The Good Life

“Say, I guess America is just about the best country that has ever existed in the history of mankind.”

I have been hearing this assertion all my life and never fully understood what is intended, unless it is merely one of those ahems that we Americans inject into a conversation when we have nothing to say—which, for most of us, is most of the time.  When an old friend recently interjected this fervent declaration of faith in American superiority, I wanted to ask him—though it would have been bad manners—what basis for comparison he had.  After all, he had never lived in ancient Athens or 18th-century France; indeed, on most of his travels abroad he had been chaperoned by tour guides whose professional raison d’être is to keep the tourist in a state of perfect ignorance.

My mind was wandering, as it so often does these days, when I was brought back to attention by the word Pompeii.  On a recent tour of Italy, he had visited Pompeii, where the guide had explained to him some of the conveniences of ancient Roman houses—for example, running water, heated baths, and a sewage system.

“Imagine, this was almost a thousand years ago, and they lived almost as good a life as we have today.”

American greatness, then, would appear to consist in the conveniences of life.  It is pretty...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here