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Conservatism – the Importance of Traditional American Culture

Introduction

This work is devoted to the identification of the citizen’s role in society and especially in American society. The resources used correspond to “Western Vision and American Values” The Kirkpatrick Signature Series Reader and “In Defense of the West: American Values under Siege” by Donald J. Devine. These books represent the concept of Western society and American Values. The analysis of this works is the main aim of the research. The object of the research lies in the identification of the citizen’s role in the American society regarding the political situation in the world, books studied, and attitude to the American values and approaches to democracy of the other countries representatives.

The methodology of the research lies in the analysis of the material studied that relates not only to the above-mentioned books but also to other sources on the topic of the research (see Reference List). Based on the analysis, the researcher will attempt to identify the main principles of citizen’s behavior relating to American society, traditions, and the concepts of democracy.

Analysis

In his book, Devine argues that the Western approach and the concept of American values both require reanalyzing and defending. Devine introduces in the book research of western society approach and its values, typical and basic beliefs and attitudes of the citizens, also he describes the impact of American traditions on an average American citizen, and freedoms and duties of those citizens.

The author claims that the values and approaches of American culture are under threat now, various terrorist attacks on the institutions and worldviews outside the USA and even widespread approach of native Americans have led to the result that American traditions are now considered more valuable than the traditions of other peoples. Donald Devine’s book refers to the question of these values’ survival and required methods of their defense.

The author points out three major tests of Western culture and civilization. These tests correspond to three basic questions. The first is that the population of Europe becomes an “aged nations”. The second question corresponds to the law approach that according to the author should serve the prosperity of the society but not just certain interests. The third question refers to the concept of democratic government’s responses on various entitlement programs. The author argues that the answer to these questions could not be given by the government, instead, this is a religion that should respond to these questions by a certain approach to moral community standards.

It is a widely spread fact that America and other world have problems of mutual misunderstanding (Browning, 1997). These problems as well as intolerance, and various kinds of misrepresentation exist all over the world and the USA is not the exception. Throughout history, the image of America was considered as equivocal and a subject to instability in the relations, expression of criticism of American policy all over the world has increased to an enormous level in the recent past.

Several researchers conducted studies to identify the basic causes of that critical activity. The results obtained indicated the following causes.

The main cause relates to the terms like cruise missiles, jet-fighter, nuclear bomb, Star Wars, and anti-missile defense. In the majority of cases, these terms are referred to foreign and security policies conducted by the USA. Despite the severe critique The USA continues to provide a better understanding of the government policies through exchange programs that relate to all fields of modern social life, in addition, the USA started to establish Culture Historical Research Facilities of various countries.

America is a consequence of the cultural inheritance of the European Enlightenment process. People who came to America were eager to realize themselves, opportunities, freedom (both religious and physical), equality, the concept of the democratic system, and possibly human rights. The basis of the image of a man in the American community, his attitudes, his rights and duties, his cooperation with others, refers to the principles of European culture. Due to this fact, the so-called “Western” culture is indeed an inheritance of European culture. The approaches and attitudes which form Americans’ “Western” art and culture are European. The American concept of equality and freedom takes the source in Europe. Taking into account all mentioned above it could be said that the people of America and people of Europe have much in common. The European Enlightenment processes made the concept of the “American Dream” possible; this concept still occupies one of the major places in the minds of the American population and still to some kind determines the domestic and foreign policy of the country (Browning, 1997). Despite the criticism of the American culture, policy, traditions, and values Europe remains the closest ally of the USA due to the historical interaction of both cultures. American approaches influence Europe, as well as European approaches, influence America (Dodds and Atkinson, 2000).

Almost all the values of the USA originated from the Protestantism of the 17th century and liberalism of the 18th century (Dobel, 2001). From the very beginning and until today Christianity occupies the leading place in the USA and has the greatest impact on both domestic and foreign policy. The American form of the Protestantism that could be considered as “democratic and republican” has a strong influence on almost every citizen of the USA and in the course of history, it helped the citizens of the USA to establish the country as it is now and also helped to establish traditions as well as values which exist up to the present day (Dobel, 2001). The USA is considered to be a country where the church does not influence the government and the policy conducted by the government; however, in the USA the impact of the religion is clearly seen both in domestic and in foreign policy (Browning, 1997). It could be stated that the meaning of the so-called “national identity” of the Americans is the interrelation of the political and religious aspects in the souls of the citizens.

