Virtual Roundtable: The Cycle of American History

Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Bettmann, Getty Images
Robert D. Putnam

Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University

Shaylyn Romney Garrett

Founding Contributor, Weave: The Social Fabric Project, Aspen Institute


Mary and David Boies Distinguished Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

ROSE: Welcome, everybody. My name is Gideon Rose. I'm the Mary and David Boies Distinguished Fellow in US Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and it's my distinct pleasure to welcome you to another session in our roundtable on Threats to American Democracy. This roundtable, I should point out, is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy, and on this GivingTuesday, Barbaralee, if you're part of the audience, I want to thank you on behalf of all the donors who make this kind of work possible. So thank you. This session... We've heard, in earlier sessions, we've discussed the rise of political partisanship, the rise of economic inequality, the persistence, despite all efforts of social stratification, and hierarchy, and resentment. We've discussed technology and its effects. We've discussed all the various potential causes or many of them that have been suggested for our current national discontent.


And it's almost been something of a face-off because each one seems very plausible, and you tell the story, and it seems like political partisanship has been driving everything else, and economic inequality seems to be driving anything else, and everything else seems to be driving everything else. I thought at this point it would be good to bring in some experts on unmoved movers, some experts on which things really are mattering. And we have with us today the great good fortune to have Bob Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett, who have been studying exactly the kinds of trends that we have been discussing in this seminar, trying to understand why our country is in such a mess, or in the mess that it is in, and what caused it, and whether it's possible to get out of it.


And I have brought them in to help us sort through the relative merits of the competing answers that we have already heard so much about. So Bob, let me start with you. When I read The Upswing, your wonderful book that the two of you guys wrote, that is getting an award soon at the Arthur Ross Book Award ceremony, a bronze medal, and is a wonderful accomplishment. When I read this book last year, it struck me as being a bit like Murder on the Orient Express, in the sense that you go through and you're hunting, what is the cause? Who's the bad guy? And it turns out to be, everybody.




ROSE: Is that a fair way of summarizing at least one aspect of your argument?


PUTNAM: Yes, Gideon. First of all, thanks very much for having both of us. It's good to see you again, if only virtually. And, yes, the answer is, I've often thought about that, Murder on the Orient Express analogy. It's a good one. Look, the first thing to say is, in this book, compared to a lot of other accounts of the pickle we're in, and we are in a pickle, our book is, I suppose, different in two respects. One is, we widen the lens to look at all of the relevant factors, we look at economic factors, we look at political factors, we look at social factors, and we even look at cultural factors, which is a little unusual and turns out to be an important set of variables or considerations to take into account. And secondly... So that's one sense in which we widen the lens. But the other is, we look back over a much longer period than most people do. We look back, not only over the last five or 10 years, "Where did we go wrong?" or the last... Even the last 50 years. We look back 125 years.


And if you look back 125 years across all of these variables, as I say, at the economics and the politics and the social relations and culture, the first thing you see is, these trends have all been braided together, in the sense that, 125 years ago we were in a pickle, very much like the pickle we're in now, in which 125 years ago, roughly speaking 1900, the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries. At that period, American politics was very polarized, very tribal, the American economic system was vastly unequal with lots of rich folks, the robber barons, and lots of very, very poor folks at the bottom of the hierarchy, mostly huddled on the Lower East Side of New York and in other immigrant settlements. So, very polarized, very economically unequal, very socially fragmented and lonely, just the way we are today. And also, culturally self-centered, focused on the "I," not the "We." So that's the first thing to say.


Beginning at that period, beginning in around 1910, in what's called the Progressive with a capital P, Progressive Era, I don't mean the left-wing kind of Progressive, I just mean the people who are called in that period of Progressive movement. Beginning with those folks, over the next 70 years, we improved on all of those factors. We got, steadily, beginning in 1910 up until about the middle '60s or 1970, we got less polarized, more equal, more socially connected, and more of a sense that we're all in this together. And then almost simultaneously, all of those trends measured in many different ways, reversed course. And for the last 50 years, we've been getting more unequal, more polarized, more socially fragmented and more socially isolated, and more self-centered, more focused on the big number one, "I." And so those trends are very interconnected, and that's the first thing to say. This is not just ones...


It's not, "Let's just probably talk about politics or economics or society," or culture even. They're all connected. Secondly, because we're looking at this total period, we can begin to ask, "Well, which came first? What was the leading variable, so to speak?" And remember, these trends are... The study is a highly quantitative data, and it's highly quantitative research, we're trying also to interpret the data, but the data are what they are, they go back 125 years, it's not perfectly clear to see which turned first. But the one thing we can say is, "Well, what didn't turn first?" And that's economics, which is a big surprise, because we're all training to think of economics is the big deal here, but if anything, economics is a lagging variable. It wasn't that... First of all, we got the economy and the distribution of income straight, and then everything else followed. That's not true.


