The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.
measure of justification; and the changes which are taking place in the underlying conditions and in the scope of American national experience afford the most reasonable expectation that this state of mind will undergo a radical alteration.  It is new conditions which are forcing Americans to choose between the conception of their national Promise as a process and an ideal.  Before, however, the nature of these novel conditions and their significance can be considered, we must examine with more care the relation between the earlier American economic and social conditions and the ideas and institutions associated with them.  Only by a better understanding of the popular tradition, only by an analysis of its merits and its difficulties, can we reach a more consistent and edifying conception of the Promise of American life.

II

HOW THE PROMISE HAS BEEN REALIZED

All the conditions of American life have tended to encourage an easy, generous, and irresponsible optimism.  As compared to Europeans, Americans have been very much favored by circumstances.  Had it not been for the Atlantic Ocean and the virgin wilderness, the United States would never have been the Land of Promise.  The European Powers have been obliged from the very conditions of their existence to be more circumspect and less confident of the future.  They are always by way of fighting for their national security and integrity.  With possible or actual enemies on their several frontiers, and with their land fully occupied by their own population, they need above all to be strong, to be cautious, to be united, and to be opportune in their policy and behavior.  The case of France shows the danger of neglecting the sources of internal strength, while at the same time philandering with ideas and projects of human amelioration.  Bismarck and Cavour seized the opportunity of making extremely useful for Germany and Italy the irrelevant and vacillating idealism and the timid absolutism of the third Napoleon.  Great Britain has occupied in this respect a better situation than has the Continental Powers.  Her insular security made her more independent of the menaces and complications of foreign politics, and left her free to be measurably liberal at home and immeasurably imperial abroad.  Yet she has made only a circumspect use of her freedom.  British liberalism was forged almost exclusively for the British people, and the British peace for colonial subjects.  Great Britain could have afforded better than France to tie its national life to an over-national idea, but the only idea in which Britons have really believed was that of British security, prosperity, and power.  In the case of our own country the advantages possessed by England have been amplified and extended.  The United States was divided from the mainland of Europe not by a channel but by an ocean.  Its dimensions were continental rather than insular. 

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