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Robert Putnam

04/24/08 5:55PM By Frank Bryan
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(HOST) Commentator Frank Bryan is a writer who teaches political science at the University of Vermont -- and *his Vermont* is a place where community still matters.

(BRYAN) My Vermont is a natural homeland of community - of village and town filling the hills and valleys of what regional scholar Neal Peirce described as the only state for which a visitor feels homesick even before he has left it. What a wonderful way to say Vermont is about what Americans value most in the heritage bequeathed to them by the nation's better angels.
 
Yet (especially when Vermont springs green with April's promise) I sometimes become melancholy about the future of our communities.
 
This spring, for instance, I watched the citizens of the town of Washington struggle at their town meeting over the issue to keep or abandon their school. Nearby, the town of Orange has been doing the same. A ridge or two to the west, my students documented the people of Hancock and Granville engaged in the same struggle. Other towns like Belvidere have already succumbed. From box stores to the automobile the litany of counter-community forces is well known. But no blow is as lethal as the loss of the school.

Still, there is hope. And this is the time of year for it.
 
I find hope in the work of Robert Putnam, best known for his book "Bowling Alone." No political scientist in my generation is more widely recognized or more important.
 
For he has changed the paradigm. Through careful, painstaking theoretical and empirical work, in America and abroad, he has legitimized the task of saving community. Now thousands of scholars in many disciplines are turning away from the nation state and toward locality to discover the constructs that can save democracy.

No wonder Putnam is called the modern de Tocqueville.

And it is no exaggeration to say that we in Vermont are stewards of one of the places where the hope of Putnam's seminal work is most promising. In "Bowling Alone," for instance, Vermont ranks first among the American states on Putnam's tolerance index - which features race, gender and civil liberties - and third on his social capital index, which features measures related to civic involvement.
 
De Tocqueville belongs to the 19th Century. But Putnam belongs to us - to the 21st Century.
 
Vermont needs Putnam for his scholarship and his passion.
 
And America needs Vermont as a model of a modern civil society.
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