ROBERT PUTNAM WROTE the book on loneliness. More precisely he wrote the latest book on the latest version of American loneliness, following David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (1961), William Whyte’s The Organization Man (1956), and Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Putnam’s contribution is called Bowling Alone; it came along six years ago, and it was covered in glory this month when a Duke University study proved by sociological research that we all are increasingly cut off from true fellowship and real community.
This unpleasant vision has been mined outside of sociology — in literature, like Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and theatrically, where Death of a Salesman is the standard. Later, the corporate loneliness of the late '50s made way for the postmodern anomie of Christopher Lasch and Jonathan Franzen. The failure of modern man and his descendants to keep the basic bonds of society together has in fact been the central subject of the humanities since the old culture first began crumbling in Europe around 1850. The names change, the story progresses and worsens, but the plot is singular, and it has led us to the understanding that neither email nor MySpace nor Blackberries has brought us closer to durable communion.
This is astounding because we live in a West where more people have their grubby mitts on one another than ever before. Privacy — that thing we thought we Americans thought we’d been fighting for — is dead; publicity is king. It is our leviathan, and within it encurl a multitude of labyrinths, social networks that close the distances of culture, geography, and propriety to create an unprecedented society of hookups. How, so close, can we stay so lonely?p> THE QUESTION IS on everyone’s lips in the public prints: The New York Times , Washington Post , USA Today , Chicago Tribune , and Boston Globe , to take a representative sample, ran major stories. Putnam got interviewed. A lot. The news of Duke’s study was not lost on the Concerned Women for America, whose Dr. Janice Crouse remarked
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?