But the second, and this is a little less certain, but the second factor that's interesting was, if you had to pick out one of those four factors that was turning first, that might be the un-cause for its cause. I'm going to use a lot of caution here, Gideon, because you know that I'm pretty careful when we talk about statistics. But it looks like it's the cultural, the moral change. It looks as though what happened first, the last time we went through this problem 125 years ago, what happened first was there was a kind of a moral reawakening in America. And we can talk much more about that, what that looked like then, and what it might look like now. And I don't mean to say that's the only factor, of course not. All these trends are braided together, so it's not a simple story. But if you had to pick out one... And this was not what I expected, honestly, this was a shock to me that it turned out that these cultural soft, mushy, cultural variables, I thought, moral issues, turn out to be... If you had to pick one, that's the big factor.


ROSE: Okay, that's fabulous. And I want to follow-up on that, and I want to get to Shaylyn in a second with some of the exceptions, but first I want to play out this argument a little bit with you. If I were one of your colleagues, I would be very bitter right now.




ROSE: Not so much because I would feel that you had explained the problem so perfectly that it's all done and we now know what the answer is, but because I thought you guys did a masterful job of blowing everybody else's pet explanations out of the water. For the people listening, they go through literally all the scholarship that is there to be gone through, in a kind of meta study of everything we now know about long-term trends in all these areas, and show conclusively that no one variable dominates. And that nothing recently can be the ish cause because whatever's been happening, has been happening for 50 years, and happened in a reverse way for half a century before that.


So, first let me talk about some of the negative things. Everybody... We had a whole session last time on technology. Everybody in the world can obviously see the changes in technology are changing, everything, the digital technology is revolutionizing our politics, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We all can spout this because it's happening in front of our eyes, in the guise of digital stuff. Your data show it can't be tech because the trend started before and didn't really move. In effect, are you guys saying, is one implication where you're saying, "It's not tech, whatever is happening is happening way longer timeframe than any of the immediate trends you're thinking about now?"


PUTNAM: Well, that's true, if by tech, you mean social media, that's the most... That's the...


ROSE: Yes, exactly. Current IT, your iPhone and Facebook. It's not Mark Zuckerberg's fault.


PUTNAM: Well, there are a lot of things that we could blame on Mark Zuckerberg actually, but I'm not sure that I'd stick him with this. Look, let's... This is a sophisticated audience, so let me try to step back a little bit. First thing to say is, there were technological changes going on then too, 125 years ago. The telephone and the telegraph, a little bit before that, and for that matter, the automobile, all of those things were new then. And they've been around for so long, we don't think of them as new, but actually, the telephone when it happened, was a bigger deal than the internet. That's hard for people to believe, but for the first time in human history, you could talk to someone without being in their physical presence. That's a big deal, going back all the way to the Stone Age. I don't want to say that the internet is not important, of course it is. I've got one right here and we're on one, and so of course the internet is important. But I'm not trying to say... The first thing is, this is not the first time that there have been technological innovations, and there was one in the exact period before.


And it was sort of relevant before in the sense that, there's a first mover advantage, big economic advantage to being the first mover. People who are the first movers, generally acquire lots of money, they did then. Then it was Rockefeller, the first mover in oil and relevant... And Ford, cars. And Bell, who "invented" the telephone and so on. And now we know who it is, it's Mark Zuckerberg, and it's the people who "invented" Zoom and... I mean not... Well, maybe Zoom too, that's a little of a latecomer, but all of these, the big four or five, maybe now three, tech companies. And that then and now, major technological innovation generates outsized returns, and that's the same then and now. It's not new, but it's the same then and now. And it does lead to a different discussion which we'll have later, maybe, on, well, what's the right economic response to that outside? Because with the outsized economic returns comes outsized political power, and that leads to the question of, well, what would we do about it now? And what did they do about it then?


ROSE: Excellent. I'm sorry.


PUTNAM: No, no, I wanted to just see if I can be... Just quickly on the next thing. The next thing is, well, some people say... Look, I wrote a book 20 years ago about how our social connections were fractured because... And I used the metaphor of bowling leagues and said we were bowling alone. And so, there was a lot of response then. Actually, not so much now about, well, okay, no, we don't have bowling leagues, but we've got Facebook, so we don't even need to actually connect, rather... It's even better. And I would say, most scholarship over the last 20 years has tended to discount that. Most scholarship has tended to say, "No, no, no, there are a lot of things you can't do in the cyber space that you can do face-to-face."


But I would say, it was almost exactly a year ago now, almost exactly a year ago now, Gideon, that most Americans became convinced that the Facebook, or social media weren't the same as face-to-face, and that was Thanksgiving. Because Thanksgiving a year ago, we all knew that seeing grandma in Zoom, or your grandchildren in Zoom, is not the same thing as hugging them. And just three days ago, we had the further proof of that, we were able to hug our grandchildren for the first time in nearly two years. So, I think that, both for better and for worse, social media and the internet get blamed for a lot of things that they're not... I mean, in this domain. They do a lot of other bad things, frankly, about surveillance and all that, but for what we're talking about, I don't think they're the main cause.


