Social mobility requires social capital

You know the American Dream, that in this country if people work hard and grab their opportunities they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and find material success?  Or, put another way, that America is a land of social mobility, where poor people can newly-landed immigrants with a just dollar in their pockets can rise to the highest levels of wealth and status?

Well, America has been doing worse than other countries when it comes to social mobility.  What happened?  Among other reasons, according to columnist Fareed Zakaria, is our loss of “social capital.”  That is, the breakdown of American families. [Read more…]

De Toqueville on Christianity in America

Democracy in America, written by the French aristocrat Alexis de Toqueville in 1835, is full of stunningly perceptive and prescient insights into American culture, many of which are valid today nearly three hundred years later.  Paula Bolyard discusses what he says about Christianity in the Republic, suggesting that his description of the church as profoundly influential, while distinctly separate from politics, is a good model for today.  You should read her essay, but I’ll just post her quotations from De Toqueville. [Read more…]

America’s problems with vacations

Robert J. Samuelson says that Americans have a hard time with the concept of a vacation:

In the global rivalry of economic models and lifestyles, the United States ranks dead last among advanced countries in one category: vacations.

It’s not that millions of Americans don’t annually flock to beaches, climb mountains, invade national parks or just hang around the house. We do. But we seem to have a harder time than other peoples in distancing ourselves from work. The office (also, the store, factory or warehouse) is routinely an uninvited guest on our holidays. [Read more…]

The end of American Protestantism?

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written a devastating critique of America and American Protestantism that, agree with it or not, is worth thinking about.  He argues that American Protestantism, which has been so influential in American culture, is fading away because of its cultural conformity.  (He includes a great line from Bonhoeffer, that America has a Protestantism without the Reformation.)  You should read the whole thing, but I’ll post an excerpt that deals with what he says is the American conception of freedom and its connection to divorce and abortion. [Read more…]

Truths no longer self-evident

Part of the genius of the Declaration of Independence, whose passage we celebrate today, is that it lays out in very explicit terms the assumptions–the “self-evident” truths–upon which the new nation and its government would be founded:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

via Declaration of Independence – Text Transcript.

Today, these truths are no longer “self-evident”; that is, needing no proof because they can be taken for granted.  On the contrary, a good number of Americans don’t believe them at all, and they would seem to have little, if any place in contemporary American culture. [Read more…]

Man Without a Country

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone of a Russian airport for a week.  The U.S. government cancelled his passport, so he can’t get on another airplane.  He has reportedly applied to 21 countries for asylum, all to no avail.  (Some would take him, but he has to get there first.)  What he should have done is settle in a country that would take him and then out himself as the leaker of the NSA internet and cell phone surveillance scheme.  What he should do now is turn himself in to American authorities and take his punishment like a man.

Still, whether he is a traitor or a hero, I feel sorry for him.  He is truly a Man Without a Country.  (Read that short story by Edward Everett Hale to get your patriotic juices flowing on this Fourth of July.) [Read more…]