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I remember reading this statement (or something very close) years ago:
Americans believe their values are universal values, which is the most American value of all.
Who wrote this?
I want to say it was Walter McDougall in Promised Land, Crusader State, however I don't own the book, and can't find the quote in on-line searches (of that book, or otherwise). In any case it's very possible I'm wrong and saw the quote elsewhere.
I realize the above point has probably been made many times, thus a related question: is there a particular author/speaker who is most often credited?
Values, Beliefs & Characteristics of US Citizens
American citizens come from diverse backgrounds and embrace a variety of religious beliefs and political opinions. Although they have many differences, what Americans have in common is a shared set of ideals that defined the United States at its birth and nearly all citizens embrace. These ideals, which include liberty, equality and faith in hard work, unify Americans and make American culture distinct.
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America's population reflects remarkable ethnic diversity. More than 20 percent of the population of two major cities, Los Angeles and New York, were born in another country. In some other major cities (including San Francisco and Chicago) more than one of every ten residents is foreign born. Non-white people outnumber whites in several large cities. Newspapers commonly use such terms as "Asian American," "Italian American," and "Arab American" to reflect the persistence of various ethnic heritages within the United States. There are people whose skin is labeled white, black, brown, yellow and red.
America's population includes Catholics, Protestants of many denominations, Jews of several persuasions, Muslims, Buddhists, animists, and people who believe in no supreme being or higher power. There are people who have many years of formal education and people who have nearly none. There are the very rich as well as the very poor. There are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Socialists, Communists, Libertarians, and adherents of other political views as well. There are lawyers, farmers, plumbers, teachers, social workers, immigration officers and people in thousands of other occupations. Some live in urban areas and some in rural ones.Given all this diversity, can one usefully talk about "Americans"? Probably so, if one is careful.
How Americans See Themselves
Americans do not usually see themselves, when they are in the United States, as representatives of their country. They see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals, whether those others are Americans or foreigners. Americans may say they have no culture, since they often conceive of culture as an overlay of arbitrary customs to be found only in other countries. Individual Americans may think they chose their own values, rather than having had their values and the assumptions on which they are based imposed on them by the society in which they were born. If you ask them to tell you something about "American culture," they may be unable to answer and they may even deny that there is an "American culture."At the same time, Americans will readily generalize about various subgroups within their own country. Northerners have stereotypes (generalized, simplified notions) about Southerners, and vice versa. There are stereotypes of people from the country, people from the city, people from the coasts, people from inland, people from the Midwest, minority ethnic groups, minority religious groups, Texans, New Yorkers, Californians, Iowans, and so on.
Individualism and Privacy
The most important thing to understand about American is probably their devotion to "individualism." They have been trained since very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They have not been trained to see themselves as members of a close-knit, tightly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation, or other collectivity.It is this concept of themselves as individual decision-makers that blinds at least some Americans to the fact they share a culture with others. They have the idea as mentioned above, that they have independently made up their own minds about the values and assumptions they hold. The notion that social factors outside themselves have made them "just like everyone else" in important ways offends their sense of dignity.Foreigners who understand the degree to which Americans are imbued with the notion that the free, self-reliant individual is the ideal kind of human being will find it easier to understand many aspects of American behavior and thinking that otherwise might not make sense.Many Americans do not display the degree of respect for their parents people in more traditional or family-oriented societies commonly display. They have the conception it is a historical or biological accident that put them in the hands of particular parents. Parents fulfill their responsibilities to the children while the children are young, and when children reach "the age of independence" the close child-parent tie is loosened, if not broken.Closely associated with the value they place on individualism is the importance Americans assign privacy. Americans assume people "need some time to themselves" or "some time alone" to think about things or recover their spent psychological energy. Americans have great difficulty understanding foreigners who always want to be with another person and who dislike being alone.
Americans are also distinctive in the degree to which they believe in the ideal, as stated in their Declaration of Independence, that "all men are created equal." Although they sometimes violate the ideal in their daily lives, particularly in matters of interracial relationships, Americans have a deep faith that in some fundamental way all people (at least all American people) are of equal value, and no one is born superior to anyone else. "One man, one vote," they say, conveying the idea any person's opinion is as valid and worthy of attention as any other person's opinion.This is not to say Americans make no distinctions among themselves as a result of such factors as sex, age, wealth, or social position. They do. But the distinctions are acknowledged in subtle ways. Tone of voice, order of speaking, choice of words, seating arrangements-such are the means by which Americans acknowledge status differences among themselves.
Their notions of equality lead Americans to be quite informal in their general behavior and in their relationships with other people.People from societies where general behavior is more formal than in American are struck by the informality of American speech, dress, and posture. Idiomatic speech (commonly called "slang") is heavily used on most occasions, with formal speech reserved for public events and fairly formal situations. People of almost any station in life can be seen in public wearing jeans, sandals, or other informal attire. People slouch down in chairs or lean on walls or furniture when they talk, rather than maintaining an erect bearing.
The Future, Change, and Progress
Americans are generally less concerned about history and traditions than are people from older societies. "History doesn't matter," many of them will say. "It's the future that counts." They look ahead.This fundamental American belief in progress and a better future contrasts sharply with fatalistic (Americans are likely to us that term with a negative or critical connotation) attitude that characterizes people from many other cultures, notably Latin, Asian, and Arab, where there is a pronounced reverence for the past. In those cultures the future is considered to be in the hands of "fate," "God," or at least the few powerful people or families dominating society.
Goodness of Humanity
The future cannot be better if people are not fundamentally good and improvable. Americans assume that human nature is basically good, not basically evil. Foreign visitors will see them doing many things that are based on the assumption people are good and can make themselves better."Where there's a will, there's a way," the Americans say. People who want to make things better can do so if only they have strong enough motivation.
For Americans, time is a "resource," like water or coal, which can be used well or poorly. "Time is money." "You only get so much time in this life, so you'd better use it wisely." The future will not be better than the past or the present, as Americans are trained to see things, unless people use their time for constructive, future-oriented activities. Thus, Americans admire a "well-organized" person, one who has a written list of things to do and a schedule for doing them. The ideal person is punctual (that is, arrives at the scheduled time for a meeting or event) and is considerate of other people's time (that is, does not "waste people's time" with conversation or other activity with no visible, beneficial outcome).The American attitude toward time is not necessarily shared by others, especially non-Europeans. They are more likely to conceive of time as something that is simply there around them, not something they can "use." One of the more difficult things to which many foreign businessmen and students must adjust in the States is the notion that time must be saved whenever possible and used wisely every day.
