As communism’s iron grip tightened around eastern Europe in the 20th century, the government became increasingly hostile toward relationships that didn’t center around the State. Civil society was crowded out, and in some cases outlawed, by the expansion of communist regimes that saw little use for friendship. Citizens were encouraged to look to their rulers for satisfaction and sustenance. The existence of the individual and their “little platoons,” as Edmund Burke describes our small contingents of friends and family members, were a threat to government’s absolute power.
The United States is no communist country and, for all of my policy disagreements with President Biden, it did my heart good to hear him speak clearly on this, stating, “Communism is a failed system. A universally failed system.”
But even so, there is no denying that we are seeing a deterioration in the quality and extent of Americans’ personal relationships. A recent survey from the American Enterprise Institute notes that Americans in 2021 have experienced a noteworthy decline in friendship over the past three decades.
Those who say they have no close friends, not counting their relatives, have quadrupled between 1990 to 2021. It is still a relatively small portion of the population, but the marked rise in the friendship dearth is concerning. And the seemingly social butterflies of the sample population, those who identify as having 10 or more close friends, have dropped by 20 points in the same period of time.
Without question the pandemic and subsequent isolation amplified this problem in ways that might take years to fully understand, but with 46% of those surveyed saying they made a new friend this past year, it’s clear that the problem is much more complex and lengthy.
The need for communal and associational life is innate. Humans are relational beings. We are instinctively drawn to care, share, and commune with others. And when we don’t, we see a host of mental and physical health problems arise, such as depression, cognitive decline, heart problems, and a weakened immune system.
We instinctively know that relationships matter, but here’s an important question those of us who are politically active should ask ourselves: Are we promoting strong communities through our advocacy? Or are we too quick to offer up government solutions to societal problems? If politics is downstream from culture–and I’d argue that in many cases it is–then the response to most societal problems can be found in community-oriented solutions, surrounded by those who know and love us.
No, the government can’t love you, but a friend can. Let’s shift some of our attention away from arguing about politics this week and use that time to invest in the bonds of friendship.