The University of Chicago News Office
Jan. 22, 1997 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

Civil Society Project Unveiled by University of Chicago Professor

What are the central civic and moral challenges facing the United States at the close of this century? Has our nation suffered an irreparable social breakdown? Will Americans ever be able to talk with civility across religious, class, racial and gender boundaries?

To find the answers to these questions, the Council on Civil Society has been convened by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Professor of Social Ethics at the University of Chicago and David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values. Members of the council include leading figures in politics, the academy, community organizing, industry and religion.

“Our primary challenge today is not economic or political–instead, it is cultural and moral,” said Elshtain. “We seek to go beyond simply documenting the sad story of social decline, loss of trust, diminishing social engagement and the disarray of social institutions. Instead, we wish to embody through action the best American traditions of civic argument, moral discourse, democratic citizenship and the search for common ground.”

The council includes author Tom Wolfe, philosopher Cornel West, Commonweal editor Margaret O’Brian Steinfels, former Clinton White House domestic policy advisor William Galston, opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.).

Its goal is to assess the condition of American civil society at the close of this century and make recommendations for the future.

“Trust in vital American institutions from the government to the family is disintegrating,” said Blankenhorn. “The possibility of American social renewal depends on rediscovering our shared civic and moral values that both sustain our common identity and support our pluralism.”

The council will release a “Call to Civil Society” in 1997, which will serve as the Council’s first public statement and set the agenda for all subsequent work.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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