Our national character is still in the making


From the point of view of a detached cosmopolitan spectator, our country may seem to have little to be proud of. The United States of America finally freed its slaves, but it then in- , vented segregation laws which were as ingeniously cruel as Hitler’s Nuremberg laws. It started to create a welfare state, but quickly fell behind the rest of the industrial democracies in providing equal medical care, education, and opportunity to the children of the rich and of the poor. Its workers built a strong labor movement, but then allowed this movement to be crushed by restrictive legislation and by the gangsters whom they weakly allowed to take over many locals. Its government perverted a justified crusade against an evil empire into a conspiracy with right-wing oligarchs to suppress social democratic movements.

I have been arguing that the appropriate response to such observations is that we Americans should not take the point of view of a detached cosmopolitan spectator. We should face up to unpleasant truths about ourselves, but we should not take those truths to be the last word about our chances for happiness, or about our national character. Our national character is still in the making. Few in 1897 would have predicted the Progressive Movement, the forty-hour week, Women’s Suffrage, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, the successes of second-wave feminism, or the Gay Rights Movement. Nobody in 1997 can know that America will not, in the course of the next century, witness even greater moral progress


  1. Rorty, Richard. Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. Print. 105-106.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Notes on History, Philosophy, Politics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s