Would you rather depend on yourself than on others? Self-reliance is a recurring American theme. Ralph Waldo Emerson captured its essence in his 1841 essay by that name. “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” advised the Sage of Concord. Think for yourself. Don’t conform; don’t imitate. Follow your own path.
Does that resonate with you? It does with most Americans. Self-reliance is one of the strongest American values. In four national surveys I conducted over the past two years, over 85% of Americans say they would rather depend on themselves than on others. About the same proportion say they rely on themselves most of the time.
The ideal of individual autonomy, liberty, and sovereignty goes back at least to Thomas Jefferson. Like it or not, individualism is coded in America’s DNA. According to historian Robert Weibe, “The substantial body of collective criticism that singles out individualism as the special curse of American democracy simply flies in the face of its history. Telling Americans to improve democracy by sinking comfortably into community, by losing themselves in a collective life, is calling into the wind. There never has been an American democracy without its powerful strand of individualism, and nothing suggests there ever will be.”
Strong words. Do you agree?
Is self-reliance a source of strength?
Is it an American curse?
Please Comment below.
(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)