You Can Have it Too

More

The American idea is obscured today in smoke arising from combat between liberals and conservatives. If we go back to our Founders, however, we can still discern an experiment in self-government that held promise for all mankind. Though intended for the direct benefit only of Americans, the experiment gave us a universal task: not to impose republics everywhere, but to show that they can be chosen by other peoples with some chance of success. This was the source of American “exceptionalism,” and far from being unique, the American republic would be only the first of many modern republics. American patriotism has always said to others not “We are inherently superior,” but “You can have it too.” This is conservative pride and tradition mixed with liberal inclusiveness and innovation.

Return to:

The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

The future of the American idea is clouded by the fact that the proof of its success was never intended to be conclusive. No plan for free government was found, or even attempted, that did not depend on the virtue of each generation entrusted with it. We in our time will not succeed through slavish devotion to “our fathers” (as Lincoln called them), and by the same token, our principles having been designed to be flexible, there is no need to depart from them just because they have lasted as long as they have. We do need to study those principles and their living history.

Whether the greater danger turns out to be global warming or Islamic terrorism, or both together—or neither—we shall want to protect our rights, for which we shall need prudence. Above all other rights will always be the right of consent to government that ensures those rights. And no better form of government has been discovered than the Constitution we rightly venerate.

As we look ahead, our rights and our Constitution are visible like beacons in the mist.

Harvey Mansfield is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard.
Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Ghost Trains of America

Can a band of locomotive experts save vintage railcars from ruin?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Video

How Is Social Media Changing Journalism?

How new platforms are transforming radio, TV, print, and digital

Video

The Place Where Silent Movies Sing

How an antique, wind-powered pipe organ brings films to life

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In