American Civilization

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Summary American Civilization

Chapter 1 The American context
Several historical features (e.g. war of independence from Britain 1775-83) have created 3 major cultures in the USA: 1. Ethnic culture (centred on Native-American civilizations, European colonial settlement, African-American slavery and immigration movements) 2. Political-legal culture (based on individualism, constitutionalism and respect for the law) 3. Economic & consumer driven culture (driven by corporate and individual competition which encourages profit and the consumption of goods and services)

-> Ethnic Culture
Until 1776, over half of the population came from the British Isles (US colonial settlement period). They were responsible for promoting many of the new nation’s political, social, constitutional and religious institutions. After this period and American independence from Britain, north-western Europe supplied over two-thirds of episodic US immigration. In total, some 60 million immigrants entered between 1820-2000. Although the USA has managed to integrate its immigrants successfully there exists discrimination and intolerant nativism (discrimination towards newcomers by the existing population). Today the largest minority group is Latino. -> Political-legal Culture

Its nature has been largely shaped by:
• The central place of law and the constitution in American life • The restrictions that the constitution places upon politics • The fact that many American believe in minimal government • The need to produce consensual (widely agreed) national politics (consequence of pluralism -> the believe that people of different races, cultures etc can live together) American politics tends to be more concerned with local, state interests than national matters. Recently political participation has decreased (low turnout voters for elections). -> Economic Culture

The US economic and social cultures are both materialistic/practical and idealistic/abstract. Americans are very competitive. They have been historically very sceptical of Big Business as well as Big Government.

A historical dilemma has been how to balance the need for national unity with the existence of ethnic diversity. In the 1950s ethnic differences and issues seemed to be declining, but revived in the 1960s. From the late 1970s through the 1990s, there has been a reaction against liberal policies and affirmative action programmes for minority groups, which allegedly discriminate in the latter’s favour in e.g. education/work.

The tension is between absolute pluralism (multiculturalism where the interests of an ethnic group are equally valid to any other and should be supported) and acceptance of pluralism under a prevailing umbrella American identity. Americans have historically tried to construct a sense of an overarching national identity and unity by binding the ethnically diverse population to central images or symbols of ‘Americanness’ (e.g. the national flag and its pledge of allegiance, declaration of independence, the ‘star spangled banner’ and the constitution)

4th of July: independence day. Official US holiday which commemorates the day in 1776 when the continental congress sitting in Independence Hall Philadelphia gave its approval to the declaration of independence from Britain.

Features of US life:
• Distrust of Big Business/Government, desire to be free • Communalism, voluntary activities, charitable organisations, group endavours One cannot define a single and simple set of traits which are shared by all Americans. Nevertheless, the 3 major cultures and various subcultures have produced a composite Americanness and distinctive US image, which have influenced an international or globalized culture.

The top-5 problems facing the USA according to the population (2004): 1. Education
2. The economy
3. Terrorism
4. Health Care
5. The situation in Iraq

In terms of ethnic composition of the country,...