Achievement, Action, Work, and Materialism
"He's a hard worker," one American might say in praise of another, or "she gets the job done." These expressions convey the typical American's admiration for a person who approaches a task conscientiously and persistently, seeing it through to a successful conclusion. More than that, these expressions convey an admiration for achievers, people whose live are centered around efforts to accomplish some physical, measurable thing.Foreign visitors commonly remark that "Americans work harder than I expected them to." (Perhaps these visitors have been excessively influenced by American movies and television programs, which are less likely to show people working than to show them driving around in fast cars or pursuing members of the opposite sex.) While the so-called Protestant work ethic may have lost some of its hold on Americans, there is still a strong belief that the ideal person is a "hard worker." A hard worker is one who "gets right to work" on a task without delay, works efficiently, and completes the task in a way that meets reasonably high standards of quality.Generally, Americans like action. They do indeed believe it is important to devote significant energy to their jobs or to other daily responsibilities. Beyond that, they tend to believe they should be doing something most of the time. They are usually not content, as people from many other countries are, to sit for hours and talk with other people. They get restless and impatient. They believe they should be doing something, or at least making plans and arrangements for doing something later.
Directness and Assertiveness
Americans, as has been said before, generally consider themselves to be frank, open, and direct in their dealings with other people.Americans will often speak openly and directly to others about things they dislike. They will try to do so in a manner they call "constructive," that is, a manner which the other person will not find offensive or unacceptable. If they do not speak openly about what is on their minds, they will often convey their reactions in nonverbal way (without words, but through facial expressions, body positions, and gestures). Americans are not taught, as people in many Asian countries are, that they should mask their emotional responses. Their words, the tone of their voices, or their facial expressions will usually reveal when they are feeling angry, unhappy, confused, or happy and content. They do not think it improper to display these feelings, at least within limits. Many Asians feel embarrassed around Americans who are exhibiting a strong emotional response to something. On the other hand, Latinos and Arabs are generally inclined to display their emotions more openly than Americans do, and to view Americans as unemotional and "cold."But Americans are often less direct and open than they realize. There are in fact many restrictions on their willingness to discuss things openly.Despite these limitations, Americans are generally more direct and open than people from many other countries. They generally do not try to mask their emotions and are much less concerned with "face" - avoiding embarrassment to themselves or others. To them, being "honest" is usually more important than preserving harmony in interpersonal relationships.Americans use the words "pushy" or "aggressive" to describe a person who is excessively assertive in expressing opinions or making requests. The line between acceptable assertiveness and unacceptable aggressiveness is difficult to draw.
Other Cultural Guidelines:
1. Americans have no taboo of any kind associated with the left hand they are as likely to touch you or to hand you objects with the left hand as with the right hand.
2. Americans have no negative association with the soles of the feet or the bottom of the shoes they do not feel it necessary to prevent others from seeing these parts of the body.
3. A common way to greet children in the U.S. is to pat them on the head.
4. People in the U.S. often point with their index finger and wave it around in the air as they make especially important points in conversation.
5. One beckons to another person to come closer by holding the hand with the palm and fingers up, not down.
6. Americans show respect and deference for another person by looking them in the face, not by looking down.
7. Informal, relaxed postures are commonly assumed by Americans when they are standing or sitting, even when they are conversing with others. Lack of formal posture is not a sign of inattention or disrespect.
8. Americans are uncomfortable with silence they expect to talk rather constantly when in the presence of others.
9. In the U.S., the doors of rooms are usually left open unless there is a specific reason to close them.
10. Punctuality - being on time - is important to many Americans they are likely to become quite annoyed if forced to wait more than 15 minutes beyond the scheduled time for meetings or appointments.
From "A Fondness for Icewater: A Brief Introduction to the USA and Its People," AFS International/Intercultural Programs, 1984.
Tips for Social Gatherings
1. Americans will invite strangers (people they have never met) into their homes.
2. Visitors to an American home might be allowed or even encouraged to see any room of the house. It is not unusual for people who visit a home in the winter to use the bed in the master bedroom as a place to deposit their coats.
3. Some entertaining might take place in the kitchen. The kitchen is not the exclusive territory of the female of the house. Men might be seen helping in the kitchen, cooking and/or cleaning up. Men might even be seen wearing aprons.
4. Children may get more attention than they would in some other countries. The children might be included in a social activity, particularly if the activity entails dinner. Children may take a fairly active role in the conversation, and may even get more attention than some of the adults.
5. The host might have pets, usually dogs or cats, who live in the house along with the human inhabitants, and who may be permitted to enter any part of the house and use any item of furniture as a resting place.
6. The social interaction might entail much mixing of the sexes. While it sometimes happens that women will form their own conversation groups and men theirs, there is no rigid sexual segregation at American social gatherings.
7. While they will make certain accommodations for guests, particularly for guests at a formal gathering, Americans do not have the idea that their normal lives should be entirely devoted to guests during the time the guests are visiting them. Thus, if they have other obligations that conflict with hosting, they may turn their attentions to other commitments, such as providing transportation for young children who have obligations or answering a telephone call and engaging in an extended conversation.
Taken from "1994-1995 Handbook for Foreign Students and Scholars" International Education and Services, University of Iowa.
No Wonder America Is Divided. We Can't Even Agree on What Our Values Mean
T hese days, it feels like any group of three or more Americans talking politics can&rsquot make it past the first minute before the animosity and cynicism boils over and derails the conversation. Too many of us are too angry to listen, to learn or &mdash God forbid &mdash to work together to get anything done.
Even our language is being torn apart. We are increasingly unable to agree on common meanings for common words &mdash including those that define our nation&rsquos most fundamental values.
For example, earlier this year, I asked a focus group in Orlando, &ldquoIs America exceptional?&rdquo Almost all Republicans said yes, along with half of the Democrats. But as it turns out, the same word means very different things to very different people.
To Republicans, exceptional means that we are the best &mdash that shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope, the greatest nation in the world &mdash an example for other nations to follow. To Democrats, exceptional does not mean that we are greater compared to other places, because lots of other places (and people) are also great. It means there are things about America that they love &mdash freedom, opportunity, individual rights &mdash that make America great, but not necessarily great-er. That explains why, in a survey we conducted in May for the organization One People&mdash 81% of Republicans but only 52% of Democrats believe &ldquoAmerica is clearly the greatest nation in the world.&rdquo
Common words like these no longer have common meaning &mdash even when we think they do. To paraphrase (or, rather, mangle) Churchill: we really are two different Americas, &ldquodivided by a common language.&rdquo
There are more examples. In that Orlando focus group, the Republican participants refused to choose &ldquodemocracy&rdquo as a &ldquogreat thing about America,&rdquo because, in one participant&rsquos words, &ldquoWe are a republic, not a democracy.&rdquo To this, a Democrat from Orlando rolled her eyes and said, &ldquoYou just don&rsquot like any word with &lsquoDemocrat&rsquo in it.&rdquo
And then everyone started shouting.
Moments later, several Democrats refused to celebrate &ldquoequality&rdquo in America because, in their words, &ldquoWe haven&rsquot reached equality. Many people are treated as second-class citizens.&rdquo To this, a Republican shot back &ldquoAmerica has more equality than anywhere else &hellip and you&rsquore just playing the &lsquorace card.&rsquo&rdquo
And then everyone started shouting.
