This is an excerpt that I'll be referencing again and again in other posts. From the book The Hungry Spirit, by Charles Handy:
Francis Fukuyama, in his important book on trust, takes the matter of trust beyond the boundaries of the organization. The prosperity of societies depends, he says, on relationships of trust, which reach beyond the family or the organization. Familial societies such as Italy or China today find it hard to put their confidence in anyone outside the family. They cannot therefore build large organizations, because these inevitably involve outsiders. Fukuyama believes that this will prevent these countries creating truly global organizations. Maybe they do not want or need to.
On the other hand, individualist countries, such as the Anglo-Saxon societies of America and Britian, can become very legalistic places, unwilling to believe that the hospital did its best or that the other driver was not at fault. Such a lack of trust in others can become very expensive, because neither the law nor insurance comes cheap.
De Tocqueville, looking at America a century and a half ago, was worried about individualism which, he said, "at first, only saps the virtue of public life, but in the long run...attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness." He believed that the network of civil associations (clubs, churches, schools, political parties, community groups, sports clubs, etc.) played an important part in combining individualism and limiting its potentially destructive consequences. This is the "social capital" that writers like Robert Putnam in America are worried may be eroding. In my terms, selfishness is no longer "proper" in a society which has allowed individualism to become so isolating.
America grew rich because its individualism was tempered by a willingness to trust or rely upon outsiders who held the same values and beliefs. Thus there was this paradox in America of a very individualist ethic combined with a conformist society. A good paradox, one might say, but confusing when you first meet it -- all these individuals trumpeting their individuality but wearing the exact same clothes and eating the same food. America was, and is, a society which prefers to put its trust in civil associations rather than government, a society which has defined rights but accepts some civic responsibilities as the norm. Moe than any other country, local officialdom is elected locally, and religion, with its codes of behavior, plays a larger part in American life than in most other Western countries. Trust, in the sense of confidence in the community, was once high, and probably still is, although there are signs, now, of a retreat into their very different ghettoes by the rich and poor alike, with their differing value systems going with them.
Apart from our kith and kin, we soon establish other sorts of families: networks and professional associations, or "hives," for knowledge workers; clubs for the enthusiasts and teams for the sportive; committees and campaigns for the civic-minded. These "communities of interest," some of them now meeting in cyberspace rather than the clubroom, are the new kinds of neighborhoods, more important in the lives of many than the physical neighborhoods where they live. People need people, and they find them, most of the time. It is these communities that give real expression to our concern for others, to our need to belong to something wider than our own little nest. In all of them trust is balanced against commitment. Where there is no commitment there can be no trust.