Term Paper: American National Character

Pages: 10 (3200 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] " (Hacker 4). Americans enjoy the highest standard of living in the world -- we are rich. Such an achievement came about through the competitive attitude Americans have towards each other and towards the rest of the world. As a result, not only the achievement is cherished in the United States, but also, the means by which it was achieved.

Patriotism perfectly exemplifies this mentality. Rarely do you hear a politician deliver a speech today in which he does not call America "the greatest nation in the world." If the president, for example, were to say something to the contrary he would likely be booed off the stage, regardless of his reasons. It becomes apparent that, "America is therefore a free country, in which, lest anybody should be hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of private individuals or of the State; of the citizens or of the authorities, of public or private undertakings, or, in short, of anything at all, except it be of the climate and the soil; and even then Americans will be found ready to defend either the one or the other as if they had been contrived by the inhabitants of the country." (Tocqueville 285).

The freedom of speech promised in the U.S. constitution is limited in public forums because the prosperity enjoyed in the present American society is taken as evidence that our principles are just and right. To question the morals associated with democracy would likely illicit fierce opposition from the American people, and for any public official, would be political suicide. Americans are unique in their devout Patriotism, and the belief that their freedoms are what make them a great nation. However, "option must be made between the patriotism of all and the government of few; for the force and activity which the first confers, are irreconcilable with the guarantees of tranquility which the second furnishes." (Tocqueville 285).

It has been mentioned earlier that the worth associated with people in American society is tied to their economic value, or their place in the workforce. Therefore, the action performed by an individual is what determines their identity. Generally, "Western Society is existentialist." (Klausner 364). This is a philosophy that believes actions and events are what determine "reality." Accordingly, relationships with other members of a community form around common interests. For example, two people might start-up a friendship because they are both bankers, or because they are both interested in history. But in other parts of the world people "initially seek to establish a relationship, affirm belongings, and demonstrate loyalty. Cooperative activities become impossible only in the comfort of an established relationship." (Klausner 364). This difference is what causes another peculiarity in the character of Americans: they are not tied-down to one community, or even one geographic location. In the United States an individual's loyalty is more to his social status than his local community. Wealthy businessmen live in million-dollar penthouses ten stories in the air, while homeless people sleep on park benches below. This is the result of having an economy that is no longer land-based, but has the benefit of industry with technology at its heart, generating new jobs and making old-fashioned farming obsolete.

Despite the fact that many Americans hold the same values -- belief in the American Dream and belief in equality -- America is still one of the most diverse nations in the world. It is not without its share of prejudice and exclusion. The immense variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds in the U.S. cannot be denied, but it has a history of the "first come first served" mentality.

Puritans from Britain were the first to colonize North America; their language and set of morals still pervade society today. English, and only English, is the official language of the United States. Christianity is still the most popular religion, and the unofficially accepted religion of the government. This is true because British pilgrims were the first to set the rules of what was then a new society. However, American Indians were the first to inhabit the new world. Why is it that we do not speak Navajo, for example, instead of English? Well, the answer is simple and rather obvious: European-Americans believed their type of society was superior, as evidenced by their advanced technology, and therefore, deduced that they were obligated to bring civilization to the peoples they saw as backward. This was the attitude that justified the mass extermination and relocation of the American Indians. And, it should be noted, this is the same attitude that pervades America today; it justifies our exploitation of undeveloped nations. Essentially, Americans feel they are right because they have more stuff: they have won the worldwide race for economic prosperity.

It is this sense of superiority that has prevented many groups of Americans from entering mainstream culture. Large racial groups like the African-Americans have struggled to gain acceptance into American society. They have been, "oppressed by racial intolerance, try to 'pass' as whites and thus enter society. They want to be like other people." (Paz 14). This pattern of assimilation has been common throughout American history. Groups like the Irish and Italians strove for centuries to breech the walls of their ethnicity and enter American uniformity.

However, not every group rejected by mainstream culture chooses to fully loose their ethnic identity to avoid persecution. Hispanics, on the other hand "have suffered a less violent rejection, but instead of attempting a problematic adjustment to society, the pachuco actually flaunts his differences. The purpose of his grotesque dandyism and anarchic behavior is not so much to point out the injustice and incapacity of a society that has failed to assimilate him as it is to demonstrate his personal will to remain different." (Paz 14). Many of the values associated with Hispanic culture differ fundamentally from those associated with American culture. So much so, that a large portion of the Hispanic community refuses to fully immerse themselves in American Society -- they do not see life as a race to economic prosperity. Hispanic culture "tends to make various types of prestige more desirable than money and thus defeats the operation of the 'laws of the market.'" (Cochran 152). With so much exclusion and segregation in the United States generalizations are hard to come by, but it is clear that most Americans value their individuality, though different groups may have different ideas of what individuality is.

Every American has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the latter has always been seen as a challenge, a climb, and a battle. "Our American traditions encourage us to think of justice as a matter of equal opportunities for every individual to pursue whatever he or she understands by happiness. Equal opportunities are guaranteed by fair laws and political procedures -- laws and procedures applied in the same way to everyone." (Bellah 26). Most Americans would agree with this statement, but the sad fact is that not everyone is treated the same by the law or the government. The wealthy have far more power and influence in both.

If there is one characteristic prevalent in modern American society it is the existence of multiple dichotomies in our morals and ideologies. We believe that all men are created equal, but not all men are born into equal social situations. Many people are at a disadvantage; either because of their race, their gender, their nation or origin, or their religion.

We are a nation pf great diversity, but we are resistant to change. The founding fathers of the United States set to paper their ideas of equality, but even then it was far from a reality. At that time a third of the nation was bound to slavery, and although much of the nation opposed it, it was deemed economically necessary. Slavery counted itself responsible for a huge portion of America's income. "In former ages slavery has been advocated by the venal and slavish-minded, whilst the independent and warm-hearted were struggling without hope to save the liberties of mankind." (Tocqueville lxxix). Capitalism won the first battle over the puritan morals of our forefathers, and would win many more battles to come.

Capitalism, and the consumer driven economy brought Americans convenience, technology, and a strong sense of patriotism. America has a preoccupation with technology that has seeded in its citizens a feeling of greatness, and inherent superiority over the competing nations of the world. The principle of the American Dream has only accelerated the competitive attitude of Americans towards each other and the rest of the world. The devout patriotism in our country -- the flags flying from every from porch -- is uniquely American.

In actuality, Americans are born with no more intelligence than the citizens of any other country and they are, therefore, not justly entitled to their favored seat in the world economy. "The fact is that the egos of 200 million Americans… [END OF PREVIEW]

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