Is the culture of the United States significantly different than that of Europe? This, for Lipset, is the question of American Exceptionalism. In this collection of previously published essays, readers learn of the difference between conservatism in Europe and America; the weakness of the individual state governments and the strength of individual rights; the feeble grip of political party discipline; the extreme inequality of wealth in the; American’s comparatively light tax burden; and the unusual patriotism and optimism of Americans.
American exceptionalism is a “double-edged sword.” What is meant by this? The nation’s uniqueness stems from “The American Creed,” so fervently embraced that Americans can scarcely comprehend a truly traditional nation such as Great Britain. This creed has five elements: “liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez- faire.” These elements sustain a liberal social order for which Lipset has the greatest admiration.
Yet Lipset acknowledges that the central passions arising from this creed can become dangerous. Populism and anti-elitism engender disrespect for authority, declining discipline in schools, and low electoral turn outs. Individualism unleashes an emphasis on achievement that makes crime a temptation for those prevented from pursuing accepted means of advancement. Exalting the self-made person, Americans look down on the weak and underprivileged. The creed enshrines...
(The entire section is 380 words.)
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