The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 620 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.
ideas of their origin and testing them by their performances.  There will follow a detailed examination of current political and economic problems and conditions—­considered in relation both to the American democratic tradition and to the proposed revision thereof.  In view of the increasing ferment of American political and economic thought, no apology is necessary for submitting our traditional ideas and practices to an examination from an untraditional point of view.  I need scarcely add that the untraditional point of view will contain little or no original matter.  The only novelty such an inquiry can claim is the novelty of applying ideas, long familiar to foreign political thinkers, to the subject-matter of American life.  When applied to American life, this group of ideas assumes a somewhat new complexion and significance; and the promise of such a small amount of novelty will, I trust, tempt even a disapproving reader to follow somewhat farther the course of the argument.




The purpose of the following review of American political ideas and practices is, it must be premised, critical rather than narrative or expository.  I am not seeking to justify a political and economic theory by an appeal to historical facts.  I am seeking, on the contrary, to place some kind of an estimate and interpretation upon American political ideas and achievements; and this estimate and interpretation is determined chiefly by a preconceived ideal.  The acceptability of such an estimate and interpretation will, of course, depend at bottom upon the number of important facts which it explains and the number which it either neglects or distorts.  No doubt, certain omissions and distortions are inevitable in an attempt of this kind; but I need scarcely add that the greatest care has been taken to avoid them.  In case the proposed conception of the Promise of American life cannot be applied to our political and economic history without essential perversion, it must obviously fall to the ground; and as a matter of fact, the ideal itself has been sensibly modified during the course of this attempt to give it an historical application.  In spite of all these modifications it remains, however, an extremely controversial review.  Our political and economic past is, in a measure, challenged in order to justify our political and social future.  The values placed upon many political ideas, tendencies, and achievements differ radically from the values placed upon them either by their originators and partisans or in some cases by the majority of American historians.  The review, consequently, will meet with a far larger portion of instinctive opposition and distrust than it will of acquiescence.  The whole traditional set of values which it criticises is almost as much alive to-day as it was two generations ago, and it forms a background to the political faith of the great majority of Americans.  Whatever favor a radical criticism can obtain, it must win on its merits both as an adequate interpretation of our political past and as an outlook towards the solution of our present and future political and economic problems.

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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