The Meaning of America: Essays toward an Understanding of the American Spirit

The Meaning of America: Essays toward an Understanding of the American Spirit

The Meaning of America: Essays toward an Understanding of the American Spirit

The Meaning of America: Essays toward an Understanding of the American Spirit

Excerpt

THERE is a story that Stalin, Truman, and Churchill came before St. Peter for adjudication. When they had passed the test the good saint offered to give each of them anything he wanted.

"I want the Americans to go home," said Stalin.

"And I want Russia destroyed," snapped Truman.

There was a twinkle in Churchill's eye and a sly smile on his cherubic face. "Is this on the level?" he asked. "Anything we want?" "Yes, anything," answered St. Peter.

"Well, then," said Churchill, "I'll just have a cigar. But serve these other gentlemen first."

This story illustrates the changes which have occurred in the world during this century, and which only the most perceptive observers foresaw at its outset. The power and influence of the United States have mushroomed as those of no other nation in history, and yet few foreigners who have not resided there for a period of years have any adequate understanding of its character and ideals. Indeed foreign publicists take delight in presenting a picture of the United States which can only be described as a mixture of the fantasies of Hans Christian Andersen and the horrors of the Brothers Grimm.

The usual impression is that it is a country of rigid standardization and monolithic conformity. True, its gadgets are standardized where there is no particular reason to do otherwise, but it probably also produces as great a quantity of made-to-order goods as any country in the world. Far from being conformists, its people wrangle continually over cultural, social, economic, and political problems. Politically, the country is never swept by a single idea, and those elections which the foreigner sees as simple plebiscites on outstanding issues will upon examination be found to have hinged also upon a multiplicity of local problems and rivalries.

The national motto is E pluribus unum -- one out of many -- and de- notes the deliberate acceptance of a sovereignty divided between statesand nation and a consequent rivalry between the two forces. Indeed . . .

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