The Imperial and Momentary We

“O Fame, O Fame!  Many a man ere this
Of no account hast thou set up on high.”

“It is a kind of baby talk, a puerile and wind-blown
gibberish. . . . In content it is a vacuum.”
—H.L. Mencken on Warren G. Harding’s speeches

Americans are a practical people.  They don’t want to hear your theory; they want to know what “works.”  This aversion to systematic thinking, “American pragmatism,” has been celebrated as a virtue in a world cursed by ideology.  And, by golly, this approach has “worked,” and worked well, in some aspects of our national life.

Another, less flattering, way to put it may be that Americans are a people of the Moment.  The past is a void never thought of, and the future is merely a dreamy land of wishful thinking for escapist leisure.  The Now is omnipotent.  That you might build a house or plant trees that will be enjoyed by your distant descendants and have real ancestors worthy of honorable memory are ideas long vanished from the American consciousness.  An absence of systematic thinking might be a sign of immaturity.

The Founding Fathers of the United States recognized that a free society rested upon the ability...

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