Thus Brian, Joe, Margaret, and Wayne ar each in his or her own way confused about how to define for themselves such things as the nature of success, the meaning of freedom, an the requirements of justice. Those difficulties are in an important way created by the limitations in the common tradition of moral discourse they--and we--share.
One of the sources of the fragmentation Bellah finds in our culture is our emphasis on individualism:
The individualistic assumptions of our culture lead us to believe that we can live as we choose, using the big institutions--the agencies of the state, the companies or organizations we work for, the schools we attend--for our own ends, without being fundamentally influenced by them.
Bellah traces this mode of thinking to the frontier in our history. The frontier is closed, of course, and so we live by the bravado that our lives are completely in our own hands because of a fear that our future will really be determined by forces beyond our control. Yet we are governed by such forces in the here and now, including all of the social structures that make up our society and that influence us on a daily basis whether we like it or not:
We cannot be divorced from all such relationships and positions; indeed, we cannot give up any of them without affecting our identity. We are not independent social atoms and society is not simply a collection of independent persons in complex external relationships.
Bellah cites the study by de Tocqueville and notes how this French observer found America to be an agrarian nation where the basic unit of association was the local community:
There a civic culture of individual initiative was nurtured through custom and personal ties inculcated by a widely shared Protestant Christianity. The mores Tocqueville emphasized were still strong. Concern for economic betterment was widespread, but it operated within the context of a still-functional covenant concern fo...
A number of sociological theorists. (1969, December 31). In LotsofEssays.com. Retrieved 10:51, May 23, 2015, from https://www.collegetermpapers.com/viewpaper/1303922438.html