It&rsquos not just the policies we disagree on. Our worldviews often no longer overlap. For example, 62% of those in the One People poll still agree that &ldquoAmerica is a place where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.&rdquo But while an overwhelming 78% of Republicans embrace that sentiment, barely a majority (57%) of Democrats agree. We are only now realizing how large the space between the tribes is.
About the only consistent trait we still share is anger. A casual glance at Facebook, Twitter or the comment section from just about any publication would make an insult comic blush. We have slid from disagreement to disdain to dehumanization.
But while we so quickly point to and yell at our opponents, the real threat is ourselves &mdash that we are losing faith in our democracy and trust in each other. Our greatest strength historically &mdash that &ldquoWe the People&rdquo share a common goal, idea, and even a national dream &mdash is now a glaring weakness, as we cheerfully slice the ties that once bound us together.
Today, more than one-quarter of Americans (27%) acknowledge personally terminating a friendship or cutting off a member of their family since the 2016 election. That means more than one in four readers of this column have excommunicated &mdash or, even more likely, been excommunicated by &mdash someone once important in their lives. Not just because people disagree, but because people who once loved one another can&rsquot stand to listen to each other anymore. (By the way, Democrats are the more aggrieved, aggressive bunch: 31% terminated a personal relationship because of politics, compared to just 19% of Republicans.)
We are not heading towards a communication and common ground crisis. We&rsquore in one already, and we can&rsquot go on like this.
Polling further proves the point. I provided voters in the One People poll a list of 16 different objectives for America and asked, &ldquoWhich is most important for making America a better, stronger place where everyone is lifted up together?&rdquo
For Republicans, the top choice was, &ldquoA genuine commitment to the Constitution and what it says and means.&rdquo Among Democrats, that response placed 8th out of 16. Second place for Republicans? &ldquoRestoring the essential role and responsibility of the family.&rdquo Democrats ranked that 15th out of 16.
Democrats instead choose two statistically tied winners: &ldquoLeaders who listen and learn from the people they represent&rdquo (a middling 6th place among Republicans), and &ldquoPromoting diversity, equality and fairness in society&rdquo (15th place among Republicans).
We divide on national goals. We divide on personal values. We divide on everything &mdash and we do it loudly and without respect.
So it is not surprising that 81% of Americans assert that &ldquoAmerica is more divided today than at any other time in my lifetime.&rdquo Even more significantly, 87% of those 65 and older &mdash the people who remember Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK and RFK &mdash believe this is the worst it&rsquos ever been. We all agree there is a problem with division, but it&rsquos always the other side&rsquos fault.
There is only one attribute about America that everyone still embraces: &ldquofreedom.&rdquo It was first among Republicans and second among Democrats (behind &ldquodiversity&rdquo). Yet even here, the subtle differences are significant. For Democrats, it&rsquos freedom from &mdash discrimination, racism, poverty, etc. It&rsquos an alleviation of fear, and it often requires active institutional intervention to make it happen. For Republicans, it&rsquos freedom to &mdash own a gun, practice your religion. It&rsquos the ability to do what you want, when you want, and it is primarily about being left alone.
Only on a few issues, like education and, surprisingly, guns do we find common ground. For example, &ldquoA quality public education is a fundamental right for every American child&rdquo has the support of 77% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats.
Yet it is the response to the recent shootings, like those in Parkland, that is most eye-catching. Eight in ten Americans think we should regulate guns the way we regulate cars.
Who would have thought that 70% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats would agree on a comprehensive approach to gun safety? But the question remains: is anyone listening?
Who wrote that Americans believe their values are universal values? - History
The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are its values and beliefs. Values are a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society. Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and teaching a culture’s beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true. Individuals in a society have specific beliefs, but they also share collective values. To illustrate the difference, Americans commonly believe in the American Dream—that anyone who works hard enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the American value that wealth is good and important.
Values help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, sought or avoided. Consider the value that the United States places upon youth. Children represent innocence and purity, while a youthful adult appearance signifies sexuality. Shaped by this value, individuals spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetic products and surgeries to look young and beautiful. The United States also has an individualistic culture, meaning people place a high value on individuality and independence. In contrast, many other cultures are collectivist, meaning the welfare of the group and group relationships are a primary value.
Living up to a culture’s values can be difficult. It’s easy to value good health, but it’s hard to quit smoking. Marital monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity and equal opportunities for all people are valued in the United States, yet the country’s highest political offices have been dominated by white men.
Values often suggest how people should behave, but they don’t accurately reflect how people do behave. Values portray an ideal culture , the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs from real culture , the way society actually is, based on what occurs and exists. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders, poverty, or racial tension. But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to prevent or repair those accidents, crimes, and injustices. American teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy. However, the number of unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that not only is the ideal hard to live up to, but the value alone is not enough to spare teenagers the potential consequences of having sex.
One way societies strive to put values into action is through rewards, sanctions, and punishments. When people observe the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly woman board a bus may receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may receive a quarterly bonus. People sanction certain behaviors by giving their support, approval, or permission, or by instilling formal actions of disapproval and nonsupport. Sanctions are a form of social control , a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms. Sometimes people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions: good grades, for instance, may mean praise from parents and teachers. From a criminal justice perspective, properly used social control is also inexpensive crime control. Utilizing social control approaches pushes most people to conform to societal rules, regardless of whether authority figures (such as law enforcement) are present.
When people go against a society’s values, they are punished. A boy who shoves an elderly woman aside to board the bus first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A business manager who drives away customers will likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label—lazy, no-good bum—or to legal sanctions, such as traffic tickets, fines, or imprisonment.
In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is considered normal for men to hold hands in friendship. How would Americans react to these two soldiers? (Photo courtesy of Geordie Mott/Wikimedia Commons)
Values are not static they vary across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change collective societal beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values about what kinds of physical closeness are appropriate in public. It’s rare to see two male friends or coworkers holding hands in the United States where that behavior often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in many nations, masculine physical intimacy is considered natural in public. This difference in cultural values came to light when people reacted to photos of former president George W. Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in 2005. A simple gesture, such as hand-holding, carries great symbolic differences across cultures.
1. The existence of social norms, both formal and informal, is one of the main things that inform ___________, otherwise known as a way to encourage social conformity.
Values: Schwartz theory of basic values
Purpose: To identify personal values that are robust across cultures and that can help explain diversity and conflict in values.
Description: Six main features, relevant to all values, are described first. This is followed by an outline of ten basic personal values, with a guide to which are congruent and which conflict.
Six main features of values
- “Values are beliefs linked inextricably to affect. When values are activated, they become infused with feeling”.
- “Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action.”
- “Values transcend specific actions and situations. … This feature distinguishes values from norms and attitudes that usually refer to specific actions, objects, or situations.”
