The American Conservative today is featuring de Tocqueville’s insights on America (and by way of doing so has at last acknowledged what most voters have been saying all along: that it was not the financial economy that got President Trump elected but the desperate state of the *social* economy that did.) And also why reading what outsiders like de Tocqueville and Chesterton had to say may be more helpful than previously thought in helping address the problems America is facing now.
James Poulos’ essay, “Reading America from the Outside” examines Nolan’s book (Featuring Chesterton along with de Tocqueville and others) “What They Saw In America”
“Chesterton, too, stressed the “permanent ethic of unmeaning hopefulness” that had set in among the Americans. Yet Chesterton drew a concrete kind of hope himself from his experience of Main Street America, where he observed (in South Bend, Indiana) neighbors and townsfolk, gossipy but treating one another with “almost universal hospitality,” putting trust and fellow-feeling above any observance of class. Still, Nolan intimates, a culture of hope for the sake of hope arises all too naturally from what Chesterton called Americans’ “passionate worship of energy for its own sake.” Chesterton linked the “general restlessness” of the American character with the kind of capitalism industrial technology had made possible. Like the “plutocracy and promotion” the practical American sciences gave cultural rise to, the American compulsion to put on a happy face exhibited a fundamental unreality.
He felt that the boastfulness, exaggeration, even deception endemic to promotional advertising influenced the character of Americans. The individual was, in this climate, compelled toward a sort of boosterism, a cheerful elevation of the self that imitated the selling of a manufactured product.”