ROSE: Okay, thank you. Shaylyn, let me turn to you. You guys tell a story, a broad argument of the rise and fall of a good American public life, in other words. It's like, it starts out bad, we're in the cesspit of the Gilded Age, and then there's a rise towards all sorts of positive aspects of public life, which peaks in the '60s, and then starts to decline after that, and everything goes to hell in a long slow slope for half a century after that. The statistics back you up on all these kinds of things, and that's where you derive the argument from, in many respects. There seem to be two obvious exceptions to this picture of American life, at least two, and that's women and minorities. Racial minorities, sexual orientation minorities, that... That story seems to be a progressive one over the last half century, that doesn't really seem to fit with your overall "everything is going to hell since the '70s." So how would you guys explain those seeming exceptions to this? Or how do they fit into the analysis?


ROMNEY GARRETT: Sure. So what you described as the broad trend of the up and then the down, we often refer to that as the "I-We-I" curve. That America was in this very I-centric, very self-focused, it's just looking out for number one. And then, slowly we move by all these years scores of different metrics in a more solidaristic direction. And then, as you mentioned in the '60s, that flips back down into this, slide back into the "I" narcissistic mode that we find ourselves in today. The problem with that, of course, is that any discussion of "I" and "We" in America has to deal with, who's the "We," right? And so, we looked very carefully at the two exceptions that you mentioned, particularly race and gender. And again, as Bob mentioned, this is a highly statistically-driven book, and so all the arguments are based upon statistical analysis going back 125 years.


So we were somewhat limited, in the sense that that was what we needed to look at, was where would we find data that went back 125 years to answer this question of, "What was going on with race and gender?" Because obviously, if we're talking about the first two-thirds of the 20th century, as a move in this direction of "We," that doesn't square with what we know was happening with race in America. Let me just paint a picture of what the data looks like that we looked at. Now, I'm gonna be speaking about, specifically, Black versus White in America. And the reason for that is, because, again, we're looking back 125 years, so we don't actually have data on other communities of color broken out over that period of time. And so, it's not that those groups are not important or that their story isn't part of this, it's just that when we're looking at this as a statistical story, the data that we have is Black versus White. So that's what we're talking about here.


So you've described all of these curves, the economics curve, and the social, and the cultural, and the political curve as being... We call them these "inverted U" curves, where they look sort of like a rainbow, over the course of the century, where everything got better in that first two-thirds, and then everything got worse in the last half century. Well, when we're looking at the question of race, there's really two ways that you can look at that question. One is equality, and one is inclusion. And a lot of times, White Americans in particular, have this view that all was oppression, all was exclusion, everything was terrible for the first two-thirds of the 20th century, until the sort of lightning bolt changes of the civil rights movement, when all of a sudden we moved in the direction of equality and inclusion.


And that story, statistically speaking, turns out to be true, mostly just when it comes to inclusion. So, that is true, that we had very little progress toward racial inclusion over the first two-thirds of the 20th century when we're talking about things like the long-standing lack of political representation for Black Americans, when we're talking about the persistence of White supremacy in mainstream culture and in the media; when we're talking about the long delayed entry of Black Americans into professional schools and professional jobs. Entrenched residential segregation. All of those stories chart that, what we would call a hockey stick. A flat line, no progress, until we get to the civil rights movement, and then things dramatically change. But when we looked at the data around equality, material equality between the races, there was a surprising story. And again, perhaps not surprising for Black Americans because this is the story of their own genealogy, but I think surprising to White Americans and just in general, not a fit with how we tend to conceive of the 20th century, when it comes to race.


And again, when we're talking about material equality, we're talking about things like measures of health, so life expectancy, infant mortality, we're talking about wealth, we're talking about relative income, we're talking about educational access and educational attainment, we're talking about even things like voter registration and voter participation. These are all of these measures. When we combine these measures and look at them over the course of the 20th century, how fast and when were we moving toward equality between the races? What you actually see is that the majority of the progress occurs before the 1970s. The fastest progress toward equality between the races actually happened between 1940 and 1970. And then... So that's surprise number one, is that in this period, when we tend to think that nothing was happening in terms of movement toward equality, that's actually when we see the greatest progress.


And the second surprise is, what happens after the civil rights movement. If there was already a trend going upward toward equality, between 1940 and 1970, you would have thought, once we tore down these legal barriers to inclusion that that curve toward equality would have accelerated. On the contrary, it actually flatlined. After the 1970s, we enter a period when where we were moving toward greater and greater equality between the races. All of a sudden, we move to a situation of no progress, and in some cases, a reversal of progress. To the extent that, for example, Black homeownership relative to White homeownership today, is lower than it was in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act passed. Life expectancy for Black Americans versus White Americans has barely moved in half a century. And so, what does that mean when we map that on to this I-We-I story? Well, it means a couple of things. One, we can be defined in more exclusive or inclusive terms. And certainly, the "We," that America was moving toward during those "We" decades was a racialized "We."