- “Values serve as standards or criteria. Values guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people, and events. People decide what is good or bad, justified or illegitimate, worth doing or avoiding, based on possible consequences for their cherished values. But the impact of values in everyday decisions is rarely conscious. Values enter awareness when the actions or judgments one is considering have conflicting implications for different values one cherishes.”
- “Values are ordered by importance relative to one another. People’s values form an ordered system of priorities that characterize them as individuals.”
- “The relative importance of multiple values guides action. Any attitude or behaviour typically has implications for more than one value. … The tradeoff among relevant, competing values guides attitudes and behaviors… Values influence action when they are relevant in the context (hence likely to be activated) and important to the actor.”
These six features are relevant to all values.
Ten basic personal values
The Schwartz theory of basic values identifies ten broad personal values, which are differentiated by the underlying goal or motivation. These values are likely to be universal because they help humans cope with one or more of the following three universal requirements of existence:
- needs of individuals as biological organisms
- requisites of coordinated social interaction
- survival and welfare needs of groups.
The ten broad personal values are:
- “Self-Direction – Defining goal: independent thought and action–choosing, creating, exploring.”
- “Stimulation – Defining goal: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.”
- “Hedonism – Defining goal: pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.”
- “Achievement – Defining goal: personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.”
- “Power – Defining goal: social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.”
- “Security – Defining goal: safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.”
- “Conformity – Defining goal: restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.”
- “Tradition – Defining goal: respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture or religion provides.”
- “Benevolence – Defining goal: preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).”
- “Universalism – Defining goal: understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.”
Dynamic relations among the values
Relations among these 10 broad personal values are dynamic. Actions pursuing one value “have consequences that conflict with some values but are congruent with others.” This has “practical, psychological, and social consequences.” “Of course, people can and do pursue competing values, but not in a single act. Rather, they do so through different acts, at different times, and in different settings.”
The figure below provides a quick guide to values that conflict and those that are congruent. There are two bipolar dimensions. One “contrasts ‘openness to change’ and ‘conservation’ values. This dimension captures the conflict between values that emphasize independence of thought, action, and feelings and readiness for change (self-direction, stimulation) and values that emphasize order, self-restriction, preservation of the past, and resistance to change (security, conformity, tradition).”
Tradition and conformity are located in a single wedge because they share the same broad motivational goal. Tradition is on the periphery because it conflicts more strongly with the opposing values.
“The second dimension contrasts ‘self-enhancement’ and ‘self-transcendence’ values. This dimension captures the conflict between values that emphasize concern for the welfare and interests of others (universalism, benevolence) and values that emphasize pursuit of one’s own interests and relative success and dominance over others (power, achievement).”
“Hedonism shares elements of both openness to change and self-enhancement.”
There are two major methods for measuring the basic values: the Schwartz Value Survey and the Portrait Values Questionnaire.
Schwartz’ work also examines relationships between different values in more detail, which is useful for a richer analysis of how values affect behaviour and attitudes, as well as the interests that they express.
Reference: Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2, 1. Online: http://dx.doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116
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Posted: February 2017
Last modified: April 2020
What’s Exceptional About American Exceptionalism?
A mericans like to believe that they are an exceptional people. We speak of ourselves as a nation lifting our light beside the golden door, a people who “more than self their country loved and mercy more than life,” in the words of “America the Beautiful.” The first person to apply the term “exceptional” to Americans was a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his prophetic survey of American life in the 1830s, Democracy in America. But the germ of the idea had been around even longer, and it has never lost its grip on our imagination. Rallying Americans to his program for a new “Morning in America,” Ronald Reagan described America in almost mystical terms as a “shining city on a hill.” The light it shone with was like none that lighted any other nation. “I’ve always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way,” Reagan said in 1983, “that there was some divine plan that placed the two great continents here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a deep love for freedom.” In his 2012 presidential bid, Mitt Romney hailed America as “an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world.” By contrast, the man who defeated Romney pointedly spoke of America in unexceptional terms, explaining to the Financial Times that if America was exceptional, it was only in the same sense that “the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” American exceptionalism has almost become a modern political litmus test.
But what is “American exceptionalism”—and what is exceptional about it? Reagan’s invocation of the “shining city on a hill” echoed what many commentators have assumed is the basic statement of American exceptionalism: John Winthrop’s layman’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” which he delivered to the colonists he was leading to find refuge for English Puritans in Massachusetts in 1629. But none of the British North American colonies—not even Winthrop’s Massachusetts—saw itself as an exception to the basic European assumptions about how a society should be organized. All the colonies, in varying measures, believed that societies were organized as hierarchies—pyramids, if you will—with the king at the top, the lords and nobility beneath, and the common folk on the bottom. Like all good pyramids, the colonial one was supposed to be static each layer was to work reciprocally with the others, not in competition. The idea that people could start small and poor and work their way up to the top was considered dangerous. Those who did make it to the top did so, not through work but through the patronage of those already there. There would remain differences between England and its colonies—as native-born Englishmen would remind their colonial brethren—but those distinctions existed within the same recognizable European hierarchy of kings, lords, and commons.
That might have been the way America developed, too, if not for two events. The first was the Enlightenment, which proposed a radically exceptional way of reconceiving human societies. The Enlightenment began as a scientific movement, and especially as a rebellion by scientists like Galileo and Isaac Newton, against the medieval interpretation of the physical world. Medieval thinkers viewed the physical universe as no less a hierarchy than the political world, with Earth at the bottom, and ascending in levels of perfection through the moon, the planets, the stars, and finally, the heavens. This structure had already begun to come apart in the 1500s, when Niklaus Copernicus insisted that viewing the solar system in this way was contradicted by observing the motion of the planets themselves. But it took its greatest blow from Galileo, who trained the newfangled telescope on the moon and observed that nothing about it looked like the next step up in a hierarchy from Earth. It remained for Isaac Newton to show us that the various parts of the physical world were not related by order or rank but by natural laws and forces, like gravity, which were uniform and equal in the operation.
Eventually, people wondered whether the new rules that described the operations of the physical world might have some application to the political world, too. Taking their cue from the revolution in the physical sciences, philosophers sought to describe a natural political order, free of artificial hierarchies such as kings, lords, and commons. They dared to talk about equality rather than pyramids, about universal natural rights rather than inherited status, about commerce rather than patronage, and to question why some half-wit should get to wear a crown, just because his father had done so. But all the Enlightenment’s political philosophers could offer as alternatives were thought experiments about desert islands or ideal commonwealths, and the kings continued to sit undisturbed on their thrones.
The second event was the one that really gave birth to American exceptionalism: the American Revolution. For in one stupendous burst of energy, Americans overturned the entire structure—political, constitutional, legal, and social—of hierarchy and applied the Enlightenment’s thought experiments about equality and natural rights to practical politics.
