PEOPLE OF PLENTY
"What then is the American, this new man?" asked Michel- Guillaume de Crevecoeur during the American Revolution. From that beginning, observers have recognized an American character that was in some sense new to the world and have sought to define and explain it. Some have pointed to political institutions, others to the experience of settling an unpeopled frontier, or to the mixture of immigrant groups, as the definition and manifestation of a distinctive American character. David Potter sought in the 1950s for a causal explanation that would cover all of American life. He found it in the fact of economic abundance throughout the nation's history. American politics, social structure, and even the development of personality were at every point, he argued, profoundly affected by almost unlimited resources. In the section printed below, Potter explores the effect of economic plenty on the life of a six- month-old child. Much of society's expectations for that child ultimately rest on the wealth available to his family; the observation illuminates the great problem of educating the disadvantaged in a nation whose very existence implies an affluent society.
A sense of material progress in America can be obtained from Robert S. and Helen M. Lynd, Middletown ( New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1929).
In...view of the factors currently being examined by students of personality, it is now evident that social psychology is steadily reaching out