What is it that makes someone an American?

I would argue there are two traits that identify someone as an American perhaps more so than any others.

First, Americans possess a zeal for equality. The American experiment in ordered liberty is premised on natural or ontological equality. This equality-in-our-being was meant to be the moral basis for the democratic character of the American regime, but with time it has come to mean much more. The American Declaration tells us that we are "created equal". The archetypal American insists that since we are "created equal", no one really deserves more or less than anyone else, for this would violate our equality. Thus our material wealth comes to be seen as an accident of circumstance. The American argues that since we are "created equal", there is no good reason for there to be anything between us that is unequal. The egalitarian ideal is more beautiful to the American mind than anything else. Indeed, it may be all that the American mind can really see.

This American understanding of human nature has a direct application to politics. Quite simply, we think the purpose of government is to enact this equality.

From this first character trait flows a second - cosmopolitanism. Because of the intensity of belief in the equality of all things, Americans do not consider their location or physical surroundings much at all. Americans are citizens of the world. This belief can exist in a heightened form where the American will come to actively loathe the place they were born. Perhaps there is no greater (or simply more obvious) expression of cultural transcendence than an active hatred of one's own culture. This American desire for cultural transcendence will not be satiated by accepting membership in another living culture somewhere else; it will find its final form in the creation of an abstract, ideal community that will only actually exist in the American's mind. The mind is the only place the American can find refuge from the imperfections of a world that is so painfully unequal. Maybe this painful truth is what Tocqueville meant when he spoke of American individualism (and also the reason he said Americans are Cartesians without knowing it).

Paradoxically, American individualism, that is, our retreat into ourselves, is caused by our love of equality.

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