Theda Skocpol is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. Her article in Issue 46 is from a chapter in Civic Engagement in American Democracy from the Brookings Institution.
If only folks would turn off the TV and start
attending PTA meetings, America's future could be as bright as its civically
engaged past. This diagnosis is taking shape in foundation-sponsored gatherings
and among highbrow columnists. Privileged men and women--who spend most of their
waking hours in their offices, on jet airplanes, and in front of computer
screens--are converging on the belief that civic irresponsibility is the fault
of average Americans.
What to do about poverty is, once again, on the public agenda in the United States. A decade ago, social researchers and research-funders, stung by the backlash against the War on Poverty, averted their attention from race-related social ills. Then Charles Murray's rightwing broadside against social programs in Losing Ground (1984) provoked critics to reenter the fray, and William Julius Wilson's The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) revalidated discussion of "the underclass" by progressives.