MixedThe Washington PostLike most books written by patriots in moments of national crisis, George Packer’s Last Best Hope tries to answer two questions: How did our country get into this mess, and how can we get out of it? ... Packer has a story to tell about our decline, and he tells it well ... As the industrial era waned, the New Deal party alignment gave way to four Americas ... Packer’s sharp portraits of these new tribes are the heart of this book, and his critique of them reveal his central concerns ... Packer’s account of America’s decline into destructive tribalism is always illuminating and often dazzling, even though it leaves out tens of millions of Americans who belong to none of the four tribes and see them for what they are. His account is distorted, however, by its core premise that economic inequality is driving all our other pathologies [...] and that increased equality can cure them. The consequence is tunnel vision; place, culture, religion, demography, even immigration go largely unseen and are treated as effects rather than causes when they make cameo appearances.
MixedThe Washington PostAt a time when so many religious institutions are seen as hypocritical and corrupt, making a wholehearted, quasi-religious investment in secular institutions is a tall order. But Levin is undaunted ... I find this explanation less than fully persuasive, in part because Levin’s account of the sources of trust is incomplete...Good intentions are not enough, and neither is technical competence untethered from appropriate motives. A trustworthy institution needs both ... Another problem goes even deeper. The fact that an institution is formative says nothing about its ethical character. It may form us in positive ways, or it may deform us by stunting the development of our gifts and distorting our character in harmful ways. Employers may require employees to behave in ways they regard as demeaning or outright immoral. So may government leaders ... Despite these objections, which are not trivial, Levin’s core contention remains compelling.