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Americanism

Americanism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Americanism is an ideology that holds that the cultural and political values of the United States are the most ideal and desirable of any in the world. It is closely linked with American exceptionalism, a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) in 1831. Tocqueville argued that, because of its historical evolution, national credo, historical origins, and distinctive political and religious institutions, the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Some have characterized Americanism and its beliefs as a civic religion.

Seymour Lipset identifies five key elements of Americanism: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire. He avers, Being an American, however, is an ideological commitment. It is not a matter of birth. Those who reject American values are un-American (Lipset 1997, p. 31). Americanism emphasizes equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcomes, and attaches greater importance to social and political individualism.

American veneration of these ideals grew out of the countrys historical development and the distinctive role of Protestantism. John Winthrop (1588-1649), governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, described the early Puritan community in New England as a city on a hill with which God had made a special covenant. According to Winthrop, the early colony should serve as a moral and political example for the rest of the world. The American Revolution (1775-1783), with its emphasis on democracy, liberty, and republicanism, is often cited as proof that the United States offers unlimited potential and opportunity to those who work hard. Americanism is often associated with manifest destiny, the idea that Americans had a mission from God to spread liberty and democracy across the American frontier and around the world. Later, supporters of Americanism have pointed to the durability of the U.S. Constitution, the failure of socialist parties to take root in the United States, and the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war as proof of the superiority of American values.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) greatly popularized Americanism. In an 1894 magazine article, he wrote that no other land offers such glorious possibilities to the man able to take advantage of them as does ours (1897, pp. 38-39). He argued that any person could become an American, provided they adopted the American beliefs in democracy, hard work, capitalism, and egalitarianism; learned English; and left behind their previous sectarian identities. Roosevelt encouraged immigration to the United States, but with the proviso that immigrants fully embrace the American way of life. He also adopted these same ideals in his foreign policies, leading American military involvement in Cuba and the Philippines under the guise of bringing liberation, democracy, and the American way of life to these countries.

During both world wars, German and Japanese communities in the United States came under suspicion for not fully believing in American values and identifying too closely with their homelands. This resulted in both relatively harmless colloquial changes (renaming sauerkraut liberty cabbage) and overtly discriminatory policies like the forced internment of twelve thousand ethnic Japanese (most of whom were U.S. citizens) in camps throughout the western United States during World War II (1939-1945). Later, during the cold war, mass media and government officials often juxtaposed Americanism with Communism as a battle between liberty and tyranny.

President George W. Bush has relied on Americanism arguments to justify American operations in Iraq, positing that the United States is freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny and delivering American-style democracy and liberty.

In recent years, Americanism has been at the heart of the debates about legal and illegal immigration. Samuel Huntington (2004) has argued that immigration, primarily from Latin America, threatens the very character of American society because recent immigrants remain too attached to their homelands, refusing to learn English or adopt American beliefs in hard work, individual responsibility, and capitalism.

Critics have long chastised Americanism for relying on a selective, uncritical reading of U.S. history. They point out that the United States itself often fails to uphold Americanist ideals for its own citizens through such means as denying voting rights, restricting citizenship, and promoting discriminatory policies. This hypocrisy not only undermines the argument that egalitarianism and liberty are at the heart of the American experience, but also calls into question whether the United States can (or should) promote these values to other countries. Others have called Americanism imperialism cloaked in a rhetoric of values and human rights. They also question the use of military force in places like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq to promote democracy and liberty.

Americanism shares some commonalities with both nationalism and patriotism, as all three attach positive values to ones home country and its upholding of national beliefs and symbols. In a crucial distinction, though, Americanism specifies the nature of the United States distinctness from the rest of the world. Further, Americanism allows that persons born outside the United States can become Americans if they adopt American beliefs; nationalism often holds that ones membership in a nation is determined by birth and remains constant throughout life.

SEE ALSO American Dream; Nationalism and Nationality; Patriotism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Huntington, Samuel P. 2004. Who Are We? The Challenges to Americas National Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. [1996] 1997. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: Norton.

Roosevelt, Theodore. 1897. True Americanism (1894). In The Works of Theodore Roosevelt in Sixteen Volumes: American Ideals and Administration-Civil Service, vol. 1, 31-50. New York: Collier.

Jeremy Youde

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AMERICANISM

AMERICANISM. A usage or custom peculiar to, or common in, the US. The term refers primarily to English words and phrases that acquired a new sense (bluff, corn, lumber) or entered the language (OK, raccoon, squash) in what is now the US, but also to features of pronunciation, grammar, and sentence structure. The term has often been used contrastively, especially in the US, with BRITICISM. ‘Bilingual’ lists, drawn up for both academic and popular purposes, commonly contrast items in pairs, one being identified as the American usage, the other as the British equivalent (or vice versa). The following list contains a number of pairs of words and phrases (Briticisms first, Americanisms second) widely regarded as distinguishing AmE from BrE: accommodation (uncountable), accommodations (countable plural), with regard to rooms in hotels, etc.; aluminium, aluminum; anticlockwise, counter-clockwise; biscuit, cookie; bonnet, hood (of a car); boot, trunk (of a car); candy floss, cotton candy; caravan, trailer (pulled by a car); cornflour, cornstarch; cot, crib; drawing pin, thumbtack; fanlight, transom; founder member, charter member; goods train, freight train; high street, main street (of a town); hoarding, billboard; jumble sale, rummage sale; lift, elevator; the abbreviations maths and math; nappy, diaper; noticeboard, bulletin board; noughts and crosses, tick-tack-toe; number plate, licence plate (for a road vehicle); pavement, sidewalk; petrol, gas(oline); post code, zip code; return ticket, round trip ticket; right-angled triangle, right triangle; a rise, raise (in salary); rowingboat, rowboat; sailing boat, sailboat; silencer, muffler (on a car); single ticket, one way ticket; skirting board, baseboard; sledge, sled; sweets, (hard) candy; torch, flashlight (powered by batteries); windscreen, windshield (on a vehicle); zip, zipper. See AMERICAN ENGLISH AND BRITISH ENGLISH.

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Americanism

A·mer·i·can·ism / əˈmerikəˌnizəm/ • n. a word or phrase peculiar to or originating from the U.S. ∎  the qualities regarded as definitive of America or Americans.

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