The American Credo Survives the Modern Crisis:
The “Great Exception” in a New Version
Of late it has become customary to consider the United States a conservative country—even the most conservative, the one remaining conservative country. In the words of a brilliant young historian: “From some standpoints the United States looks like the relic of an old society stranded in a new one. In the tormented postwar world the United States has emerged as the home of true conservatism.”
There is something shocking and immensely paradoxical in this description of the United States as conservative, indeed as “archaic” (H. Stuart Hughes uses this term)—this country which was for so long the asylum of revolutionaries and the despair of kings, the country in which Tocqueville saw in 1832 what Lincoln Steffens saw in Russia ninety years later: a society without a past, but presenting the universally valid pattern of the future. Instead of the old cities and monuments of Europe, America, when it entered the scene of history, possessed the new, vast democratic kingdoms of recreation and adventure; the deserts, the mountain ranges, and forests of the West. America was all future and no past. Here, conservatism never really could develop, because there was nothing to look backward to.
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