A sweeping new look at
the unheralded transformation that is eroding the foundations of American
Americans today find themselves mired in an era of uncertainty
and frustration. The nation’s safety net is pulling apart under its own weight;
political compromise is viewed as a form of defeat; and our faith in the
enduring concept of American exceptionalism appears increasingly outdated.
But the American Age may not be ending. In The Vanishing Neighbor, Marc J.
Dunkelman identifies an epochal shift in the structure of American life—a shift
unnoticed by many. Routines that once put doctors and lawyers in touch with
grocers and plumbers—interactions that encouraged debate and cultivated
compromise—have changed dramatically since the postwar era. Both technology and
the new routines of everyday life connect tight-knit circles and expand the
breadth of our social landscapes, but they have sapped the commonplace,
incidental interactions that for centuries have built local communities and
fostered healthy debate.
The disappearance of these once-central
relationships—between people who are familiar but not close, or friendly but
not intimate—lies at the root of America’s economic woes and political
gridlock. The institutions that were erected to support what Tocqueville called
the “township”—that unique locus of the power of citizens—are failing because
they haven’t yet been molded to the realities of the new American community.
It’s time we moved beyond the debate over whether the
changes being made to American life are good or bad and focus instead on
understanding the trade-offs. Our cities are less racially segregated than in
decades past, but we’ve become less cognizant of what’s happening in the lives
of people from different economic backgrounds, education levels, or age groups.
Familiar divisions have been replaced by cross-cutting networks—with profound
effects for the way we resolve conflicts, spur innovation, and care for those
The good news is that the very transformation at the heart
of our current anxiety holds the promise of more hope and prosperity than would
have been possible under the old order. The
Vanishing Neighbor argues persuasively that to win the future we need to
adapt yesterday’s institutions to the realities of the twenty-first-century
American community. Download and start listening now!