But Tocqueville envisioned the painful trajectory of this new form of culture. “Among democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any idea […] 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.”

Take a minute to digest that shocking idea: the cult of the nuclear family, held up for decades as the triumph of American Values, turns out to be a momentary blip of unfounded optimism—a fleeting transition between the defunct aristocratic age of centuries-old bloodlines and tomorrow’s democratic age when even our connection to our own flesh and blood becomes disenchanted and, ultimately, psychologically useless.

The panicky fury showing forth in our overcare and undercare of our children is a symptom of our anger at being stuck with little beings who seem to be of decreasing use to our own well-being. And Tocqueville knew that for us it was all about well-being. “The love of well-being has now become the predominant taste of the nation,” he warned; “the great current of human passions runs in that channel and sweeps everything along in its course.”