The confidence that Americans displayed in the existence of a natural political order based on natural rights and natural law was so profound that Thomas Jefferson could describe the most basic of these rights—to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—as “self-evident.” The Virginia Declaration of Rights—another product of the year 1776—explained that “all men . . . have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” Americans did not merely demand a corrected version of British common law or Britain’s hierarchical society they proclaimed that they were creating a novus ordo seclorum. Their voice, said Frederick Douglass, “was as the trump of an archangel, summoning hoary forms of oppression and time-honored tyranny, to judgment. . . . It announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages.”
“The idea that people could start small and poor and work their way up to the top was considered dangerous.”
C reating a new politics in America that broke decisively with the past proved surprisingly easier than we might have expected. Whatever lip service they had paid to the old theories of hierarchy during the century and a half before 1776, the colonists, in everyday practice, had developed their own consent-based civil society, created ad hoc legislatures, written their own laws, and spread landownership so broadly across the North Atlantic seaboard that, by the time of the Revolution, 90 percent of the colonists were landowners. Benjamin Franklin remembered that his father, a tallow chandler in Boston, had no particular education, “but his great Excellence lay in a sound understanding and solid judgment in prudential matters, both in private and publick affairs. . . . I remember well his being frequently visited by leading people, who consulted him for his opinion in affairs of the town or of the church he belonged to, and showed a good deal of respect for his judgment and advice: he was also . . . frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties.” Americans like Franklin’s father were, in effect, already desert islands and ideal commonwealths the political philosophy of the Enlightenment gave them a theory that matched the realities they had been living.
The American mix of Enlightenment theory and practical experience in government produced a result that was seen from the first as—there is no other word for it—exceptional. In revolutionary America, reveled Tom Paine, Americans are about “to begin the world over again. . . . The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months.” That “portion of freedom” would be a political order with no ranks, no prelates, no hierarchy a government that limited itself, and confined itself by a written Constitution and an identity based not on race or blood or soil or ancestry or even language but on a single proposition as relentlessly logical as it was frighteningly brief, that “all men are created equal.”
In European eyes, this was folly. The American decision to license equal citizens to govern themselves invited anarchy. Too many areas of public life, argued Otto von Bismarck in 1870, required an authoritative government to intervene and direct, and the more that authority was based on hierarchy and monarchy, the better. “Believe me,” prophesied Bismarck, “one cannot lead or bring to prosperity a great nation without the principle of authority—that is, the Monarchy.”
Americans compensated for whatever vacuum was made by limiting government through the invention of private, voluntary associations, “little communities by themselves,” as Pennsylvania leader George Bryan called them, to manage their affairs, without the need for a swollen imperial bureaucracy 3,000 miles away. And so they did: in Philadelphia alone, newly independent Americans created the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes, the Guardians of the Poor of the City of Philadelphia, the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor, the Hibernian Society, the Magdalen Society for the Shelter and Reformation of Fallen Women, the Society of the Free Instruction of Female Children, the Philadelphia Society for the Free Instruction of Indigent Boys, the Indigent Widows and Single Women’s Society—all without government sanction. Americans took association to the level of an art. Tocqueville surveyed the proliferation of American self-help groups and concluded that “the extraordinary fragmentation of administrative power” in America was offset by the multiplicity of “religious, moral . . . commercial and industrial associations” that substituted themselves for European lords and chancellors.
Thus, American exceptionalism began as a new kind of politics. Americans had not merely done something different they had captured in living form a natural order that made the old political systems of Europe look as artificial and irrational as fully as Newton’s laws had made medieval physics irrelevant. “We Americans are the peculiar chosen people,” wrote Herman Melville, “the Israel of our time we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.”
B ut establishing a novel political framework was to create only the first leg of what became a three-legged stool of American exceptionalism. If it was not inherited rank and titles that gave authority in society, then it was up to the free initiative of citizens to make of themselves what they wanted, and with government itself so deliberately self-limited, their energies would run instead in the direction of commerce. They would create not only a new politics but also a new economy—the second leg.
“What, then, is the American, this new man?” asked transplanted Frenchman Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur in 1782. “He is an American,” Crèvecoeur replied, who has stopped doing what others tell him he must do. He has escaped “from involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labour” and has “passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence.” Inside the stiff boundaries of hierarchy, Europeans looked down upon labor as slavery and trade as the unsavory pursuit of the small-minded bourgeoisie—in America, there was almost nothing except a bourgeoisie, and it gloried in labor and commerce. British novelist Frances Trollope was appalled to listen to Americans “in the street, on the road, or in the field, at the theatre, the coffee-house, or at home,” who never seemed to talk “without the word DOLLAR being pronounced between them.” But other Europeans were enchanted by the liberty of American commerce. J. C. Loudoun’s Encyclopaedia of Agriculture recommended that its British readers emigrate to America, since the American “form of government” guaranteed that “property is secure, and personal liberty greater there than anywhere else . . . and both maintained at less expense than under any government in the world.” In America, wrote the French evangelical pastor Georges Fisch, in 1863, “There is no restraint whatever on the liberty of business transactions.” Nor did it matter much who succeeded on a given day and who didn’t, because the next day those who were down were likely to be up.
Abraham Lincoln captured this dynamic when he said that in America, “every man can make himself.” There would always be extremes of wealth and inequalities of enterprise. What mitigated those inequalities was an incessant tumbling-up and tumbling-down, so that one man’s wealth achieved at one moment could pass into the hands of others at another. “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world,” Lincoln said in 1859 (with his own history in mind), “labors for wages a while, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.” This, Lincoln believed, represented a “just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all.” Not all would prosper, but that was no argument against the “system” as a whole.
Significantly, the energy with which Americans threw themselves into unfettered commercial exchange was soon seen as a primary obstacle in the path of a newer enemy of hierarchy—socialism—which emerged out of the self-inflicted wreckage of nineteenth-century aristocracies. Socialism’s great architect, Karl Marx, believed that every society would move out of the old world of hierarchy into capitalism inevitably, capitalism would yield to socialism hence, the more advanced a nation becomes in capitalism, the closer it must be to embracing socialism—and eventually Communism.
But Marx was baffled by how the United States defied this rule. No nation seemed more fully imbued with capitalism, yet no nation showed less interest in becoming socialist. This became one of the unresolved puzzles of socialist theory, and it gave rise to frustrated socialists (like Werner Sombart) who struggled with the question: Why is there no socialism in America? Sombart blamed it on the drug of material abundance: socialism, he complained, had foundered in America “on the shoals of roast beef and apple pie.” But another socialist, Leon Samson, had seen better than Sombart that the real enemy of socialism was exceptionalism itself, because Americans give “a solemn assent to a handful of final notions—democracy, liberty, opportunity, to all of which the American adheres rationalistically much as a socialist adheres to his socialism.”
