Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Mary Eberstadt and I gave back to back presentations at last spring's Human Ecology conference at the Busch School of Business and Economics. EWTN was on location and is airing our talks this Saturday, January 14th from 2-3pm. Mary's excellent presentation is on religious liberty. A bit from my presentation, which will also be published in Public Discourse later this month:
When John Paul II used the term “human ecology” in Centesimus Annus, he was entering a robust conversation that was already taking place among social thinkers here in the U.S., and perhaps across the Western world. Since the beginning of the last century, social scientists had been making use of the term to describe the now common idea of society as a complex organism, and to study the myriad ways in which various human surroundings influence the human person. The Russian-American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner notably wrote in 1977 of an “ecology of human development” in which one seeks to understand the human subject from within his “nested,” varied and ever-changing arrangement of environmental structures. An ecological approach is one that is intrinsically interdisciplinary, that seeks to integrate diverse perspectives to achieve a wider angle.
And so by the 1990s, social theorists from across the political spectrum were thinking ecologically about the dynamic interaction among familial, political, economic, and social influences and how these “mutually conditioning systems” affected children, families and communities across America. The ecological analogue helped a diverse group of thinkers to diagnose, even without agreeing to causes, the growing deterioration of once stable families and communities, the deleterious impact that was having upon the nation’s children and the nation’s poor, and in turn, the consequences of this cultural, or ecological, disintegration upon American institutions. In particular, communitarians such as Michael Sandel, Amitai Etzioni, and our own Mary Ann Glendon, worried together that America’s celebrated free economic and political institutions were actually at great risk of undermining their own foundations due to an erosion of the “moral ecology” or, in Robert Putnam’s term, “social capital” that these free institutions needed to thrive.