Useful Habits

June 14, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah and colleagues, published a quarter-century ago, remains a required reference in courses and discourses about American society and culture. I was reminded of its continuing usefulness today when a WaPo link took me to a review by Chrystia Freeland of The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite by Mark Mizruchi

About halfway through the 2600-word review, she writes:
When America’s postwar corporate elites were sexist, racist company men who prized conformity above originality and were intolerant of outsiders, they were also more willing to sacrifice their immediate gain for the greater good. The postwar America of declining income inequality and a corporate elite that put the community’s interest above its own was also a closed-minded, restrictive world that the left rebelled against—hence, the 1960s. It is unpleasant to consider the possibility that the personal liberation the left fought for also liberated corporate elites to become more selfish, ultimately to the detriment of us all—but that may be part of what happened.           
The authors of Habits outline four “traditions” which still, separately or in combination, provide the ideology for American’s private and public lives.  These traditions are, the authors say, rest on:
  • Biblical Religion (mostly Protestant)
  • Civic Republicanism
  • Expressive Individualism
  • Utilitarian Individualism
I don’t know whether Chrystia Freeland has read Habits of the Heart, but in the historical change she outlines in those three sentences fits perfectly into the Bellah model.  Elites once based their actions on Civic Republicanism, but Expressive Individualism lured them into Utilitarian Individualism.

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