Actually, Marx and Sombart were wrong. There had been an American socialism they were reluctant to recognize it as such because it came not in the form of a workers’ rebellion against capital but in the emergence of a plantation oligarchy in the slaveholding South. This “feudal socialism,” based on race, called into question all the premises of American exceptionalism, starting with the Declaration of Independence. Nor were slavery’s apologists shy about linking this oligarchy to European socialism, since, as George Fitzhugh asserted in 1854, “Slavery produces association of labor, and is one of the ends all Communists and Socialists desire.” What was extraordinary about this vast step away from American exceptionalism was the titanic effort that Americans made, in the Civil War, to correct it. That struggle—a civil war that (as Lincoln said) understood the American republic to be “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and aimed at the completion of the project of political equality for all its people—may be the most exceptional moment in all of American history, for there is no record of any other conflict quite like the war that Americans waged among themselves, to “die to make men free.” And everyone, down to the slaves themselves, knew that freedom and equality were means toward social mobility and economic self-transformation, not a frozen egalitarianism. “We have as a people no past and very little present, but a boundless and glorious future,” said Frederick Douglass, himself once a slave—one who nevertheless believed that American opportunity was without a copy anywhere else. “America is not only the exception to the general rule, but the social wonder of the world.”
T he third leg of the exceptionalist stool was the attitude and relationship that the United States was to adopt toward the rest of the world, where hierarchy still ruled. This has proved a wobbly leg—it divides even exceptionalists—if only because Americans’ notions of what exceptionalism dictates in terms of policy toward other nations have changed since the Founding.
The novelty of exceptionalism’s first two legs—politics and economics—was so great that it was hard for Americans not to see them as part of a deliberate plan. Even before the Revolution, Jonathan Edwards, the architect of American religious revivals, had viewed America as the linchpin of a scheme of divine redemption for the world. “We may well look upon the discovery of so great a part of the world as America, and bringing the gospel into it,” he wrote, “as one thing by which divine Providence is preparing the way for the future glorious times of the church.” Timothy Dwight, Edwards’s grandson, took to poetry to translate these expectations about America’s role in redeeming Earth from Satan into a sacred mission to proclaim an American political gospel:
As the day-spring unbounded, thy splendor shall flow,
And earth’s little kingdoms before thee shall bow
While the ensigns of union, in triumph unfurl’d,
Hush the tumult of war, and give peace to the world.
But if God did have a special role for America, it was one that America was strictly charged to keep safe on its own shores its role would be passive and self-protective. Far from any desire to share their nation’s redemptive culture, Americans tended to regard the rest of the world as a potential threat, eager to strangle the American experiment by the reimposition of empire or by association with more unstable attempts at revolution—as in France. “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be,” promised John Quincy Adams in 1821. “But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” So when the Hungarian revolutionary Louis Kossuth came to America in 1852 to drum up support for his rebellion against the Austrian Empire, Lincoln spoke of him cordially, based on “our continued devotion to the principles of our free institutions.” But Lincoln made it plain that “it is the duty of our government to neither foment, nor assist, such revolutions in other governments.”
We were not, however, always consistent in this. The outsize influence of Southern slaveholding interests in American politics in the 1840s helped drag us into a war with Mexico, for no better reason than to acquire large stretches of territory that Southerners hoped to convert into slave states. We half-blundered into the Spanish-American War in 1898 and found ourselves with a colonial empire on our hands, in the form of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and, for all practical purposes, Cuba. And in 1917, we thrust ourselves into World War I behind President Woodrow Wilson’s notion that American democracy ought to be exported to Europe. These attempts to convert American exceptionalism into a missionary endeavor nearly always met with sabotage by other nations, which resented our claims to some unique political virtue and they met with serious criticism by other Americans—even outright rejection, as when America declined to join the League of Nations.
But even those criticisms disappeared after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which not only thrust us again into a worldwide conflict but also presented the question of how we could prevent such world crises from erupting. It had been demonstrated one too many times to American policymakers that the European states, left to themselves, were incapable of establishing a peaceful continental order so we have found ourselves, ever since, forced into the role of savior of civilization, whether through the Marshall Plan, NATO, NAFTA, the Security Council, or sometimes through simple unilateralism.
We have accepted this role since World War II, often because we believed we had little choice. But this role has had an adverse effect on American exceptionalism by repeatedly involving the United States in foreign-policy projects that do not yield easily to American solutions—and that then raise doubts about the exceptionalist assumptions behind those solutions. When we have turned to multilateral or multinational solutions, we find ourselves yoked to European and other allies, which, even if they have long since shucked the mantle of aristocracy and inherited hierarchy, have often replaced it with vast social bureaucracies that serve much the same purpose. If we act unilaterally, we find ourselves hounded by international condemnations of American claims of arrogance based on exceptionalism. If we fail to act, we are accused of isolationism.
The third leg is not the only one to suffer the wobbles. We are, for one thing, becoming less reliant on voluntary associations to accomplish the tasks of American society. We often see this illustrated in statistics showing how millennials have staged an unprecedented withdrawal from American churches, so that the share of Americans who refuse any religious affiliation has risen from one in 20 in 1972 to one in five today. But this is only part of a larger American withdrawal from a broad range of voluntary associations, from the PTA to bowling leagues. Between 1973 and 1995, the number of Americans who reported attending “a public meeting on town or school affairs” fell by more than a third PTA membership fell from more than 12 million in 1964 to barely 5 million in 1982. Even mainline civic organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross, have suffered declines since the 1970s. In the most general sense, Americans’ trust in one another has declined from a peak in the mid-1960s (when 56 percent of survey respondents affirmed that “most people can be trusted”) to a low today, in which only one in three Americans believes that “most people can be trusted.” Among millennials, it’s as low as one in five.
In the place of voluntary association, we have come to rely on state agencies and administrative law. This development has roots leading back to the Progressivism of the past century, which believed that American society had become too complex to be left to ordinary citizens, who lack the expertise to make government work efficiently. The same conviction animates modern progressives, as illustrated by the notorious 2012 campaign video The Life of Julia, which casts the life of one American as an utterly unexceptional progress through one European-style bureaucracy after another.
We have also seen the rise of identity politics, which has made us shy of asserting the old exceptionalism because every identity is now considered exceptional in itself. One’s identity as an American fades—even becomes optional—beside one’s identity as part of an ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural minority. This moves us a world away from Lincoln’s belief that the proposition set out in the Declaration trumped all other identities.
We’re no longer even sure that the Declaration has persuasive power. We are, writes Peter Beinart, “products of an educational system that, more than in the past, emphasizes inclusion and diversity, which may breed a discontent with claims that America is better than other nations.” Even conservative jurists like the late William Rehnquist allowed that U.S. courts should “begin looking to the decisions of other [nations’] constitutional courts to aid in their deliberative process.”
