Contractions & Contradictions -- American Democracy

"America is in travail. A new America is developing in the womb of time.

What kind of new America will it be?

Will it be an America which has learned how to fit an economic system of private enterprise to the traditions of our democracy?

Will it be an America which will attain economic freedom for the average man so that the political freedom of the Bill of Rights will become a reality and reach out in spirit to meet new conditions in the modern world?

Or will it be another kind of America—an America in which a system of free enterprise has failed so badly as a method of distributing goods that a disgusted people will welcome as a substitute one of the new-fashioned “disciplined” economies in which political liberty is regarded as a disruption of discipline and an intolerable luxury—an American in which the unsatisfied mass will yield democracy to a dictatorship either of the Right or the Left “in exchange for the illusion of a living”?

Here in America it is the old struggle between the power of money and the power of the democratic instinct..."

Harold Ickes
Secretary of the Interior
January 8, 1938



"The American Way of Life"

"We hear on every side that the American Way of Life is in danger. I think it is. I also think that many of those who talk the loudest about the dangers to the American Way of Life have no idea what it is and consequently no idea what the dangers are that it is in.

You would suppose, to listen to these people, that the American Way of Life consisted in unanimous tribal self-adoration. Down with criticism; down with protests; down with unpopular opinions; down with independent thought. Yet the history and tradition of our country make it perfectly plain that the essence of the American Way of Life is its hospitality to criticism, protest, unpopular opinions and independent thought. A few dates like 1620, 1776 and 1848 are enough to remind us of the motives and attitudes of our ancestors. The great American virtue was courage...

...The great American word is freedom, and in particular freedom of thought, speech and assembly. Asserting the dignity of man, and of every man, America has proclaimed and protected the freedom to differ. Each man is supposed to think for himself. The sum of the thoughts of all is the wisdom of the community. Difference, disagreement, discussion decided by democratic processes are required to bring out the best in the citizens. America has grown strong on criticism. It would be quite as consistent with the American Way of Life to offer prizes for the most penetrating criticism of our country as it would be to offer prizes to those who have done the best job of advertising it.

The heart of Americanism is independent thought. The cloak-and-stiletto work that is now going on will not merely mean that many persons will suffer for acts that they did not commit, or for acts that were legal when committed, or for no acts at all. Far worse is the end result, which will be that critics, even of the mildest sort, will be frightened into silence. Stupidity and injustice will go unchallenged because no one will dare to speak against them..."

Robert M. Hutchins
Chancellor of Chicago University (1950)