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Monday, December 19, 2011

"The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer."

Continuing to ponder about the course I recently finished, I realized that of the three components of the title I had been concentrating most on power and ritual and decided to review my lecture notes with a concentration on the third element, society.

The baseline for the course had been established by Aristotle who said that man is a political animal and that only a beast or a god would live outside the polis or political society. Hundreds of years later the Roman thinker Seneca disagreed, but most important writers on this subject such as St. Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle for the next millennium. In the late middle ages and early modern period, the political society was seen as an organism likened to the human body with the king as head, the military the arms, and the peasants the feet. Finally, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century wrote that humans were born both solitary and free, and the theory of individualism appeared for the first time in Western political thought.

Shortly after Rousseau's theories were written, the United States was created, and I wondered if Americans embraced the concept of individualism more than other peoples. The phrase "rugged American individualism" may have been first uttered by Herbert Hoover, but the concept had been around for a long time. This wondering brought to mind the quote that serves as the title for this entry, a quote which I have read many times but have forgot its origins. When I looked it up I felt I had come full circle back to the college course because the sentence comes from D.H. Lawrence although not from the novel that was one of the course requirements.

I'll now have to think whether we Americans are as individuals unusually isolated and if so what effect this alienation from each other has on our politics.

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