“The Americans have a democratic social state that has given birth to a multitude of sentiments and opinions…that were unknown in the old aristocratic societies…The aspect of civil society has met with change no less than the visage of the political world.”
--Alexis de Tocqueville
“What I have seen among the Anglo-Americans brings me to believe that democratic institutions of this nature, introduced prudently into society, that would mix little by little with habits and gradually blend with the very opinions of the people, could subsist elsewhere than in America.” --de Tocqueville
· Third most populous country in the world
· Economy produces nearly a third of the world’s goods and services
Military is more
powerful than all of the rest of the world’s militaries combined.
· Credit card debt is nearly a trillion dollars. By the 1740s the Colonies had the highest per capita income in the world.
Divorce rate is
6.2 percent per thousand (Next highest is
· Fifty-nine percent of Americans say religion plays a very important role in their life. 90 percent say they believe in God. Less than 1 percent call themselves atheists or agnostics
· Americans spend 10 days on vacation per year—lower than 7 other countries
Questions for discussion:
· What is an American?
What ideal is
most sacred in
· How can the world’s most egalitarian nation allow such a yawning gap between rich and poor, a gap that grows wider each year?
· How does a nation of immigrants, with its impulse for inclusiveness, square with its history of division and racial strife? Diverse Americans managed to live together when there was space to live apart! E.g., Anne Hutchinson, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Boone—frontier always provided an opportunity for a new start somewhere
Who are our common heroes?
history? Battle of Little Big Horn,
What is meant by blood? – Hmong Marine
man has been
· American settlers and pioneers were necessarily self-reliant: Government could neither effectively bind them nor give them aid.
· Emerson: Self-reliance: “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” “I have only one doctrine, the infinitude of the private man.”
Thoreau: Civil Disobedience: dissent:
“Shall we be content to obey unjust laws or transgress them at
· Benjamin Franklin
· Colin Powell
· Julian Sanchez
· Lone Ranger, James Dean, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg
· Since the 1960s there has been a rise in measures of malaise, from the use of anti-depressants to suicide rates. Medical studies confirm that individuals are sicker and die sooner in direct proportion to the degree that they are isolated from others.
Religion (What does “one nation under God” mean to you?) It wasn’t until the 1950s that Congress opened with a prayer in the Capitol, made “In God We Trust” the official national motto, and required its inclusion on all currency, and added “under God” to “The Pledge of Allegiance.” Does it mean that we are held to a higher moral principal? Or does it mean “God is on our side?” The Star-Spangled Banner: And when conquer we must, and our cause it is just, then this be our motto, In God is our Trust.”
· Many of the original colonies were founded as religious havens for dissenting sects or for all believers. The past quarter century has seen a surge in evangelical Christianity, reminiscent of the Great Awakening and the Can Brake revival—and this despite the loosening of traditional moral strictures against abortion, divorce, and single parenthood.
Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “city upon a hill” an example to others; Abraham
Fathers” sought to practice their own brand of Christianity and to found a
Christian state, to govern according to the rule of the word of God. Jerry Falwell: “I think we need a re-conversion of the
country to a traditionalist, Christian point of view—and I don’t see that
· The Puritans believed that each person received marching orders directly from God. In their new society people would interact as equals, and God would reward the just. Wealth = righteousness
· Enlightenment—First Great Awakening (emphasized individual religious experience and subtly challenged the authority of the established sects.)—Second Great Awakening (Populist, revivalist Christianity spread hand in hand with Jacksonian democracy—bolstering the American creed of liberty, individualism, and equality)—Third Great Awakening (end of 19th century emphasized eliminating the gap between institutions and ideals and creating a just and equitable society)—Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Materialism—Conspicuous consumption was coined in 1899—Why are we materialistic? Expression of freedom and individualism “have it your way”
· By 2003, personal consumption accounted for 70 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
· We work long hours.
· We satisfy our wants through debt.
· Our identity is formed through our objects.
· American excess: three-car garages, big malls, super-size meals,
· Americans shell out more for garbage bags than 90 of the world’s 210 countries spend for everything.
· “I know of no country indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men. The love of wealth is therefore to be traced, as either a principal or an accessory motive, at the bottom of all that the Americans do.”
· We escape poverty through land, trade, craft, toil, free market
· We had land and resources available to use to make ourselves wealthy
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