- Klinenberg is rarely explicit about his convictions, which saves him the trouble of seriously assaying their implications, but he finally gets to the point directly in his conclusion, asserting that “living alone is an individual choice that’s as valid as the choice to get married or live with a domestic partner. . . . [I]t’s a collective achievement—which is why it’s common in developed nations but not in poor ones.” Klinenberg cites Sweden as a model to be emulated.
This is a novel position, to be sure, considering that no known civilization in human history has lauded solitary living as a social ideal. Either the extended family or, since the Industrial Revolution, the nuclear family variant of it, has been a universal social norm for at least the past 10,000 years and arguably much longer than that. And you don’t need data to see why: Society needs children and children need families.
That, however, is actually the least of it. What the Founders knew, but so many contemporaries seem to have forgotten, is that the well-being of any society turns not just on its capacity to procreate but on its ability to transmit a tradition of moral reasoning, and the values that attend it, to future generations. Drawing from the Hebrew prophets and the Greek philosophers, they recognized that values are in flux as virtuous or venal cycles reverberate across generations. Not that moral development is to be feared, or that change is in principle to be disparaged, but development and change has to be carefully nurtured by sentries on the lookout for indulgence, corrosion and selfishness. The Founders understood that the good life can only be safeguarded by a good society, and that this indelible connection bestows obligations on individuals to invest in the acculturation of future generations.