It was a "We" that was happening for Black Americans over here, and White Americans over here. However, from an equality perspective, Black Americans were essentially claiming their place within the American "We." And the progress for Black Americans during that first two-thirds of the 20th century was driven largely by the great migration. This was Black Americans moving out of the deeply oppressive South, where conditions were not much better, and in some cases, worse than they were during slavery, and moving into the slightly more hospitable South, excuse me, North and West. And with that, moving into the American "We" from that material equality perspective. So in a sense, one thing we learned from this is that the "We"... That when America is in a more solidaristic mode, that's actually more hospitable for progress between the races, than a moment when we are in a more individualistic mode.


Because the moment that we flipped from that more solidaristic turn, and of course, it's no surprise that during the 1960s, that peak of "We-ness," when we had slowly built toward this greater sense of "We," was the moment that the civil rights legislation passed. That's no surprise. But then, in the wake of that, you see very clearly in the survey data that the Americans, the White Americans, who were at one moment really in favor of the civil rights legislation, flip into a mode of, "Well, but when it comes to implementing... This is not... Let's not do this in my backyard." And it's hard to say whether the broader turned toward "I" and individualism, created that White backlash, or if it was the White backlash itself that fueled the greater turn toward "I."


Again, these are trends that are inter-braided. But we know that building toward the "We" and all these other ways helped facilitate the civil rights legislation passing. But it was just in that wake that we turned again toward "I," and that had very dramatic negative consequences for what was otherwise an upward trend toward equality, before we made that flip. If we want to get to a place of a truly interracial "We," we're going to have to prioritize, what I like to call the heart work of racial reconciliation of building a truly interracial "We," that we never did over the course of the 20th century, and that really came out in that White backlash to the civil rights movement. There's a lot more that we could say about this, but I'll take a breath there and let you take this where you want to go.


ROSE: Thank you. That's great. And suffice to say, we can pick it up in Q&A if someone wants to. There is another story about women that also can be explained within the broader patterns. It's not the exact same story but analogous in certain respects story, which we can get to in the Q&A, if any wants. Let me turn back to Bob for the big picture question of the theoretical implications of all this, because I... No, there's a line in Shakespeare that, "Like gods to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport." Something like that. I don't like the idea that we are all playthings of some giant omitted variable bias driving a giant century-long trend in everything. And I don't know where and how politics comes into this, and agency comes in. And so, this notion of cycles, I find deeply... Okay, let me put it this way. We've had a lot of discussion in this series, about parallels with history.


Clearly, the current mess the country is in, defined in any of the zillion ways you want to define it, is not unique. There have been times in the past, clearly, there have only been a few times. And the question of whether we're in another 1850s prior to a civil war has been brought up into the political division. Your guys' suggestion that we have 125 years or so of data that suggest a pretty big broad trend up and down. The implications of this would seem to be that there are larger forces than any of the ones that we're basically talking about. Bob is shaking his head, no. So explain to me why, if there's a big giant pendulum, I should care about the little things happening along the way, rather than what is driving the big pendulum. Over to you, Bob Putnam.


PUTNAM: Because it's not a pendulum. And we are extremely careful in the book to avoid the natural reach for a pendulum, a pendulum just as swinging of its own accord. If this is a pendulum, the ones we're describing, it's a pendulum that's getting pushed in one way or another by actors, and actors who have agency. And if there's a single point we're trying to make actually, Gideon, and I couldn't be more pleased to raise that question is, history does not imprison us, we're not locked into some trend. We weren't 125 years ago, and we are not right now.


ROSE: But it seems like you have been until the last half century, or there have been a lot of very good activists doing very good nice things, trying to make things a lot better, and everything is going to hell on course. So doesn't that mean that the activism wasn't all that significant if it was cutting against the broader cultural trend?


PUTNAM: No, it doesn't mean that at all. It means only that they were not successful. I never probably share Rose Garden, I didn't just say, "Well, be active and then things will get better." That's not what we're saying. And among the other things, keep in mind, we think that the most important thing that activists did back then, 125 years ago, was in fact to turn public issues into moral issues, that is to say, to be able to use the odd word. But let me come back to the larger issue, let's put ourselves in the position of activists in the 1890s, let's say, and especially young people, because one thing we show in the book is, these were mostly... Most of the capital P Progressives were actually quite young, they did their most important work when they were under 30. So we're talking about relatively young people, not old folks, and our book is aimed at that same category, young people today. Because what we observe is, that in that period, in the Gilded Age, there were a ton of people, most Americans said, "We're going to hell in a handbasket, and there's nothing we can do."


And it sounded a whole lot like all the doomsayers now. We are not doomsayers, we're not saying it's guaranteed, but we're not doomsayers, even though our... Sometimes I am thought of as a doomsayer, not at all. There were doomsayers back then, but my heroes and the people who won historically back then are the people who took action, who didn't just go with the flow and down the drain. They had agency, and by acting together in particular ways that called Americans to core values, core shared values, morals... The word "moral" has gotten now much too loosely used for lots of other things, lots of things that are not... That don't go to our core obligations as human beings to one another. That's what those folks did then. And they turned around, it's clear, they did turn around. It wasn't inevitable, but by taking action together, they did turn around. So let's come back to, right now...


