Lawrence F. Kaplan in The New Republic:
Without the Cold War,” Rabbit Angstrom asks in John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest, “what’s the point of being an American?” Rabbit’s question, which he posed in 1990, anticipated something in the national mood during the decade that followed. In 1995, social critic Christopher Lasch wrote that the United States had descended into a “democratic malaise,” the most telling symptom of which, Harvard public policy scholar Robert Putnam wrote, was a decline in civic engagement. In his famous essay and then book, Putnam amassed a mountain of evidence–measuring everything from rates of church attendance to participation in bowling leagues–and pronounced that Americans were “bowling alone.” A survey conducted by pollster Daniel Yankelovich in 1995 reported that Americans felt “a sickness in the very soul of society to which they cannot give a name.” For conservatives especially, the ’90s were wasted years, the decade’s signature traits being narcissism, cultural rot, and sheer purposelessness. The coarseness of the public square “has shattered America’s traditional confidence about itself, its mission, its place in the world,” morality czar William Bennett wrote in Commentary.