But nothing in our national life has so undermined confidence in American exceptionalism as the erosion of economic mobility. From the time we began measuring gross domestic product in the 1940s until 1970, American GDP grew at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent from 1970 to 1994, it slid to a growth rate of only 1.54 percent, recovered briefly to 2.26 percent, and then began sliding to its pre-Trump level of 1.21 percent. From 1948 until 1972, Americans in the lower 90 percent of income-earners saw their incomes rise by 2.65 percent annually—almost twice the income growth experienced by the same group between 1917 and 1948. Since 1972, though, the growth rate for the 90 percent has collapsed—in fact, turned negative—and middle-class workers who began their careers in the center of the earnings curve have seen their fortunes decline by 20 percent since 1980. The United States has become as economically immobile as the United Kingdom, where the top 10 percent calcify into a self-perpetuating aristocracy that sees itself as part of global networks of communications and exchange and feels little sympathy for those left behind.
“Nothing has so undermined confidence in American exceptionalism as the erosion of economic mobility.”
Is American exceptionalism merely an artifact of an earlier, more confident time in our history, which should now yield to the blandishments of globalization and conformity to multinational expectations? Only, I think, if we regard the ideas of the American Founders as being mere historical artifacts, too. What made the American experiment exceptional was precisely that it was not founded (like other national identities) on some myth or tribal legend but on the discovery of natural laws and natural rights as unarguable as gravity and born from the same intellectual source. Unhappily, natural law philosophy has been bumped from its place as the American philosophy by the pragmatism of William James and his heirs, and even more by the values pluralism of John Rawls and literary postmodernism. These approaches were supposed to liberate the mind from the restraint of fictitious narratives of honor, truth, and law—but overthrowing these principles merely became a platform for egotism and unfettered lust for power.
To discount American exceptionalism is to suggest that the American political order itself was only a figment of one nation’s imagination, at one time. If there is no such natural law, then, yes, let us discard exceptionalism but let us then say that neither the old hierarchy nor the new bureaucracy is wrong, either, and accept that all politics is merely an arena in which power, rather than law or right, determines our future.
I believe that the American experiment, based on the Declaration and embodied in the Constitution, belongs to an exceptional moment in human history, and remains exceptional. I believe that the U.S. economy is flexible enough to recover its mobility and astonish the world with its capacity to disrupt artificial barriers. And I believe that we can repair the deviations we have sustained from an overconfident mission-mentality without needing to accommodate ourselves to the mores of globalization. Globalization, after all, has been no great success its main accomplishment, as Christopher Lasch reminded us in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites, has not been international peace or prosperity but “the cosmopolitanism of the favored few . . . uninformed by the practice of citizenship.”
The task of restoring confidence in our exceptionalism will nevertheless be a daunting one. Exceptionalism will have to become what Lincoln called a “civil religion,” to be “breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap . . . taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges . . . written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs . . . preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.” The task will require a determined pushback against progressive unexceptionalism and the idea that only government can ensure efficiency and happiness. It will involve the revival of the rule of law (rather than agencies), the rejuvenation of our voluntary associations, and the celebration of their role in our public life. And it will force us to lift the burden of economic sclerosis, not merely with the aim of producing simple material abundance but also with the goal of promoting a national empathy, in which, as Georges Fisch saw in 1863, Americans rise and fall, and rise and fall again, without the stigma that consigns half the nation to a basket of deplorables.
Can this, realistically, be done? Can we disentangle our public life from the grasp of the new hierarchy of bureaucrats and, overseas, pull back from foreign-policy crusades? Can we, in short, recur successfully to our first principles?
Well, we did it once before.
Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and other books.
Top Photo: A scene from the American Revolutionary War, as depicted on the Washington Monument (PHAS/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP/GETTY IMAGES)
The Third Time of Trial
In conclusion it may be worthwhile to relate the civil religion to the most serious situation that we as Americans now face, what I call the third time of trial. The first time of trial had to do with the question of independence, whether we should or could run our own affairs in our own way. The second time of trial was over the issue of slavery, which in turn was only the most salient aspect of the more general problem of the full institutionalization of democracy within our country. This second problem we are still far from solving though we have some notable successes to our credit. But we have been overtaken by a third great problem that has led to a third great crisis, in the midst of which we stand. This is the problem of responsible action in a revolutionary world, a world seeking to attain many of the things, material and spiritual, that we have already attained. Americans have, from the beginning, been aware of the responsibility and the significance our republican experiment has for the whole world. The first internal political polarization in the new nation had to do with our attitude toward the French Revolution. But we were small and weak then, and "foreign entanglements" seemed to threaten our very survival. During the last century, our relevance for the world was not forgotten, but our role was seen as purely exemplary. Our democratic republic rebuked tyranny by merely existing. Just after World War I we were on the brink of taking a different role in the world, but once again we turned our backs.
Since World War II the old pattern has become impossible. Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has been groping toward a new pattern of action in the world, one that would be consonant with our power and our responsibilities. For Truman and for the period dominated by John Foster Dulles that pattern was seen to be the great Manichean confrontation of East and West, the confrontation of democracy and "the false philosophy of Communism" that provided the structure of Truman's inaugural address. But with the last years of Eisenhower and with the successive two presidents, the pattern began to shift. The great problems came to be seen as caused not solely by the evil intent of any one group of men. For Kennedy it was not so much a struggle against particular men as against "the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself."
But in the midst of this trend toward a less primitive conception of ourselves and our world, we have somehow, without anyone really intending it, stumbled into a military confrontation where we have come to feel that our honor is at stake. We have in a moment of uncertainty been tempted to rely on our overwhelming physical power rather than on our intelligence, and we have, in part, succumbed to this temptation. Bewildered and unnerved when our terrible power fails to bring immediate success, we are at the edge of a chasm the depth of which no man knows.
I cannot help but think of Robinson Jeffers, whose poetry seems more apt now than when it was written, when he said:
Unhappy country, what wings you have! .
Weep (it is frequent in human affairs), weep for
the terrible magnificence of the means,
The ridiculous incompetence of the reasons, the
But as so often before in similar times, we have a man of prophetic stature, without the bitterness or misanthropy of Jeffers, who, as Lincoln before him, calls this nation to its judgment:
When a nation is very powerful but lacking in self-confidence, it is likely to behave in a manner that is dangerous both to itself and to others.
Gradually but unmistakably, America is succumbing to that arrogance of power which has afflicted, weakened and in some cases destroyed great nations in the past.
If the war goes on and expands, if that fatal process continues to accelerate until America becomes what it is not now and never has been, a seeker after unlimited power and empire, then Vietnam will have had a mighty and tragic fallout indeed.
