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Is America a Unique and Special Country?

There is nothing wrong with Americans except their ideals. The real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong.

G. K. Chesterton

America is not only essential to the existence of Europe, it is also an essential part of Western civilization without which the survival of the latter is hardly conceivable. But though it forms part of Western civilization it is not a part of Europe, and endless misunderstandings have been caused by a failure to observe this distinction. For the civilization of the United States has a dual character. On the one hand, it is a Western extension of European culture—on the other, it is the civilization of a New World: a world which is highly conscious of its individuality, and which feels itself to be separate and different from the Old World—not only from the world of Asia, but from the world of Europe and of Western Europe too. This dual character is deeply rooted in American history: indeed it may almost be described as the root of American history.

Christopher Dawson (from Understanding Europe, 1952)

Europe will never be like America. Europe is a product of history. America is a product of philosophy.

Margaret Thatcher

I have ever deemed it fundamental for the United States never to take active part in the quarrels of Europe. Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government are foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labour, property, and lives of their people. On our part, never had a people so favourable a chance of trying the opposite system of peace and fraternity with mankind, and the direction of all our means and faculties to the purposes of improvement instead of destruction.

Thomas Jefferson (from a letter to President Monroe in 1823)

America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success.

Sigmund Freud

For many Americans business is the business of life. It is also the romance of life. We shall admire or deplore this spirit, accordingly as we are glad to see trade irradiated with so much poetry, or sorry to see so much poetry wasted on trade. But it does make many people happy, like any other hobby; and one is disposed to add that it does fill their imaginations like any other delusion. For the true criticism of all this commercial romance would involve a criticism of this historic phase of commerce. These people are building on sand, though it shines like gold, and for them like fairy gold. Half the financial operations they follow deal with things that do not even exist; for in that sense all finance is a fairy tale. Many of them are buying and selling things that do nothing but harm; but it does them good to buy and sell them . . . Business really is romance; for it is not reality.

G. K. Chesterton (from What I Saw in America, 1922)

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

Alexis de Tocqueville

Speaking of his father, publisher Frank Sheed, Wilfrid Sheed writes: ‘On the way home, he breezed through the United States on a lecture tour—anyone could give a lecture tour in the U.S. back then. You only had to ask. Henceforth, his life would somewhat resemble a pool hustler’s, as he paid his way from coast to coast playing the speaking game, but there was always something 1920s about his view of America: a very lawless country, an alcoholic country, he would say. Also poorly educated, unmodulated voices. Beautiful young people but no real faces among the middle aged. Fat. For a future apostle to this country, Frank took his sweet time about liking it, and even longer about respecting it. But then, as he might say, who knows what Saint Patrick really thought of the Irish?’

Individualism is the death of individuality. It is so, if only because it is an “ism.” Many Americans become almost impersonal in their worship of personality. Where their natural selves might differ, their ideal selves tend to be the same... There is not quite enough un[self-]consciousness to produce real individuality.

G. K. Chesterton

In a democratic political order there’s always the danger that independent thought might be translated into political action. So it is important to eliminate the threat at its root. Debate cannot be stilled and indeed should not be stilled in a properly functioning system of propaganda. The reason is that it has a system reinforcing character if it is constrained within proper bounds. What is essential is to set the bounds firmly. Controversy may rage as long as it adheres to the presuppositions that define the elite consensus. And it should furthermore be encouraged within these bounds. That helps establish these doctrines as the very condition of thinkable thought, and it reinforces the belief that freedom reigns.

Noam Chomsky

In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Once when Churchill was staying at the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt attacked him for his colonialist views on India. “The Indians,” she charged, “have suffered for years under British oppression.” Churchill replied, “Well, Mrs. R., are we talking about the brown-skinned Indians in India who have multiplied under benevolent British rule, or are we speaking about the red-skinned Indians in America who, I understand, are now almost extinct?”

Intellectually, I know that America is no better than any other country; emotionally I know she is better than every other country.

Sinclair Lewis

America is the greatest, freest and most decent society in existence. It is an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism. This country, once an experiment unique in the world, is now the last best hope for the world.

Dinesh D’Souza

In 1842 Charles Dickens wrote in a letter back to England, ‘I tremble for a Radical coming here [to America], unless he is a Radical on principle, by reason and reflection, and from the sense of right. I fear that if he were anything else he would return home a Tory... I say no more on that subject for two months from this time, save that I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country, in the failure of its example on the earth.’

The Belgenland docked at San Diego to a scene straight out of bedlam. There were crowds at the dock, led by the usual phalanx of reporters, cameramen and the newsreel crews. This was the landfall where Einstein received his honour guard of cheerleaders, five hundred of them, chanting his name as he and Elsa strolled by... Given his loathing for uniform and his deep belief that “the herd as such remains dull in thought and feeling,” it beggars the imagination to guess Einstein’s thoughts as he passed along the row of roaring girls.

Thomas Levenson (from Einstein in Berlin, 2003)

America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up.

Oscar Wilde




Thoughts about America

America abides, the only truly great nation in the world, endearingly almost unaware of its economic, military, and popular cultural supremacy.

Conrad Black

England recognizes a criminal class at the bottom of the social scale. America also recognizes a criminal class at the top of the social scale. In both, for various reasons, it may be difficult for the criminals to be convicted; but in America the upper class of criminals is recognized.

G. K. Chesterton

America has never been an empire. We may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused—preferring greatness to power and justice to glory.

George W. Bush

While there is no materialism so crude or so material as American materialism, there is also no idealism so crude or so ideal as American idealism.

G. K. Chesterton

America is . . . the land of the future, where, in the ages that lie before us, the burden of the World’s History shall reveal itself.

Hegel

By and large the United States is run by the corporations and they hire lawyers from Whittier and actors from Warner Brothers to impersonate presidents, but the actual governing of the United States is done in the board rooms of America.

Gore Vidal

Perhaps the simultaneously most profound and silliest words ever written were: “We hold these truths to be self-evident...”

M. Scott Peck

I knew it [his second marriage] would be well received. America loves a redeemed sinner.

Hugh Hefner

It is the great glory of Americans that they are not cynical.

G. K. Chesterton

In the US Constitution, the state is, by implication, a necessary evil: in the Soviet Constitution, it is a necessary good.

Peter Ustinov

The hatred Americans have for their own government is pathological... at one level it is simply thwarted greed: since our religion is making a buck, giving a part of that buck to any government is an act against nature.

Gore Vidal

The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.

Alexis de Tocqueville

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.

Winston Churchill

There is something very wonderful about this country, but not for me. In no country that I’ve been in have I felt so completely an outsider as here.

Malcolm Muggeridge

While lecturing in America Hilaire Belloc wrote the following in a letter back to England: ‘The utter foreignness of that mechanical life, even to me who knows the place so well and for so many years and who admires the simplicity and huge generosity of its strange people is a burden beyond bearing...’

We are being swallowed up by the popular culture of the United States, but then the Americans are being swallowed up by it too. It’s just as much a threat to American culture as it is to ours.

Northrop Frye

Far worse things have been done by American cultural and commercial influence than were ever done by the Nazis in the long run in changing European society.

George Woodcock

What the United States does best is to understand itself. What it does worst is understand others.

Carlos Fuentes

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