Robert Putnam, from Harvard University, visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus to participate in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s lecture series. He spoke on the topic “Turning the Corner: What American History Teaches Us About Leadership and Civic Renewal,” which is also the title of his latest book.
Putnam explored a previous point in history when the United States was deeply polarized: the late 1800s. According to Putnam, in the aftermath of the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 20th century, America became — unevenly, but steadily — more egalitarian, more cooperative, more generous; a society more focused on our responsibilities to one another and less focused on narrower self-interest. Over the last half century, that broad trend from an “I” society to a “we” society has been interrupted and reversed. America’s challenge today is to turn the corner and regain the spirit of reform of the first Progressive Era. Grassroots leadership was then essential to civic renewal and it is again now.
Putnam makes the case that new technology is changing how we perceive the world: not only polarizing us, but also making us think the world we live in is what we want it to be. In many cases, Putnam said, these are cross-party issues that all sides could collaborate on.
The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s Civic Discourse provides an indispensable forum for the school to include historical and contemporary conversations about economic opportunities in American society within the framework of civic discourse that inspires all of our public programs.