I do not believe that will happen. I am very apprehensive but I still remain hopeful, and even confident, that America, with its humane and democratic traditions, will find the wisdom to match its power. [xix]
Without an awareness that our nation stands under higher judgment, the tradition of the civil religion would be dangerous indeed. Fortunately, the prophetic voices have never been lacking. Our present situation brings to mind the Mexican-American war that Lincoln, among so many others, opposed. The spirit of civil disobedience that is alive today in the civil rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War was already clearly outlined by Henry David Thoreau when he wrote, "If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Thoreau's words, "I would remind my countrymen that they are men first, and Americans at a late and convenient hour," [xx] provide an essential standard for any adequate thought and action in our third time of trial. As Americans, we have been well favored in the world, but it is as men that we will be judged.
Out of the first and second times of trial have come, as we have seen, the major symbols of the American civil religion. There seems little doubt that a successful negotiation of this third time of trial-the attainment of some kind of viable and coherent world order-would precipitate a major new set of symbolic forms. So far the flickering flame of the United Nations burns too low to be the focus of a cult, but the emergence of a genuine transnational sovereignty would certainly change this. It would necessitate the incorporation of vital international symbolism into our civil religion, or, perhaps a better way of putting it, it would result in American civil religion becoming simply one part of a new civil religion of the world. It is useless to speculate on the form such a civil religion might take, though it obviously would draw on religious traditions beyond the sphere of biblical religion alone. Fortunately, since the American civil religion is not the worship of the American nation but an understanding of the American experience in the light of ultimate and universal reality, the reorganization entailed by such a new situation need not disrupt the American civil religion's continuity. A world civil religion could be accepted as a fulfillment and not as a denial of American civil religion. Indeed, such an outcome has been the eschatological hope of American civil religion from the beginning. To deny such an outcome would be to deny the meaning of America itself.
Behind the civil religion at every point lie biblical archetypes: Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem, and Sacrificial Death and Rebirth. But it is also genuinely American and genuinely new. It has its own prophets and its own martyrs, its own sacred events and sacred places, its own solemn rituals and symbols. It is concerned that America be a society as perfectly in accord with the will of God as men can make it, and a light to all nations.
It has often been used and is being used today as a cloak for petty interests and ugly passions. It is in need-as any living faith-of continual reformation, of being measured by universal standards. But it is not evident that it is incapable of growth and new insight.
It does not make any decisions for us. It does not remove us from moral ambiguity, from being, in Lincoln's fine phrase, an "almost chosen people." But it is a heritage of moral and religious experience from which we still have much to learn as we formulate the decisions that lie ahead.
In Smithsonian Race Guidelines, Rational Thinking and Hard Work Are White Values
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture recently unveiled guidelines for talking about race. A graphic displayed in the guidelines, entitled "Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness in the United States," declares that rational thinking and hard work, among others, are white values.
In the section, Smithsonian declares that "objective, rational, linear thinking," "quantitative emphasis," "hard work before play," and various other values are aspects and assumptions of whiteness.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture had no comment for Newsweek. They referred to the website's page titled "Whiteness" when asked for additional comment. The graphic was later removed from the page.
"White dominant culture, or whiteness, refers to the ways white people and their traditions, attitudes, and ways of life have been normalized over tiem and are now considered standard practices in the United States," the introduction to the section reads. "And since white people still hold most of the institutuional power in America, we have all internalized some aspects of white culture&mdash including people of color."
Another section says that white values include "steak and potatoes: 'bland is best'" and that white people have "no tolerance for deviation from a single god concept."
Other subsections deal with "family structure," "rugged individualism," "Protestant work ethic" and "aesthetics."
The "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" section says that white people do not need to worry about certain things, such as doing things alone without being followed or harassed, along with feeling that their race is properly represented.
"Thinking about race is very different for nonwhite persons living in America," the Smithsonian site continues. "People of color must always consider their racial identity, whatever the situation, due to the systemic and interpersonal racism that still exists."
On July 15, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture clarified their portal's intentions and how readers should approach the information. "At a time when the soul of our country is being tested, our Talking About Race portal will help individuals and communities foster constructive conversations and much needed dialogue about one of our nation's most challenging topics: Racism and its corrosive impact," the museum began a Twitter thread.
"America is once again facing the challenge of race, a challenge that needs all of our understanding and commitment," it continued. "Our portal was designed to help individuals, families, and communities talk about racism, racial identity and how forces shape every aspect of our society."
"As an institution devoted to learning and education, we welcome those discussions while also encouraging the public to take a holistic approach and read the information in the full context," the thread concluded, pointing followers to the site's page about Talking About Race.
At a time when the soul of our country is being tested, our Talking About Race portal will help individuals and communities foster constructive conversations and much needed dialogue about one of our nation's most challenging topics: Racism and its corrosive impact.&mdash Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC) July 16, 2020
We strongly recommend:
In relation to the European Revolutions of 1848 the historian Eric Hobsbawm has written:
In 1806 the Habsburg Emperor, who held the "Holy Roman" Imperial title and exercised direct dynastic authority over many lands stretching from Poland to the Mediterranean, was hard-pressed by the activities of Napoleon Bonaparte, and accepted the termination of the Holy Roman Empire (due to sweeping reforms instituted by Napoleon in western parts of Germanic Europe), and adopted the title of Emperor of Austria.
In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the European Revolutions of 1848.
In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the conclusion that:
We are pleased to make available a series of informative pages about the highly significant and, we would venture to suggest, the prodigiously historically instructive European Revolutions of 1848:
1 The European Revolutions of 1848 begin A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.
2 The French Revolution of 1848 A particular focus on France - as an Austrian foreign minister said "When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".
3 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848 A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.
4 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe "Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality".
5 The European Revolutions - reactionary aftermath 1848-1849 Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist aspiration, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), was elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately followed policies which resulted in dramatic changes to the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.
The events of 1848-1849 arose from the strong emergence into the Socio-Politico-Economic History of nineteenth-century Europe of populist forces such as Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Nationalism and Socialism.
These populist forces were promoted by various interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic Empires and Kingdoms of Europe, often challenging the continuance of dynastic authority and governance and proving to be competitive, in that popular aspirations expressed by some interest groups often proved unpalatable to other interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic states of Europe.
Middle class liberals, who had favoured constitutional rather than dynastic governance, were amongst the first of the previously pro-reform aspirational groups to return to supporting dynastic authority when it became plain that other populist interest groups favoured wider extensions of democracy than they themselves wished to see adopted.
Rural dwellers were often largely satisfied with reforms to systems of land tenure and the reduction of obligations to provide assistance, through labour-services, to their landlords. Once such reforms were put in place in the Austrian Empire, country dwellers, although often relatively materially poor, tended accept the suppression of urban radicalism and the re-establishment of dynastic authorities.
All in all a "united front" failed to become established amongst those seeking reform and gradually proved possible for dynastic authorities to re-assert themselves often with the aid of their pre-revolutionary military forces.
The historian A. J. P. Taylor later referred to the events of 1848 as being "a turning-point when history failed to turn" nevertheless "The Future" was put on notice that such populist-aspirational forces were capable of making pressing claims in relation to Socio-Politico-Economic developments.