Richard Weissbourd and Senator Chris Murphy penned a fascinating article earlier this year titled “We Have Put Individualism Ahead of the Common Good for Too Long.” I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps no other 12 words better diagnose the ills of American society today. We have put individualism ahead of the common good (and even reality), and now we’re living in that fallout. Although I question the authors’ proposed panacea (putting the government in charge of a social infrastructure), the verdict itself is incredibly astute.

Drawing upon Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and the 1985 classic, “Habits of the Heart” (named after one of Tocqueville’s most famous lines), Weissbourd and Murphy explore the idea that Americans’ almost innate sense of self-loyalty—the great “virtue” of authenticity—has turned us against the collective, thereby weakening the social fabric. They argue, as Tocqueville observed, that this possibility has always been ripe in an egalitarian society such as ours.

“As he toured America in the early 1800s,” they wrote, “Alexis de Tocqueville observed the new world’s fascination with individualism and entrepreneurship with a combination of wonder and worry. He recognized that America’s future greatness and power likely lay in its citizens’ obsession with individual advancement. But he also questioned whether a society could hold together when existence becomes atomized and individual success crowds out the common good. America, he worried, would descend into a morass of avarice, self-interest and envy without a means through which Americans could prioritize virtue, character, and common good over personal interest and individual achievement.”

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“In a way, the story of America’s success in the two hundred years since de Tocqueville’s tour is our ability to properly balance this tension between individualism and collectivism. America’s genius lies not just in our spirit of entrepreneurship and pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualism, but also in our decision to make sure that this value on personal responsibility and success is never absolute. To varying degrees over the course of our history, it has been matched by a concern for the community and the collective. We measured success both by how well we were doing and how well the communities and the country we belonged to were doing, and we tended to view our individual and collective well-being as powerfully entwined.”

For Tocqueville, his overarching concern with democracy was it would inevitably beget an unmanageable strain of individualism. Unable to be reckoned with, that individualism (which he distinguished from egotism in that it is more than just a vice, but an erroneous political philosophy) would then eat away, like cancer, at the bonds of human fellowship.

“They,” he said of a democratic people, “owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus,” he continued, “not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”

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And while Weissbourd and Murphy seem particularly interested in how our individualistic bent has isolated us, I’m willing to apply Tocqueville’s critique in a way those authors aren’t. Not only has democracy made us forget our ancestors and each other, democracy has made us forget Truth.

When everyone is “entitled”—by virtue of the prevailing political philosophy—to their own “truth,” capital-t Truth is lost in the bedlam. Our nation looks like a Greek theomachy in which 340 million gods wrestle each other because each believes, simultaneously, that democracy has made him supreme. We “divorce, cheat, steal, upend tradition, dress in drag for kids, perform cabarets for toddlers… whatever it takes to satisfy “Me!”

In no way does this mean that America’s founding principles were inherently faulty. It means, from the very beginning, they came with a major caveat attached. Men like Tocqueville knew from the start that if we did not curb individualism with something—he proposed religion and God—it would eventually become everything.

We cannot ask of freedom something it never promised; we cannot ask it to make virtuous citizens. If we want virtue—and we certainly need it—it will have to come by some means other than repeat overtures to the “sovereignty” of self. By putting individualism above the common good and Truth, America has lost its grounding.

True, as Weissbourd and Murphy observed, “Individualism will always be a hallmark of American identity.” But it’s high time we reined it in.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.