Students of political culture and political theory (Pool 1990; Postman 1985; Merelman 1984, 1989, 1991; Habermas 1975) hypothesize that values associated with individualism have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with distressing consequences for politics and governance. Putnam (1995), in an article that appeared in these pages, observes that there has been a decline of “social capital” in the United States since 1972 as well, as measured by the number of visits Americans make to family and friends, the number of organizations to which they belong, the amount of trust they report having in other people, and the amount of involvement they report in politics. Ehrenhalt, in his discussion of the tenure of the late Mayor Daley of Chicago, notes that the United States has changed from a society that reveres obedience, authority, order, and a closed political system, to one that reveres freedom, choice, and an open political system.
To Americans of the baby-boom generation, authority will always be a word with sinister connotations, calling forth a rush of uncomfortable memories about the schools, churches, and families in which baby-boomers grew up. (1997, 85)
It is not only the case that social capital has declined, but political capital, as measured by partisanship and confidence in the institutions of government, has also declined over the past several decades (Luttbeg and Gant 1995). If individualism is a causal factor in the decline of social and political capital, the relationship can be explained by the fact that individualism is by nature loose-bounded (Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990); self-seeking behavior is the norm, as are self-negotiated relationships.