Individuals don’t transfer values from one generation to the next. Individuals are biologically incapable of producing a next generation except in the crudest possible sense of the term. Socialization—the process through which a person internalizes what is good and bad, meaningful and meaningless—is shaped by one’s relatives, the friends and associates who surround a person, and typically a canon of texts that is revered and consulted for guidance. The values of expressive individualism guarantee that the values of future generations will be more or less up for grabs for the simple reason that expressive individualists have a difficult time replicating (the demographic data don’t lie) and an even more difficult time socializing a child.
It’s true that expressive individualists do connect with one another for varying periods of time and do at least fairly often have children. But the deliberately atomistic quality of their value system makes it difficult for these children to understand, let alone continue, whatever moral traditions their parents may affirm and display. In this respect, today’s expressive individualists bear some comparison to a 19th-century millennial sect called the Harmony Society. Founded in Germany in 1785, the Harmonists were a Protestant community that flourished in Indiana between 1825 and 1850. At the time, its members were known for their social conscience and economic success. Yet these virtues weren’t enough to ensure the sect’s survival for one simple reason: It promoted celibacy. The Harmonists, like today’s expressive individualists, were ethical, hardworking, productive people, but their way of life proved unsustainable because their values failed to foster successor generations.