The American idea

A fractious, maddening approach to the conduct of human affairs…but one that is well worth preserving

Celebrating its 150th anniversary, the editors of The Atlantic magazine write:

Finally, the founders of The Atlantic believed in what they called “the American idea.” This was not some saccharine notion of American exceptionalism or a hyper-patriotic American boosterism. It was a recognition that America was an experiment, based on certain principles—an experiment that could fail, but would if successful offer a rare kind of hope. It could be easily contaminated—by ignorance, venality, selfishness, hatred, hubris. The founders were realists: the biggest threat of all, the slave system, was at the peak of its power, and the challenge of race, they knew, was destined to become the nation’s central concern.

What is “the American idea”? It is the fractious, maddening approach to the conduct of human affairs that values equality despite its elusiveness, that values democracy despite its debasement, that values pluralism despite its messiness, that values the institutions of civic culture despite their flaws, and that values public life as something higher and greater than the sum of all our private lives. The founders of the magazine valued these things—and they valued the immense amount of effort it takes to preserve them from generation to generation.

That is the tie that binds fifteen decades. In the years before the Civil War it was not certain that the American idea would have a future. It still isn’t. [The Atlantic]

That part about the fractious, maddening approach to the conduct of human affairs should sound familiar to most Indians.

3 thoughts on “The American idea”

  1. This part about the fractious, maddening aproach to the conduct of human afairs should sound familiar to most Indians and the hosts of this site seems to be among those.

    As a biggest democracy with its over 5 decades history, India is trying to metamorphose itself from a democratic state to a democratic society. If not anything else(as most agree according to author) India has given its people a sense of bright hope. Many wants it to be moving towards capitalist state but complain government for every wrong. Innumerable people criticise India about this and that, but don’t they agree that the kind of freedom which is available here is not even to people of oldest democracy of United states.
    When we are ushered in the 21st century, its time that we feel proud being born in India and value our system with a sense of dignity and hope. Its time when we should ourselves be assets and responsible regarding about our fundamental duties rather than making a hue and cry about our so called encroached rights.
    An Indian Idea is far more true than an American Idea. Its all encompassing and akin to a Global Idea rather than dichotomus division of ‘we’ and ‘them’ as given by American Idea.
    Rather then eyeing ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ as obstacles in realising an ‘Indian Idea’ its time to accept them as challenge.

  2. Ankur,

    Thanks for commenting. You’ve made some very pertinent points. I believe there is a need to clearly enunciate the “Indian idea” although the constitution (and the debates of the constituent assembly) provide insights.

    But there is no need at all to put down the American idea for this or any other reason. I think the Atlantic magazine’s editors point out all the various things that can contaminate the American idea, and the need to protect their values from the contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not in any way make the American model inferior. Ditto for India.

  3. Bharati samaj concept is proven beyond the geography of the word India and is a delicious concept . It is very nice to see usa slowly and surely accepting Sanatana Dharma law and moving away from Abrahamaic concepts. Its is because of this Dharma that I saw a saying in the usa in a very expensive club

    ‘We may be born equal but we dont have to stay same”

    Very true Unity in diverse thinking bringing creativity and staying in the frame work of the US law . Good thing India is removing more and more the British and moslem laws and should bring back Santana Dharma law , like the US constitiution

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