A collection of Essays, Drawings, and Photographs based on the theme "The American Idea." The following links cover the broad spectrum on ideals and perceptions of our modern country, eclipsing even Conservative or Liberal notions.
From The Atlantic:
To mark this anniversary, we also invited an eclectic group of thinkers who have had cause to consider the American idea to describe its future and the greatest challenges to it. We provided little more charge than that, beyond asking that they accomplish this feat in 300 words or so. We asked artists to perform the same feat with a drawing or a photograph.
In the pages that follow, George F. Will rings an alarm over the danger inherent in embracing a singular American idea, but many of the contributors agree on a rough definition of the idea itself—the easy part, as John Hope Franklin suggests. Yet has this idea been put into practice or not? Is it more threatened by Americans’ faith in God or by their secularism? By Islamic fundamentalism or by our response to it? By poverty, racism, celebrity, the gobbling up of natural resources? Will science and the entrepreneurial spirit carry us through? Should we rejoice on this anniversary, or should we be angry? What follows is a wise, amused, pained, and impassioned cacophony, and, in sum, a statement of the sustaining value of The Atlantic, its commitment to the open mind in pursuit of an idea whose realization was partial and fragile 150 years ago, and still is.
Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Confidence and Freedom
"We don't have to diminish the American idea in order to save it. Indeed, the only way to prevail in the struggle between freedom and fundamentalism is to enrich that idea in the face of threats."
Support Our Troops
"We are not unique; our ideals are not exceptional; and, to everyone's good fortune, our ability to put those ideals into practice, however special it once may have been, has not remained so."
"America's self-image is more deeply bound up with a sense of having a special place in history than most other nations' are."
The Thomas (Jefferson) Crown Affair
William F. Buckley Jr.
"Ours are loyalties to an ideal, not to a revelation, and this must have been the reason, even if he was not conscious of it, why Lincoln referred to the American 'proposition.'"
"The American idea, as seen by the founders of The Atlantic Monthly, was never an ideological monolith."
The Two Americas Problem
"The idea of America—real, fundamental equality: equality of opportunity, equality of culture, equality of respect—matters more than ever."
John Hope Franklin
"Perhaps the American idea was not so admirable."
"As I think of what's gone on in the years I've been on this planet, I wonder why great architecture isn't considered an important shaper of the American idea."
The Rise and Fall of the American Idea
A Dual Mission
"Leaving the fate of our democracy in the hands of a diverse and constantly changing American citizenry that is guided by constitutional democratic principles is perhaps the most enduring American idea of all."
"America is now a nation of 300 million souls, wielding more influence than any people in human history—and yet 240 million of these souls apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers."
Pursuit of Happiness
"The promise of unlimited opportunity has given way to rampant narcissism and misplaced perfectionism (and the disappointed self-loathing that inevitably follows the search for a flawless self)."
T. D. Jakes
The World's Pulse
"The question is: Do we live to serve ourselves alone, or shall our lives bear witness to something larger?"
Denied: The Crisis of America's Uninsured
Vivien with Baseball Hat
George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson
"In thinking about the American idea, we decided to revisit a concept we first took up in these pages 25 years ago."
"The American idea is to push beyond frontiers, whether in geography (Manifest Destiny), science (splitting the atom, DNA), invention (the telephone, the lightbulb, the airplane, the Internet), industry (mass production), music (jazz, rock and roll), or popular culture (Hollywood)."
"America's uniqueness is based in the Christian consensus of the Founding Fathers, who penned documents guaranteeing religious and personal freedom for all."
America Is a Dream
"I still remember my first two impressions of Americans, derived from my wartime comrades."
Harvey C. Mansfield
You Can Have it Too
"The future of the American idea is clouded by the fact that the proof of its success was never intended to be conclusive. "
Autocracy and Freedom
"This spring, in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, there was a full-page ad for sheets. It showed a black woman and a white man rolling happily in their bed..."
Republic of Manners
"European etiquette was all very well for those snobs and sycophants in class-stratified societies, but it would not do for the proud citizens of an enlightened and free republic."
Meditating Monk in Forest, Redwood Valley, California, USA, 2004
"The idea that I want to believe America was founded on ... depended on challenging the world as it is and, by standing up to civilized society, redefining it."
The Arizona Idea
"Rest assured, if you come to Arizona, you'll find the frontier, and the American idea, alive and well here."
What is Liberty?
"In its religious roots, the American idea of freedom recognizes the free consciences of all."
"During the Vietnam War, the United States was widely unpopular around the world, as it is now... Yet despite unpopular government policies, our openness and self-criticism allowed the American idea to retain its appeal."
Joyce Carol Oates
The Human Idea
"How heartily sick the world has grown, in the first seven years of the 21st century, of the American idea!"
"In my recent travels as House speaker, I have met with presidents, prime ministers, and kings, but what has impressed me and inspired me the most are my encounters with young people."
"A great surprise of my brief time in Washington was how often members of Congress turned out to be more intelligent than they let themselves seem on television—better read, more reflective, more sensitive."
An Optimist's Worries
"I may be an incurable optimist, but at the age of 84—having lived through the Great Depression, Stalin, Hitler, World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War—I think today's world is not in bad shape."
The Freak Show
"The America that I love bears little relation to the freak show now peddled by Hollywood and the cable-news networks."
New New Things
"America's history of innovation has drawn on the inherent optimism of Americans, even when realities are discouraging."
Coming to America
"I began dreaming of coming to America when I was 10 years old, because it has no rival as a Land of Opportunity."
"The values that our Founders cherished as the universal inheritance of the Enlightenment are increasingly identified as American values—or worse still, as not real values at all, but simply a rhetorical blind for the advance of American power."
Anna Deavere Smith
"As I look out at this land, I find myself in doubt, about our environment and our society."
Laurence H. Tribe and Carolyn K. Tribe
Rekindling the Flame
"Our greatest national challenge is to reverse the profoundly misguided course the last two presidential elections have set"
"The American idea, as I understand it, is to trust people to know their own minds and to act in their own enlightened self-interest, with a necessary respect for others."
David Foster Wallace
"Are you up for a thought experiment?..."
Pluralism and Democracy
"Most Americans believed, almost from the beginning, that pluralism and democracy were compatible, even mutually enhancing."
"If any one idea can justly be called the American idea, it is that a child's circumstances at birth should not determine the station in life that that child will occupy as an adult."
"The fundamental irony of American history is that we follow the better angels of our nature when we honestly and compassionately confront the devilish realities we would like to ignore or deny."
George F. Will
"It is a good and very American idea to avoid the definite article in locutions like 'the American idea.'"
Edward O. Wilson
"The central issue for America is sustainable development. Somehow we, and other countries, have to find a way to continue raising the quality of life without wrecking the planet."
"We were better off wanting things the rest of the world had to offer than we are now, when we need so little from everyone else."
"Since you asked ... the American idea was born at approximately 5 p.m. on Friday, December 2, 1803, the moment Thomas Jefferson sprang the so-called pell-mell on the new British ambassador, Anthony Merry, at dinner in the White House."