Sadly, we didn't take part in your earlier conversations, but if there were doomsayers, if there were people, maybe even you, Gideon, who were saying, "Well, we're all condemned here," we want to take issue with that. Today in 2021, we don't think it's... We don't think that fixes in either way, we don't think it's automatic that we're going to get... Things are going to get better. We think there are certain things for sure that could make things get worse. And I'm happy to name names, and on that score, that is people who are pushing us in the wrong direction. But I don't think it's guaranteed that... But what is guaranteed is the right strategy for getting us, and that involves above all, getting young people... All of us, but especially young people, to focus on our moral obligations to one another. Take the reverend... I'm having an Alzheimer's moment here. Shaylyn, help me, the Black preacher who's leading the moral movement on issues of poverty and injustice.


ROMNEY GARRETT: William Barber.


PUTNAM: William Barber. Okay. William Barber, he's a Black preacher, he's involved... But not just on issues of race, he's involved in issues of social justice, much more generally. And the thing that I think is most important about him is he's using moral language, and moral language is the language that calls us to account for our obligations. Two other quick examples. Take global warming. Global warming is above all a moral issue, it's not a technological issue of how many problems for millions and so on, it's a moral question about obligations that we have to our children. And that's the language that the activists like Greta Thunberg are using, moral language, and that's... From our point of view, that's the right way to go.


And finally, quick example in the area of technology, the woman who is the whistleblower, on the Facebook files, I've now forgotten her name, but the one that, who's brought to light all of these shenanigans in... Within Facebook. She was a privileged person, right? Why did she come out with that? Why did she take the risks that she did of coming out, and of being a whistleblower? For moral reasons. So I'm trying to say, talking about moral sounds a little berry, very, and not something that a self-respecting social scientist would use. We think agency matters, and we think moral judgements matter.


ROSE: I was not questioning the moral judgements matter, but it's an interesting variable to play with. If I had tried to put this forward as a dissertation topic in the government department in the late '80s, I would have been advised to go to something less squishy. Which itself, there is something interesting in itself about how we study these subjects as well.


PUTNAM: And maybe, Gideon, I should... I would have said that to you then, but if I would have said it then, I would have been wrong then. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.


ROSE: Let me actually make the case for my reading of it. I don't see you guys as pessimists, I see you actually as optimists, and in some ways, even almost an undue optimist because I actually think, as the title of the book you gave "The Upswing," calls it, maybe that was just a publisher title. But it seems to me that the implicit argument is, we're about to hit the turn again or we're ready for another leg up, and I actually think you could make the case. What's the line? What was Hegel's line? "The owl of Minerva flies at dusk." I think that just as we're now, everybody is only now over the last several years, copping to the full degree of damage that had been done over the last half century, I think we've already begun the turnaround. You had...




ROSE: Let me cite evidence. The handling of economic issues since the onset of the pandemic, the ability to get major new social legislation passed in a semi-bipartisan-ish way, even for some of it, and the kind of solidarity coming out of the pandemic, along with, as you say, dramatic differences of opinion on younger generations. It would not at all surprise me if we are just... If the historians come and look back and say, "Oh my God, the Congresses that didn't ever do anything just passed several giant bills in rapid succession, starting a new thing, it's not going to be the new deal, but whatever, that the young people suddenly started to care again." I actually think you could make a case that the change in...


The flip side of them all going down together is presumably they all go up together too. Is that correct? And so, if you start to address what... But here's, I guess, the question I have which is, if they're all tied together, what do you work on first? What do you prioritize? Should we care about economic legislation? Should we care about political legislation? Should we care about social inclusion? Should we care about restraining the bad impacts of technology? If everybody is somebody, then no one's anybody. If every cause matters, what matters most?


PUTNAM: Shaylyn, go for it.


0:35:44.5 SR: Yeah. I think what we're trying to posit here, is that there may be something underneath all of those actions that we need to get at first. And I think that this is actually what the Progressives from the Progressive Era were onto. Can I read for you a quote by Washington Gladden, who was a proponent of the Social Gospel? Which when we're talking about this moral and cultural shift that characterize the Progressive Era, it was really these Social Gospel thinkers who came along and said, "This Social Darwinism that is characterizing the Gilded Age, enough is enough. This is not only bad for America, it's immoral. It's completely out of line with what we say our own morals are as Christians." These were preachers who were themselves Evangelical Christians. And they began to put forward an alternative view to Social Darwinism, called the Social Gospel, that first caught on in theological circles and then in Christianity more broadly, and then in the society more broadly.


ROMNEY GARRETT: This is what one of them said: "It is idle to imagine that changes in our governmental machinery, or the organization of our industries will bring us peace; the trouble lies deeper, in our primary conceptions. What we have got to have, if we want the true democracy, is a different kind of men and women, men and women to whom duties are more than rights, and service dearer than privilege." It's not a casual thing that we describe the argument of The Upswing as the I-We-I century, that we are in a deep "I" moment, and what we need is to get back into a "We" mindset. That is actually the idea that what is driving all of this is actually a hyper-individualism. It's not a throwaway concept. It's the idea that like, how do you pass legislation that's good for everyone, and that may require a sacrifice on the part of some to the benefit of others if your culture is characterized by a deep sense of individualism and highly competitive mindset.


