American Doctrine

Today, no less than in 1776, a passion for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness remains at the centre of America’s civic theology. The Jeffersonian trinity summarises our common inheritance, defines our aspirations, and provides the touchstone for our influence abroad.

Yet, if Americans still cherish the sentiments contained in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, they have, over time, radically revised their understanding of those ‘inalienable rights’. Today, individual Americans use their freedom to do many worthy things.

Some read, write, paint, sculpt, compose and play music. Others build, restore and preserve. Still others attend plays, concerts and sporting events, visit their local multiplexes, and join ‘communities’ of the like-minded in an ever-growing array of virtual worlds. They also pursue innumerable hobbies, worship, tithe and, in commendably large numbers, attend to the needs of the less fortunate.

Yet, none of these in themselves define what it means to be an American in the twentyfirst century. For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centres on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavours.… The ethic of self- gratification has firmly entrenched itself as the defining feature of the American way of life.

From excerpt ‘The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism’


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