The Uniqueness of America – Eric Hoffer – Taken from Ordeal of Change
…Though the masses have been with us from the beginning of time, we know little about their creative potentialities. In all the fifty centuries of history, the masses had apparently only one chance to show what they could do on their own, without masters to push them around, and it needed the discovery of a new world to give them that chance. In his Last Essays, Georges Bernanos remarks that the French empire was not an achievement of the masses but of a small band of heroes. It is equally true that the masses did not make the British, German, Russian, Chinese, or Japanese empires. But the masses made America. They were the vanguard: they infiltrated, shoved, stole, fought, incorporated, founded, and raised the flag—
And all the disavouched, hard-bitten pack
Shipped overseas to steal a continent
With neither shirts nor honor to their back.
It is this fact which gives America its utter newness. All civilizations we know of were shaped by exclusive minorities of kings, nobles, priests, and the equivalents of the intellectual. It was they who formulated the ideals, aspirations, and values, and it was they who set the tone. America is the only instance of a civilization shaped and colored by the tastes and values of common folk. No elite of whatever nature can feel truly at home in America. This is true not only of the aristocrat proper, but also of the intellectual, the military leader, the business tycoon, and even the labor leader.
The deprecators of America usually point to its defects as being those of a business civilization. Actually they are the defects of the mass: worship of success, the cult of the practical, the identification of quality with quantity, the addiction to sheer action, the fascination with the trivial. We also know the virtues: a superb dynamism, an unprecedented diffusion of skills, a genius for organization and teamwork, a flexibility which makes possible an easy adjustment to the most drastic change, an ability to get things done with a minimum of tutelage and supervision, an unbounded capacity for fraternization.
So much for the defects and the virtues. What of the creative potentialities? My feeling has always been that the people I work and live with are lumpy with talents…
Reference: Hoffer, Eric (2006-06-06). The Ordeal of Change (Kindle Locations 513-517). Hopewell Publications. Kindle Edition.