This is actually what the Progressives saw, and they said, "We have to change that first in order to get the other things to change, and to get enough buy-in to change our legislation, or our industries, or all of these other things." And I think that our bias, in the Modern Era, is to think, we can tinker with all of this stuff on a governmental level, on a legislative level, on an economic level, and we can just ignore this, under this moral and cultural and even spiritual sort of thing underneath it all, that tends to inform our decisions. When we talk about agency, what motivates agency? It's our deepest beliefs about who we are and what our values are. That is where we need to do the work, in my opinion.


ROSE: Thank you, Shaylyn. Wonderful. And Bob, let me actually take it over to you with a question, which is to follow-up on that, which is, I look at the second Gilded Age and I don't see the nice WASPs. We have all the bad old robber barons, and we have all of this and that, but we don't seem to have the well... Okay. The Progressive upsurge that you talked about, or that you guys described, was often based and led by a lot in many of these organizations by a kind of American Protestant... A Liberal American Protestant... Not even Liberal. American Protestant tradition, mainline Protestantism, or even various other kinds of things that goes back a long way. Those forces don't really seem power... I don't see the Gifford Pinchots, I don't see the Roosevelts of any cousin variety today that are representing the American elite. So where does the new spiritually social revival come from if it's not going to be from the sources that historically drove American cultural and religious revivals?


PUTNAM: Well, I wouldn't... First of all, I wouldn't write off religion in America. That's easy. I'm sitting in my home in Cambridge and the number of churchgoers within 100 miles... Well, not 100 miles, but this is... Cambridge is notoriously a very secular kind of place. But there are a lot of Americans who are religious, and I wouldn't write them off as relevant to making moral judgements that would lead them to take actions that would be good for the society as a whole. But I'm also alert to the fact that not all moral... Not all moralizing is religious-based, and it's certainly not all based in Liberal Protestantism. Liberal Protestantism has made some important contributions to American public life. Not least, frankly, giving rise to the White emancipation movement, that's where it came from.


The movement among Whites in the early 19th... In the mid 19th century to end slavery, was created by... There's a lot of research on this, this is not controversial, in White Evangelical settings. But that's where a much more diverse country also, religiously now, and I've written about how we're... A lot of us, especially young people, are nones, N-O-N-E-S, none of the above religions. It doesn't mean that they're morally obtuse. That's really important. And listen to what those... Listen to what the young people are saying. I mentioned Greta Thunberg, but the same thing is true for the kids on these... Kids, young people, who are leading the drive against gun violence, and in favor of gun control. And then think about that woman, I wish I could remember her name now because it would just make this... But the woman who...


ROMNEY GARRETT: Frances Haugen.


PUTNAM: Pardon?


ROMNEY GARRETT: Frances Haugen.


PUTNAM: Francie Haugen, who for moral reasons rebelled against the folks at Facebook who were... Who... And I know this because I also know the research that they were doing, which shows that Facebook is encouraging polarization, despite all the denials. So the question is, why did she do that? It wasn't that she had... There was something in it for her. Quite the contrary. I want to hold out strongly against the view that the only people in America who can be morally driven are White Protestants. And I do want to say one more thing if I can. Look, I'm... In real life, Gideon, I'm as much of a policy wonk as anybody. I can tell you the six things that I think... Six policy things that I think need to be done, and right now, many of them are actually in the bills that are being addressed on the Hill. So it's not that I'm saying, "If we all just hold hands and sing kumbaya it'll solve all of our problems." We've got real policy issues. But we're here trying to drive deeper to what would make it possible for us as a country to begin addressing those...


ROMNEY GARRETT: And when you look at the Progressives, they were not just moralizing. What they did was they created programs that actually allowed people to have morally forming experiences. The Settlement House Movement is one of my favorite examples of this. They said, "Look, we have all these elites living up in these mansions on the Hill who have no idea what it's like to be an immigrant working in the slums and in the factories, let's bring them into community with one another," and out of that emerged an elite class of Americans who had a completely different mindset about economic equality. And so, what about a national service movement?


ROSE: Sure.


ROMNEY GARRETT: Something that would actually physically put Americans who don't understand one another, into a space where they would have a mutually morally forming experience that would produce in them more of a "We" mindset and break them out of these highly narcissistic bubbles that we all live in. There are very practical ways that we can do this. It's not just about, "Hey, we all need to be more moral." Right?


ROSE: It's a wonderful way to segue. Thank you. First of all, thank you, guys, that was wonderful. Thank you. Let's segue now and bring in our study group participants. Or, I'm sorry, roundtable participants. Audrey, over to you.


SPEAKER: So our first question comes from Roy Pettis.


PETTIS: Hi, I'm Roy Pettis, I'm the Intelligence Fellow here at CFR for this year. Your emphasis upon a moral movement strikes me as being... It makes a lot of sense and it fits within the political realignment analysis of things like this. But it also seems like that in these struggles, there's always both sides believe they're on the moral high ground. And certainly that is where we are right at the moment, where both sides have come to the conclusion that the other people are going to destroy the country. How do you use... How do you get to a point of discussion when we can't agree on what morality is the driving force that we should be considering connected to our values, since both sides believe they are on the high ground for that?


