Marc Dunkelman, a Research Fellow at Brown University's A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and a Senior Fellow at the Clinton Foundation, spent the lunch hour on Thursday discussing his recent book The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community. The book offers an important contribution to the debate over of what is happening with American civil society, how we might save it from further decline, and why this matters to American democracy. In this sense, Mr. Dunkleman follows in the footsteps of influential sociologists such as Robert Nisbet, Nathan Glazer, David Reisman, and more recently Harvard Professor Robert Putnam. Mr. Dunkleman focuses on the decline of what he calls "middle ring" relationships which are distinct from inner and outer ones. For example, inner ring relationships include family and close friends while outer ring relationships involve professional associations or transactional ones found in social media or virtual communities. Today, we are more and more in touch with the outer rings -- the fellow members of "like" groups on Facebook who we will never meet in person. Americans are increasingly abandoning the middle ring relationships -- familiarity with neighbors, fellow parents at the local school or PTA, civic groups and clubs. This is presenting a crisis of sorts as these middle ring relationships have been responsible throughout American history for building the sense of township and community, providing, in essence, the connective tissue that builds social capital, so vital to the health of democratic self-government. Mr. Dunkelman suggests that the decline in our middle ring interactions could in part explain the excessive partisanship in Washington, DC. That is, by only interacting with inner and outer rings -- our ability to interact with others who we may have less in common with atrophies. Mr. Dunkelman said there are no easy solutions to this problem -- though he did raise the possibility of national service for young people, but recognizing the decline is an important first step.