The American Idea

Essays Discussed by James Bennet and Robin Young on NPR's Here & Now

Also see:

The future of the American idea.

Stephen Breyer
Wise Constraints
"We are not unique; our ideals are not exceptional; and, to everyone's good fortune, our ability to put those ideals into practice, however special it once may have been, has not remained so."

John Hope Franklin
The Cover-Up
"Perhaps the American idea was not so admirable."

Sam Harris
God-Drunk Society
"America is now a nation of 300 million souls, wielding more influence than any people in human history—and yet 240 million of these souls apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers."

Ray Kurzweil
"The American idea is to push beyond frontiers, whether in geography (Manifest Destiny), science (splitting the atom, DNA), invention (the telephone, the lightbulb, the airplane, the Internet), industry (mass production), music (jazz, rock and roll), or popular culture (Hollywood)."

Tim LaHaye
Godless Society
"America's uniqueness is based in the Christian consensus of the Founding Fathers, who penned documents guaranteeing religious and personal freedom for all."

Judith Martin
Republic of Manners
"European etiquette was all very well for those snobs and sycophants in class-stratified societies, but it would not do for the proud citizens of an enlightened and free republic."

Anna Deavere Smith
Imagination's End
"As I look out at this land, I find myself in doubt, about our environment and our society."

David Foster Wallace
Just Asking
"Are you up for a thought experiment?..."

Cornel West
"The fundamental irony of American history is that we follow the better angels of our nature when we honestly and compassionately confront the devilish realities we would like to ignore or deny."

George F. Will
The Danger
"It is a good and very American idea to avoid the definite article in locutions like 'the American idea.'"

Tom Wolfe
"Since you asked ... the American idea was born at approximately 5 p.m. on Friday, December 2, 1803, the moment Thomas Jefferson sprang the so-called pell-mell on the new British ambassador, Anthony Merry, at dinner in the White House."