PUTNAM: Shaylyn, do you want to respond or...


ROMNEY GARRETT: I can respond briefly. Again, you need to understand that from our research, what we're always doing is looking back to this previous period in history, when we did see an upswing come out of a moment that looks very similar to the one we're living in now, and that's the reason that I'm referring back to that period for my answer. When the historian Richard Hofstadter looked at the Progressive Era, what he said was, this wasn't just about people pointing out the bad apples of society and saying, "We need to just expel those people, and then we're all going to be fine." What he saw in these reformers was a moral indignation directed inward. And so, I think that that moral indignation directed outward is actually still part of the problem, not actually the beginnings of a solution.


We actually need to challenge those people who claim to be making a moral argument for the future of our country, to actually ask themselves what morality they're actually enacting by doing that. And again, we're not talking about morality as it's manifest in a particular policy, or in a particular social issue, we're talking about the morality of "I" versus "We." We're talking about whether we believe fundamentally that America is a giant competition, survival of the fittest, or whether we believe that this nation is about what we can do together and for one another. And that's actually a moral question that I think gets underneath some of the choppy water on the surface of our conversations about, what is the moral direction of this country...


PUTNAM: Shaylyn, you should... Another aspect of this is our willingness to engage in moral conversation and... But just conversation to begin with, with people with whom we disagree. You should tell the story of your neighbor in Southern Utah where you used to live.


ROMNEY GARRETT: Yeah. I think that there's...


PUTNAM: It's got to be brief, but that's a powerful story.


ROMNEY GARRETT: Sure. I just think that, we often think about the "What can we do?" as being some other actor that represents us doing something, whether that's a legislator or a business leader or something. But what is, "What can we actually do?" When we're talking about morality, are we talking about a moral platform, or are we talking about a moral choice that we make every single day in the interactions that we have with other human beings, other Americans? And I happen to have recently lived in Southern Utah, one of the reddest parts of a red state, I don't particularly share that politics, so I was constantly surrounded with people with whom I disagree on a pretty fundamental level, my neighbor being one of them. And during all of the Black Lives Matter uprising during 2020, he had a "Back the Blue" flag, right in his front yard that I had to look at every single day.


And I had the choice to either dismiss him as morally derelict, because I disagreed with him, or the choice to engage with him as a human. I chose to engage and to try to build a relationship with him that was based on something other than conversations about politics, and as I did that, I was able to enter into relationship with him that then opened a space for us to talk about politics, and for me to understand his position, and for him to understand mine. But that isn't possible if I dismiss him as morally other. And so that is actually what we're talking about, when we talk about moral awakening, it's actually happening a lot, it needs to be happening a lot closer to home than we are often comfortable with recognizing.


ROSE: Thank you very much. Audrey?


SPEAKER: At this time we don't do have any questions, but as a rem... Oh. We have one question from Tao Tan.


TAN: Hi, good morning. Well, actually, good afternoon, and thanks for being here. I'm Tao Tan, I'm a term member and a longtime old friend of Gideon's. My question is, if you think about societies that, those on the left basically see as an example for us, which is the Scandinavian countries, I remember high tax, high social cohesion, high welfare state spending, there's articles that's been out recently basically saying, a shift among attitude to Scandinavian countries where people say, "I believe in high tax, I believe in standing by my neighbors, but not those people, I only want to support people who look, feel, smell, have the same skin color, practice the same religion as me." And so my question for you is, to what extent can this thrive in a country that is as multicultural and drawn by immigration as ours?


PUTNAM: Yeah. Thanks very much for that question. Shaylyn, do you mind if I take that? Because that's... It's one... It's a topic I've thought a lot about. And by way of background, I should say, I don't know Tao Tan, whether you... And obviously you should know, but actually I've written a major and pretty controversial piece saying that in the short run, doing diversity is hard, and in the short run, the effect of rapid increase in diversity is bad for... In my jargon, bad for social capital, but it means it does disrupt ties of trust and connection and so on. And when I first published that, or first gave that talk and then published that piece, ironically, in the Scandinavian Political Studies journal, a lot of Scandinavians said, "Well, that may be true in America but it's not true here, we're just totally fine with all these... With having a lot of diversity," and as you say, that turned out not to be true. So, that's on the side on... I don't know if it's your personal side, but it's on the side of the argument saying, "Yeah, Scandinavians and all that, it's cracked up to be."


