Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at
Tue Oct 24 09:44:32 PDT 2000

At 04:13 AM 10/24/00 -0400, Michale Pollak replied:
>A distinctive American individualism has been here since the begining of
>the republic, bound up, as Jacob pinpointed, with the vocabulary of
>rights. And it was popular and widespread -- but to see the evidence of
>it, you need to go through the archives and read a lot of handbills and

--- snip ---

>Rodgers argues convincingly against the common notion that Americans
>simply imported our ideas of rights, like our ideas of everything else,
>from overseas. He highlights the deviances between the American way of
>thinking and that of Locke and Rousseau, and documents how state of nature
>reasoning had been falling into suspicion an ddiscuse in Britian for soem
>time before it was reborn in America. So what we have in the end is a
>carefully documented account of the birth of a national myth in real time.
>As to how this vocabulary persisted to be picked up by new generations of
>immigrants, the reviewer goes on to say:
>The hypothesis that emerges from this book is that the most enduring
>words, the keywords, were originally slogans that were thrown into the
>poltical mix at crucial moments of the nation's history, and which proved
>successful in mobilizing people. . . The mechanics of handing down
>keywords is not that mysterious. If we focus only on the big
>breakthroughs, when the meanings of key political terms are changed, then
>it might seem mysterious how the words could endure for decades or
>centuries thereafter. But such terms are handed down like most social
>reproduction, encoded and re-encoded in the mundane and the ritual. The
>key ritual for political keywords is the campaign. There's a campaign
>every year, and there's a presidential campaign every four years. People
>don't have to reach into the murky collective unconscious to remember the
>words that rang true last campaign; they are ready to hand, year after
>year, and the majority are always hardy perennials. And each campaign

Hmmm... That may explain the ideology of the English-speaking intellectual elites in Boston and Philadelphia and their side-kicks & followers. But it does not explain why the ideas of German immigrants did not find their way to the Amerikan national myths. Germans constituted a third of Pennsylvania's population (which was the center of the US in the 18th/19th century), they were often more sophisticated than their English counterparts - so why they contributed so little to Amerika outside the Lancaster county?

Another question - I understand that individualism might have been espoused by the elites running for political offices. But why did their political propaganda resonate with commmon people, whose native cultures were often antithetical to the individualist ideology?

If my own experience can provide any indication here - if there is anything I absolutely and unequivocally despise about this country it is the political rhetoric. Many foreign observers and immigrants I met share the same feeling. Even deTocqueville, who otherwise admired "democracy in America", spoke rather disparagingly of its political rhetoric.

So why would earlier generations of immigrants be different?


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