New World, Old World: The Historical Antithesis*
It would be silly to pretend that the history of the United States can be or has been discussed from exactly the same position as that of the history of Western Europe. America has undergone various experiences both actually and figuratively remote from the preoccupations of Europe. If the American time-dimension has been smaller, the space-dimension has been larger. American attitudes to their national past sometimes appear ‘un-European’ in a paradoxical way. The New World, that is, is apt to fall back upon historical precedent in a search for solutions to controversies of the moment — mingling past and present with a readiness that can puzzle observers from the Old World. ‘History’ is never an easy word to define, since it embraces not only the record of what has happened but also successive layers of interpretation or myth as to what is thought to have happened. Long before the United States became an independent nation, ‘America’ was a fable. Something of this large, abstract quality was incorporated into the thought-patterns of the new nation. ‘Our fate,’ according to the American historian Richard Hofstadter, ‘is not to have an ideology but to be one.’
KeywordsUnited States National Character American Historian American Literature American Character
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