Alexis de Toqueville a French political thinker and historian wrote the following in his analysis and description of American life, Democracy in America, published in 1835.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her ample rivers - it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits ablaze with righteousness did I meet the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
My question is this: Is America still good? I do not mean in the question of do Americans go to church, but in the sense of our motivation for our actions; do we as a nation do things because they are intrinsically good, or because they are practical? Have we lost the moral virtue that de Toqueville found here?
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This is a wonderful question, and one which every generation looks at in the form of "the good old days" when things were simple and people did the right thing without expecting huge returns. For the most part, I would say "yes". People intrinsically want to to good and right things. However, people are becoming more wary. It is more difficult to assist someone on the side of the road due to fear that it is an ambush or that the injured person will sue you for moving him/her before professional medical help could be arranged. We are a sue-happy society looking for the quick buck...in that respect, we are sorely missing out on the goodness that once was.
Yes, absolutely America is good. Are all Americans good? Absolutely not! The basic idea that a nation could be established in which all citizens are considered to have been created equal with the same rights is still a remarkable notion. We've slipped in a few places, and some times seem darker than others. But the goodness is still there. It will return. There is still a shining city on a hillside--it just needs a little polishing!
Being the optimist I am and because I love this country so very much and because I am truly blessed to live here, I will always believe this country, for the most part, is good. Of course there are always going to be corrupt people and bad people in this country and any country; however, I think there are enough "good ones" to outweigh the bad. This is confirmed everyday when I hear wonderful stories about how Americans help each other and those in other countries. Do I think our country is sometimes falling apart at the moral seams? Yes, I do. I am disturbed by many things that go on in government and in the public arena. This concerns me as a mother with two young children (7 and 6).
Yes, America is good!!! We are the most generous people on the planet. We give more of our hard earned money to other countries in need than any other country. America is always ready to help people in need. Even when we are not wanted.
America has spilled more blood and spent more treasure to free millions of people who are being held hostage by tyrannical dictators and totalitarian governments.
America is a country that offers opportunity to people who want to work hard. Only in America can a person who did not graduate High School work hard and become a successful business owner who raises his children to become a college graduate with two Masters Degrees. My Dad!!!
America as a whole is good. Only when we start picking apart the individual actions of certain people in the national spotlight do we begin to believe otherwise. No, our government is not always right. No, our celebrities and public officials don't always conduct themselves in the best possible way.
Are we largely well-intended, however? Sure. You're not going to find people in our country who truly believe that they are out to commit wrongs on a regular basis. Even the most diluded citizens believe that they are acting out of concern for the right reasons.
There no longer exists a great public American conscience, though, and that much is a concern. Unlike past ages, there is no general consensus over that which is innately good or inherently bad. We have blurred the line between right and wrong, and we have entered a tainted era, one where we justify the slaughter of babies and excuse the rape of innocents. Such behaviors, historically speaking, inevitably lead to the downfall of even the greatest empires. Call it divine or call it coincidental, but it happens.
Yes, America remains good at heart, but there is so much room for improvement. No better time to begin improving than the present.
I think that DeToqueville was a little optimistic, even for his time. There is, and always has been, goodness in America/Americans; to say that we ARE good is a little much. There has been much good in our history, but we also must live with the memories of slavery, this history of eras such as "The Guilded Age," the horrors of the tenaments and extreme poverty in our large cities (New York/Chicago) at the turn of the centur, and countless other examples. There has also been much good, much charity shown toward our world, many contributions to the arts, science, economics, etc. As with every country, our "goodness" tends to come from the individuals with our society; same for the not so good.
That said, I think it's always good to remember that old truth: "The enemy of the good is the perfect." I prefer to hope that our best days are still ahead of us, despite the incredibly complex issues that we face today.
Alexis de Toqueville witnessed an extraordinary experience. A nation born out of an "idea". The idea that people without restraints of nobility or tyranny could have the capacity to accomplish deeds with aspiration as their guide is as radical as political philosophy could have been in 1835. I agree with several of the prior sentiments above regarding the immoral behavior of some Americans. However, I must rest on the side of goodness. Yes, I believe this country is good, for the sheer fact that with all our faults as a nation we still offer the "idea" of America to anyone who wants it. Granted everyone may not have equal success all the time, but to be born of or come to this counrty and have the freedom to aspire to make your life soar with the endless possibilities America has to offer is a good as it gets.
I am going to start my discussion post with a plea - don't shoot me! But it is interesting that the majority of editors above seem to be American. It might be good for you to at least listen to a dissenting foreign voice. Although the majority of Americans may think America is good, you would be in the global minority, with vast numbers of other people in different countries in the world definitely siding on the "no" answer, because of years of crippling American foreign and financial policy that has definitely left them the worse off. You might want to think about America's heavy-handed involvement in S. America, for example, and the way in which countries in this continent are still struggling thanks to the post-colonial interference and paternalism of the States.
I'd say the idea of America is good. The principles it was founded on are good. But the American Empire - not so much. It's not unique to America, every empire acts in its own interest in a way that is inherently exploitative of other countries and peoples, but because our empire is so large in terms of economic influence and power, and its need for oil so great that our actions abroad don't always fit under the label of "good".
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