The Americans

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Beschreibung des Verlags

Whosoever wishes to describe the political life of the American people can accomplish this end from a number of starting points. Perhaps he would begin most naturally with the Articles of the Constitution and expound the document which has given to the American body-politic its remarkable and permanent form; or he might ramble through history and trace out from petty colonies the rise of a great world-power; or he might make his way through that multitude of events which to-day arouse the keenest public interest, the party strifes and presidential elections, the burdens and amenities of city and state, the transactions of the courts and of Congress. Yet all this would be but a superficial delineation. Whoever wishes to understand the secret of that baffling turmoil, the inner mechanism and motive behind all the politically effective forces, must set out from only one point. He must appreciate the yearning of the American heart after self-direction. Everything else is to be understood from this.

In his social life the American is very ready to conform to the will of another. With an inborn good-nature, and often too willingly, perhaps, he lends himself to social situations which are otherwise inconvenient. Thus his guest, for instance, is apt to feel like a master in his house, so completely is his own will subordinated to that of the guest. But, on the other hand, in the sphere of public life, the individual, or a more or less restricted group of individuals, feels that it must guide its own activities to the last detail if these are to have for it any value or significance whatsoever. He will allow no alien motive to be substituted—neither the self-renunciation of fidelity or gratitude, nor the æsthetic self-forgetfulness of hero-worship, nor even the recognition that a material advantage would accrue or some desirable end be more readily achieved if the control and responsibility were to be vested in some one else. This self-direction is neither arbitrary nor perverse; least of all does it indicate a love of ease or aversion to toil. In Russia, as a well-known American once said, serfdom could be wiped out by a stroke of the Czar’s pen, and millions of Russians would be freed from slavery with no loss of life or property. “We Americans had to offer up a half-million lives and many millions’ worth of property in order to free our slaves. And yet nothing else was to be thought of. We had to overcome that evil by our own initiative, and by our own exertions reach our goal. And just because we are Americans and not Russians no power on earth could have relieved us of our responsibility.”

When in any people the desire of self-direction dominates all other motives, the form of government of that people is necessarily republican. But it does not conversely follow that every republic is grounded in this spirit of self-direction. Hence it is that the republic of the United States is so entirely different from all other republics, since in no other people is the craving for self-determination so completely the informing force. The republics of Middle and South America, or of France, have sprung from an entirely different political spirit; while those newer republics, which in fundamental intention are perhaps more similar, as for instance Switzerland, are still not comparable because of their diminutive size. The French republic is founded on rationalism. The philosophy of the eighteenth century, with its destructive criticism of the existing order, furnished the doctrines, and from that seed of knowledge there grew and still are growing the practical ideals of France. But the political life of the United States sprang not from reasoned motives but from ideals; it is not the result of insight but of will; it has not a logical but a moral foundation. And while in France the principles embodied in the constitution are derived from theory, the somewhat doubtful doctrines enunciated in the Declaration of Independence are merely a corollary to that system of moral ideals which is indissolubly combined with the American character.

14. Januar
Library of Alexandria

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