But also in the original piece in which I argued that, I said, "But over the long run, a nation is good at immigration, turns out to be good at embracing and creating a new 'We.'" It is... The "We", it's related to what Shaylyn said earlier, "We" is not self-defining, "We" can be meaning, "We" Red Sox fans for example. And if I say, "We Red Sox fans," I'm excluding, I'm guessing probably half the people, you're not part of my "We". But of course, we can be defined in other inclusive ways, and what an American... Sorry, I'm going to sound like an American patriot gone mad, I think America is really good at immigration. We haven't been so good recently that it's not our better angels that have been driving our immigration policy for the last little bit, but historically America has been really good at immigration. And we've taken wave after wave of foreigners into America, and the initial reaction was, "They're not our type." Look, my ancestors came to America in 1640, and from our point of view, every generation, a new group of you guys come in and you're trying to take over, and our initial reaction is really pretty awful.


And then gradually, we begin to intermarry in the next generation, and then another generation comes and screws things up. You understand that I'm speaking with my tongue in my cheek. What I'm trying to say is, we as a country, we Americans have been pretty good over time, and we could... Actually, we're in the midst of doing this right now, if we didn't have all the naysaying about immigration, which is highly driven by politics, that's the... I'm a political scientist, I'm supposed to like politics, but I do not like this, the politics we're in now, in which people are saying things about immigrants that they're... That they must know. Look at the number of Republicans who were, until quite recently, strongly in favor of immigration and property so... I've gotten on my hobby horse once too many, much too often in this session, but I feel this really strongly, immigrants are going to be our salvation as they always have been in the past. And these Scandinavians got to learn that, it'll take them some time, but eventually they'll come along too.


ROSE: Okay. I actually agree with that. But Bob, let me... We have a couple of minutes left, let me actually take at you for a meta question, the opportunity to have it. You mentioned that... Well, we're going through a bad patch, we haven't been doing well with the immigration stuff, and the politics is going bad now. You are as distinguished a political scientist and social scientist more generally as the academy has produced, you have won every accolade. Did you see the last stretch of several American turbulence, over the last half dozen years or whatever coming? Have you been surprised by what has happened? And if you, with all your knowledge and wisdom, have not been able to call the shots on what's been happening in the United States and the world, what does that say about the broader field of political science, and what it should try to achieve?


ROMNEY GARRETT: Boy, am I glad that's a question for you, Bob. [laughter]


PUTNAM: I think it's a softball, it's a big... Thank you, Gideon, for that question. First of all, as you know, Gideon, and probably the audience should know too, among political scientists, I've been one of the most powerful... Not powerful, the loudest voices arguing that we have obligations as citizens, not just as scholars. There's a view about scholarship that it should be pure and academic and disconnected from the concerns of our fellow citizens, and I respect that view, but I think it's wrong. I, in my work, have always tried to be clear. I've tried to write for two audiences at once. I tried to write for my peers so that they can say, "Putnam's got the facts wrong." But I've also tried to write for ordinary Americans, because I think science... Social science and science in general, has an obligation at least part of the time, to be worried about the same problems that our fellow citizens are. After all, they pay the tab either through philanthropy or through taxes. And so, I absolutely think that we have an obligation, we scholars, have an obligation to be speaking... We have an obligation to be speaking truth, of course...


ROSE: But do we know anything to speak with of?


PUTNAM: Yeah, well... Okay. So that's... I do... Look, I don't want to claim I predicted this whole thing. Remember, your audience will know, this book was written before the pandemic. The book... But it's not, we're discussing it after the pandemic. The book doesn't know, the book doesn't know about the pandemic, it doesn't know about the economic collapse, it does not know about the virus, it does not know who won the election, it does not know January 6th. So we're into territory here in which I don't want to say we predicted, but we were... The book is actually more relevant now than when we wrote it, and that says to me, we weren't completely out to lunch, we were in fact talking about things that were in the realm of the possible. But I want to just quickly close, Gideon. [chuckle] You're going to think all I want to do is be a preacher. In this case, a rabbi. Because I want to close by quoting one of the smartest people in the world, actually, he recently died, Jonathan Sacks was the Chief Rabbi of England, also a brilliant man. And as it happens, a close personal friend of mine. And we exchanged quite often actually, we exchanged views. But this is a distinction that I'm borrowing from him.


He distinguishes between hope and optimism. He's speaking in a religious voice. And he says, "Optimism is a passive virtue, it's sort of looking at the world and saying, "Thumbs up, thumbs down." But hope is an active virtue, hope is forward-looking, but it says, "And I want to make this happen." The reason I'm making that distinction here, again, it is not just to prove my bona fides as a faithful Jew. It is that, we are, Shaylyn and I both, I'm not sure whether we're optimistic, but we're hopeful. By that I mean, we can see a way forward and we're both trying to make it happen, and we're only two people, of course. Then so maybe that's a... Maybe that's vain hope. But I don't think so, actually. I think there are other people in America who share that hope, and if enough of us do and take the actions that we've been talking about here, we can move this country in the right direction. And I'm eager for that to happen, I want that to happen in my lifetime, and my lifetime isn't that long, so I want... Let's get about this business now, Gideon.


ROSE: On that note, I think it's one of my... I think you've summarized your forward guidance beautifully, hope is a plan.




ROSE: On that note, thank you, guys, and thank all of you for participating virtually, and we'll onward and upward to our next session. Take care.


PUTNAM: Thanks a lot, Gideon. Thanks for allowing us to be here.




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