WASHINGTON -- THERE IS a feeling around the country that things are simply not right with us. One sees it in our rudeness to one another. One hears it these days in the endless discussions of racial quotas and preferences in jobs, as though our gnawing divisions are there grotesquely magnified.
George Bush says, no, this country is not in decline, that we have the greatest economy in the world. The gulf war said hah, we are still Georgie Anne Geyer the technological wonder of the world. But we know in our hearts that that is only part of the truth, and we wonder where to turn.
For the first time in the past decade of America's social decline, I find tiny rays of hope. Why? Because some of our most honest thinkers are beginning to make rational claims on our minds to counter the wearisome old dogmas of right and left. A new middle ground is being systematically formulated in this country.
One of the new thinkers, sociologist Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University, recently laid out for me some contours of the new schema. "We say that the rights of individuals must be balanced with responsibilities to the community," insisted Etzioni. "Individuals are members of a community; neither their existence nor their liberty can be sustained without community . . . The community has a moral standing co-equal to the individual . . .
"There is no longer any public interest left -- all the 'f special-interest groups are eating up the country for breakfast." He paused, then added, "We now have 300,000 interest groups, everything from parking-lot associations to beehive growers.
"And we come to the family. I feel that women have the same rights as men to work outside the home, but this leaves us with a parenting deficit -- there's just nobody home." Then he ticked off the list of concepts that he and his fellows are obsessed with: moral education, "leaving something for the common and not just take, take, take," correcting an imbalance in society, a yearning he finds everywhere in the country.
Where does one find these new thinkers? Their thoughts are contained in several new magazines, available to all, which I plug unashamedly:
* Etzioni's journal is the Responsive Community, and in it you will find engrossing articles by scholars such as Diane Ravitch, Norman Ornstein and J. Bryan Hehir on everything from "Citizens First: Public Policy and Self-Government" to "The Right to Welfare and the Obligation to Society."
(Subscriptions can be obtained from: The Responsive Community, 2020 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 282, Washington, D.C. 20006.)
* A related new journal is the Social Contract, which tends more toward analyzing illegal immigration, national and societal cohesion, problems of language, growth, diversity and (in general) the rather critical question of holding the United States together as a coherent nation.
In this homespun but cogent magazine, you will find articles such as "Balkanization Threatens the U.S.," "The Nation State: An Idea Under Siege," and "The Africanization of Europe." Writers run the gamut from Shelby Steele, to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. to George Melloan.
(The Social Contract, 316 1/2 E. Mitchell St., Petoskey, Mich. 49770.)
* A third journal, impressive in its more cosmic rovings, is the New Perspectives Quarterly, published by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. This glossy publication rises above such pedestrian worries as special-interest groups and even the nation-state to "Questions for the Third Millennium" and "The New Ethic: Global Responsibility" and "Why Liberalism Lacks Virtue." It sports such luminaries as Hans Kung, Amos Oz and Czeslaw Milosz.
(New Perspectives Quarterly, 10951 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90064.)
Before any real reforms or rebalances come about, in any nation and in any period of history, we must first see the emergence of a small nucleus of people, speaking truths the nation has not wanted yet to see and determined to right intellectual scales that have swung to extremes of selfishness and foolishness. Until now, the dangerous polarization of social thinking between left and right in this country has outshouted these voices of reason.
But now, as Amitai Etzioni puts it, "We plan to show that out of moral dialogue, clear voices can arise and social virtues can be identified and advanced."