “We now think of institutions less as formative and more as performative, less as molds of our character and behavior, and more as platforms for us to stand on and be seen.

“… we see people using institutions as stages, as a way to raise their profile or build their brand. And those kinds of institutions become much harder to trust.”

As citizens, we need to insist that any Democratic presidential nominee dedicates herself or himself to restoring the institutions that our democratic republic is

grounded in… to restore them as formative institutions. A commitment to restoring the ethic.

We can, we must, return to respecting our institutions, ourselves, and others.

Each of us has the ability to be vocal. Simply listen for the voice of ethic, of honor, of shared responsibility deep within, then speak.

Use your voice.