Cass Sunstein gives us excellent advice.
Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam has done a great deal to explore the beneficial effects of social capital. In his book “Bowling Alone,” he documented what he saw as its decline in the U.S., connecting that decline with a wide range of social problems.
Pointing to research by Putnam and others, many people have argued that the U.S. and other nations should make a sustained effort to measure and increase social capital, with particular attention to civic associations that help to generate it.
At the same time, social capital can have a dark side. If people are in a social network whose members are interested in committing crimes, the existence of social capital will promote criminal activity. A fascinating recent study called “Bowling for Fascism” goes much further: It shows that the rise of Nazism was greatly facilitated by unusually high levels of social capital in Weimar Germany.
The research offers an important and novel perspective on Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power. And by identifying conditions that help to spread extremism, it also offers significant lessons for the present, including the risk of terrorism.
The study, conducted by New York University’s Shanker Satyanath and his co-authors, is based on a wide range of original materials, including Nazi Party membership lists and hand-collected data from 112 German towns. The central question: Who was most likely to join the Nazi Party?
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Germany had an exceptionally vibrant civil society that included clubs involved in hiking, animal breeding, shooting, gymnastics, bowling, firefighting and singing. The authors’ principal finding is that in cities with dense networks of clubs and associations, Germans were far more likely to join the Nazi Party. In their words, “a dense fabric of civic associations went hand-in-hand with a more rapid rise of Nazi party membership.”
It could be suggested that some independent factor, such as socioeconomic status or religion, accounts both for associational activity and for willingness to join the Nazi Party. But that suggestion is inconsistent with the evidence. Even if we control for these and other variables, a dense network of civic associations is correlated with significantly higher rates of entry into the Nazi Party.
This finding undermines the view, held by some, that the Nazi Party succeeded by appealing to people who were socially isolated and that Hitler was able to draw support largely from the lonely and the rootless.
But the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Nazism spread in part as a result of face-to-face interactions by people who were in frequent contact with one another.
Consider the chilling remarks of a Nazi Party member who recalled his growing acquaintance “with a colleague of my own age with whom I had frequent conversations. He was a calm, quiet person whom I esteemed very highly. When I found out that he was one of the local leaders of the National Socialist party, my opinion of it as a group of criminals changed completely.”
The authors’ central findings fit well with emerging research on the immense importance of social influences on individual behavior. With respect to music, political convictions, voting and food, we constantly learn from others. Like-minded people tend to go to extremes, in large part because they learn from each other. Within nations and around the world, modern social media connect disparate people and hence build social capital, intensifying social influences on thought and behavior.
For the current period, there is a straightforward lesson. Individuals and nations generally benefit from large numbers of private associations, including sports clubs, religious groups and parent-teacher associations. But in some nations, dense social networks also increase people’s vulnerability to extremism. A great deal of work suggests that terrorism itself can arise not because people are isolated, poor or badly educated, but because they are part of tightly knit networks in which hateful ideas travel quickly.
No one should doubt that private associations are desirable and valuable, and that they can produce a dazzling range of social goods, including checks on the power of government. But Satyanath and his co-authors reveal another possibility: that such associations can facilitate the spread of extremism, ultimately laying the groundwork for serious challenges to democracy itself.
(Cass R. Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley University professor at Harvard Law School, is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is the former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the co-author of “Nudge” and author of “Simpler: The Future of Government.”)
Of course, it’s hard to build social capital when everyone has plenty of corn syrup and transport fuel. We don’t hang out with each other because we don’t need each other. We live in our bubbles, and Cass Sunstein is darn glad of it!
Those redneck civic associations could work together to make sure that people like Cass Sunstein don’t get in any positions of power or influence ever again! Wouldn’t that be terrible? Sunstein wants us to stay in the dark, not cooperating, not thinking as a group. Because we don’t like Cass Sunstein. We don’t want him micromanaging our lives for us, or dictating our morality from his ivory fucking tower.
Cass Sunstein surveys the masses of white people from sea to shining sea, and feels a shiver of fear. If these people ever start cooperating, I’m done for! My goose is cooked! He knows we hate him and hate everything he stands for.
High fuel prices and high food prices and high booze prices and high tobacco prices is what we need to bring back social capital. There was a time, believe it or not, when a large percentage of the population was involved in producing and/or processing and/or trading these things. This naturally built social capital.
Which is why I thank the stars that oil is 107 a barrel. Every year that it continues at that price, the process of capital formation degrades. As it is, it is Ponzi schemes all the way down. I know Hipster Racist says it can go on forever. But I think at some point, some group of people who lost their investment will have the power to set off a chain reaction that crashes the whole thing in the space of a day or two.
Oil could go back down to 60 or 70 a barrel for lack of demand because of a destroyed economy. But at this price, the shale drilling stops, destroying those jobs and thus destroying even more demand. This is what is called “the bumpy plateau.” So there’s really no “recovery” scenario, except maybe killing off a few billion people.
What I’m really looking forward to is the end of the yellow school buses and the end of public schools. Public schools promote anti-intellectualism, and anti-intellectualism is the most effective Mindweapon against us. People who are thinking again, are going to start thinking about how Cass Sunstein and millions of his Paycheck Liberal minions have been shitting all over us. At the same time, those Paycheck Liberal minions will lose their paychex, and likely end up in our camp.
That’s why I see Sunstein’s Bloomberg article linked above as a prophecy of doom for the Chutzpahcracy. I smell fear on him! He doesn’t trust ordinary White people to not be Nazis! I think he’s right.