Conservatives are generally good at conserving, and we are particularly aware of the continuities across the human condition. But given today’s conditions, when so much has changed so recently and so many social problems bedevil us, we need to get great at creating new institutions.
Conservatives frustrated with the direction of our nation should redirect their energies away from podcasts and Twitter and toward a more productive type of civic engagement: the creation of new institutions. Social entrepreneurialism is a venerable tradition on the American right, and it can be the best way—especially in this particular moment—to bring about the types of change that serve to conserve the most important aspects of society, culture, and governance.
It is helpful, first, to understand institutions as a reflection of needs. “Institution” can be a capacious term. It generally refers to ways of organizing collective action to accomplish shared goals. So it includes norms and traditions (formal and informal rules for guiding how we work together) as well as organizations that carry out specific functions. Societies create and adjust voluntary associations, public bodies, corporations, and sets of behavior to help us lead healthy, happy lives individually and as communities.
In some instances, human nature, a culture, or a regime produces an ongoing need that requires ongoing institutions. As long as children must be raised, we will need the family and marriage. As long as individuals and nations need to solve problems jointly, we will need civility, diplomacy, and embassies. As long as America is a constitutional democratic republic, we will need a Congress and state legislatures. Perpetual conditions require perpetual institutions.