Suzanne Fields

He meticulously documents three and half centuries of the American experience -- from colonial days to the present -- and tells how the nation's natural abundance has been the engine of growth, forming the national character reflecting a belief in expanded opportunity. We have far more than our ancestors could have dreamed of -- more material goods, better health, greater access to information and a greater ability to use it.

He observes that the earlier belief that America is the exceptional society, as Abraham Lincoln expressed it at Gettysburg, has been badly ruptured by recent historians who focus only on the nation's flaws, poisoning an entire generation of students.

Over the past four decades, historians have catalogued the details of our devils, attempting to exile the better angels of our nature to the trash bin. Teachers have recast a "shining city on the hill" to a befouled environment where Indians were murdered, Africans enslaved, workers repressed, immigrants exploited. The unique American enthusiasm to right wrongs is overlooked or ignored as unimportant.

Fischer is something of a "fellow traveler" with Alexis de Tocqueville, finding the 19th century Frenchman's insights into American "volunteerism" -- an ability to sustain individualism in social groups -- as the key to progress: "Equality in the American context is not equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity, treatment and freedom."

The Founding Fathers were educated men smart enough to draw on the sentiments and innate sense of justice of the common (and uneducated) man for support. Americans have had the willingness to mingle comfortably in neighborhood, regional and ethnic groups, charitable and political institutions that cut across economic lines. What enables cohesion is the "can-do" attitude of self-reliance.

The most recent phenomenon that illustrates this thesis is the explosion of the tea parties. Their rugged, ragged organizing principles have forged alliances similar to those of the early American colonists who worked toward the common goal of limited government organized to guarantee maximum individual liberty. The tea parties are moving the debate today, reminding us of the vitality of our own democracy. There's nothing faux about that.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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