In his classic treatise Self-Renewal, John W. Gardner examines why great societies thrive and die. He argues that it is dynamism, not decay, that is dramatically altering the landscape of American society. The twentieth century has brought about change more rapidly than any previous era, and with that came advancements, challenges, and often destruction. Gardner cautions that "a society must court the kinds of change that will enrich and strengthen it, rather than the kind of change that will fragment and destroy it."
A society's ability to renew itself hinges upon its individuals. Gardner reasons that it is the waning of the heart and spirit-not a lack of material might-that threatens American society. Young countries, businesses, and humans have several key commonalities: they are flexible, eager, open, curious, unafraid, and willing to take risks. These conditions lead to success. However, as time passes, so too comes complacency, apathy, and rigidity, causing motivation to plummet. It is at this junction that great civilizations fall, businesses go bankrupt, and life stagnates. Gardner asserts that the individual's role in social renewal requires each person to face and look beyond imminent threats.
Ultimately, we need a vision that there is something worth saving. Through this vision, Gardner argues, society will begin to renew itself, not permanently, but past its average lifespan, and it will at once become enriched and rejuvenated.