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  • American Exceptionalism, American Individualism

    Posted by Lexington Green on March 5th, 2013 (All posts by )

    These findings are consistent with the claims that Jim Bennett and I make in our upcoming book America 3.0.

    Americans stand out relative to Westerners on phenomena that are associated with independent self‐concepts and individualism. A number of analyses, using a diverse range of methods, reveal that Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Lipset, 1996; Morling & Lamoreaux, 2008; Oyserman et al., 2002). The observation that the U.S. is especially individualistic is not new, and dates at least as far back as Toqueville (1835). The unusually individualistic nature of Americans may be caused by, or reflect, an ideology that particularly stresses the importance of freedom and self‐sufficiency, as well as various practices in education and child‐rearing that may help to inculcate this sense of autonomy. American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep (Burton & Whiting, 1961; also see Lewis, 1995), reflecting that from the time they are born, Americans are raised in an environment that emphasizes their independence (on unusual nature of American childrearing, see Lancy, 2009; Rogoff, 2003).
     
    The extreme individualism of Americans is evident on many demographic and political measures. In American Exceptionalism, sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset (1996) documents a long list of the ways that Americans are unique in the Western world. At the time of Lipset’s surveys, compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist (they have the most positions for elections and the most frequent elections, although they have among the lowest voter turnout rates). They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious. They were the most churchgoing in Protestantism, and the most fundamentalist in Christendom, and were more likely than others from Western industrialized countries to see the world in absolute moral terms. In contrast to other large Western industrialized societies, the United States had the highest crime rate, the longest working hours, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of volunteerism, the highest percentage of citizens with a post-secondary education, the highest productivity rate, the highest GDP, the highest poverty rate, and the highest income-inequality rate; and Americans were the least supportive of various governmental interventions. The United States is the only industrialized society that never had a viable socialist movement; it was the last country to get a national pension plan, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance; and, at the time of writing, remain the only industrialized nation that does not have a general allowance for families or a national health insurance plan. In sum, there is some reason to suspect that Americans might be different from other Westerners, as de Tocqueville noted.

    Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan, “The Weirdest People in the World?,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010) 33, 61-135.

    Cross-posted at America 3.0

     

    11 Responses to “American Exceptionalism, American Individualism”

    1. Mike K Says:

      I think we also have the worst ruling class in our history. In past times, the government was small enough to make the corruption a secondary concern. Mark Twin famously said that, “The US has no hereditary criminal class with the possible exception of Congress.” That could be laughed at then. Now it is a serious matter.

    2. Orson Says:

      My refutation: change (articulated here previously).

      Or simply, change which undercuts the individualism cited above.

    3. Mike K Says:

      I know Mark Twain was not a Twin. Check the preview. Mental note.

    4. VXXC Says:

      We only have to remember ourselves to rid ourselves of these predators.

    5. PenGun Says:

      “The United States is the only industrialized society that never had a viable socialist movement; it was the last country to get a national pension plan, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance; and, at the time of writing, remain the only industrialized nation that does not have a general allowance for families or a national health insurance plan.”

      It’s a long sentence but describes both the reason and the result. Your corporate overlords go back a long way.

    6. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Your corporate overlords go back a long way.

      Bismark?

    7. zenpundit Says:

      “Your corporate overlords go back a long way”

      American corporations had a much later historical start than their British and German (i.e. Prussian) counterparts, partly because European royal governments were wont to give the King’s favorites patents of monopoly and exclusive charters that delegated governmental and military authorities to the holders. The East India Company, for example, was founded in 1600. The oldest American corporation, the defunct Board of Proprietors of East Jersey, was a colonial creation of the British crown.

    8. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

      }}} In contrast to other large Western industrialized societies, the United States had the highest crime rate,

      Well, THAT part sure as shit doesn’t hold true any more…

      I suppose that’s a “good” thing.

    9. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

      }}}}}} Your corporate overlords go back a long way.

      }}} Bismark?

      Actually, ALL the Junkers

      I seem to recall (can’t find any reference to it) that the Junkers, who owned most of the land in Germany and “Pre-Germany”, were, during the later half of the 1800s, selling the rye produced on German farms to other nations even as German farmers and their families starved. That’s one reason for a lot of the German immigration about that time.

      The Junkers give special meaning to the notion of “rapacious property owners” that even overrides that of the English owners in Ireland…

    10. Tom Holsinger Says:

      Americans are also exceptional in terms of extreme swings between savagery and mercy in war, as opposed to the more common behavior of other peoples between being “at your throat or at your feet”. The best on-line depiction of this was by a commenter called JC in a now-vanished Belmont Club post I quoted in one of Walter Russell Mead’s open-comment blog entries here:

      http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/02/14/is-fear-the-father-of-us-all/#comment-13354

      “… 85. JC in KZ

      … We, Americans, when aggregated may at once be as cruel and as caring as humanly possible, and hold that tension in check until it snaps one way or another. To some it appears feckless, or erratic, or insane, that we could go literally overnight from utter, crushing devastation and murder of sworn enemies, to gently caring for their wounded and consoling them with help to rebuild.

      This kind of attitude, however, flows naturally from the scriptural underpinnings of American, and even English, civilization. An expression, that is, of the tension in God between perfect justice and perfect mercy. An unwillingness to unleash righteous obliteration until absolutely necessary because of the innocents. We, being human rather than divine, lack the perfect knowledge of how to balance our own responses, especially in the complex realm of international actions …”

    11. grey eagle Says:

      ” the highest income-inequality rate”

      The wealth controlled and owned by the ruling class is never counted when income inequality is calculated. If it were, the US prior to Clinton the Plunderer would have the lowest inequality. Now, after Clinton, nearly every politician and bureaucrat has at least a billion in assets under his personal absolute control and our rulers are the wealthiest people in the world.