Monday, September 2, 2019

What is unique about America

Chesterton's observations about humor and familiarity were in the context of his observations about questions posed by America to foreigners: “Are you an anarchist?” and “Are you in favour of
subverting the government of the United States by force?” As if “anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.”

Seeking not to be the traveler who “has found something to make him laugh, and he will not suffer it to make him think,” he continued, “It is not to deny that American officialism is rather peculiar on this point, but to inquire what it really is which makes America peculiar, or which is peculiar to America.”
America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.

That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just.

It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. …

Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless.

America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship.

In short, it is not fair to do what almost every Englishman probably does; to look at the American international examination paper, and laugh and be satisfied with saying, ‘We don't have any of that nonsense in England.’ We do not have any of that nonsense in England because we have never attempted to have any of that philosophy in England. …

It is quite true that the phrase occurs on no British forms that I have seen. But this is not only because most of the Englishmen are not anarchists. It is even more because even the anarchists are Englishmen. …

In a word, what is unique is not America but what is called Americanisation.

America is the one place in the world where this process, healthy or unhealthy, possible or impossible, is going on. And the process, as I have pointed out, is not internationalisation. It would be truer to say it is the nationalisation of the internationalised. It is making a home out of vagabonds and a nation out of exiles. …

America is nearer to Europe than England is. If she is not nearer to Bulgaria, she is nearer to Bulgars; if she is not nearer to Bohemia, she is nearer to Bohemians. In my New York hotel the head waiter in the dining-room was a Bohemian; the head waiter in the grill-room was a Bulgar.

Americans have nationalities at the end of the street which for us are at the ends of the earth.
Source: What I Saw in America by G. K. Chesterton

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