The New Individualists

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his influential 1956 study of the “new” breed of executives, THE ORGANIZATION MAN, William Whyte analyzed the values that were shaping American business in the decades after World War II. These men often put commitment to their company ahead of personal concerns, viewing success a s a rise in one’s material standard of living. The authors of THE NEW INDIVIDUALISTS investigate the long-term effects of the lives and accomplishments of these highly successful men on their offspring, who find themselves facing a vastly different world in the last decades of the twentieth century. Through extensive interviews with children of some of the men whose careers were studied by Whyte, Leinberger and Tucker show how childhood prepared the children of organization men to survive in the adult world. Now that they have finally entered the work force, they have discovered that the rules by which their fathers survived and succeeded no longer apply; changes in politics, psychology, and social attitudes about race and gender make a continuation of their parents’ value system untenable.

The children of organization men place high value on the artistic way of life, viewing it as a worthwhile alternative to the dehumanizing environment that confronts them in the business world. This new generation seeks meaning in work and in life—something an organization cannot dictate through its structure, but which must emerge for each individual in different ways. The key to survival in this environment, the authors argue, is the development of what they call the “artificial person,” one whose life is constructed from a variety of roles one is forced to play. In the process of justifying their thesis, the authors provide valuable insights into the changes in American business and society over the past four decades.