The contrast between the values and traditions of the USA could be clearly seen if one thoroughly examines the very approach to these values as well as to the polity (Wilkinson, 1991). The political structure of the USA may be considered antigovernmental and antiauthoritarian in the comparison with the governments of other countries (Dodds and Atkinson, 2000). Starting from the signing of the Declaration of Independence the polity was trying to provide the most possible freedom for the citizens of the USA and at present moment it could be stated that the government represents only a tool for providing and maintaining the citizens’ rights (Dynneson, 1992). The aim of the all US governmental system is to legally exclude all hierarchical antiauthoritarian approaches. According to the US Constitution, the very basis of which corresponds to the process of limiting governmental power with the help of fundamental law; freedom could be considered to one of the main aspects of today’s American values (Dobel, 2001). The very meaning of American individualism refers to the right of each individual to act, accordingly to the beliefs and determine his or her attitude to the problem accordingly to the beliefs, with the only demand not to interfere with the rights of other people (Browning, 1997). The values meant by equality refer to the concept of denial of power as a method and tool for gaining control over another person. The most important values as it is stated could refer to the concept of democracy in the USA (Dodds and Atkinson, 2000). Democracy means that each citizen can influence the decision of the government and in his or her opinion control the government through the representatives.

The meaning of citizenship

The USA basic structure relates to the fact that the basis of all authority — the valid source of all power — is represented by each person and makes a collective attitude to the processes in the country. According to this strategy the country is ruled by the people who are governed by the government. A term citizen in the USA means a full and equal representation of a polity. The meaning of the word citizen in the countries outside the USA may correspond to several aspects (Browning, 1997). The first aspect refers to the place of the birth of an individual; due to the birthplace, an individual obtains the status of a citizen. The second aspect corresponds to the citizen status of an individual’s parents. However, some countries require both the first aspect and the second aspect for a person to obtain the status of a citizen (Dobel, 2001). Most democratic counties have developed a set of special legal methods which allow a person to obtain the status of a citizen in a full volume without a birthright. This opportunity appeared due to the concept that the equality of the citizens in the polity goes before the law in a democratic state. However, in some countries (including the USA) the constitutions may differentiate the rights of citizens and rights of inhabitants of the country who do not have a status of a citizen (Mathiopoulos, 1989). In the USA the right to vote and the right to be elected belong only to the citizens of the country. Considering all the other rights, it can be said that the country guarantees all the rights to everyone who is residing in the country. Inhabitants of any democratic state may vary accordingly to religion, race aspect, ethnicity, belonging to a certain social class, and gender (Dodds and Atkinson, 2000). Anyway, there is only one identity of a person that refers to all types of citizens this identity is civic identity. This identity is grounded on the concept that every citizen is given a commitment to certain civil attitudes, principles, and values of the democratic polity. In multi-cultural countries like the USA, this civic identity has an aim to bind all the citizens in a single order that corresponds to democratic polity, without any relation to religious, ethnic, and racial aspects (Dobel, 2001).

The meaning of the term citizenship corresponds to a social and valid connection between the citizen and the political body of the country (Thatcher, 2002). The status of a citizen provides several obligatory duties which should be executed by a citizen for democratic processes proper operating. Other obligatory duties of the citizens include taxes paying, military service when there is a requirement, obeying laws, loyalty to the policy conducted by the polity, when necessary demonstrating appropriate critique of the country’s policy conducted and of social aspects of life. Citizenship also provides necessary action to decrease the gap between the ideals and present reality (Dodds and Atkinson, 2000).

Also, it could be stated that the duty of a citizen corresponds to identification and eliminating of the issues related to equality of rights, like a citizen should struggle for equal treatment in courts of all representatives of the society, and should struggle against the denial to certain representatives of the society of the rights to participate in politic life of the country (Browning, 1997). All mentioned above aspects refer to the concept that if a citizen is provided with certain rights, he or she should carry a certain responsibility for them. The following points display the major types of responsibilities for the rights possessed: an individual should respect the rights of another person, an individual should protect his rights and the rights of other people if anyone acts against these rights and abuses them and the last one an individual should perform his activity for the democratic processes to operate properly (Ungar, 1991). For instance, the right to vote and the right to speak freely are considered influential on social and political life only when a citizen uses them regularly, effectively, and with a required approach (Gabriel, 1974). In modern times the government is, in the majority of cases, a legal tool for providing, supporting, maintaining, and executing the rights of the citizens and citizens’ duties.

“Citizenship is the fundamental institution that connects the individual bearer of rights to the protective agencies of the state. The civic realm of the state provides the main channels through which individuals can participate politically and share in governance” (Kane, 2003, 97).

The issue of citizenship is the basis for understanding what democracy means and how it operates. The knowledge about citizenship corresponds to the following aspects: a person should realize the meaning of citizenship and the ways to obtain or lost skills and civil attitudes which will construct the basis for the proper execution of rights and duties of citizens in a democratic polity (Dynneson, 1992). Among participatory skills three categories could be defined: interaction, monitoring, and influencing. The interacting aspect refers to the communication and cooperation skills of an individual in relation to political and social life (Browning, 1997). The monitoring process refers to the activity of following and examination of political leader’s activity as well as the governmental institutions. Influencing corresponds to the set of methods using which a citizen affects the political and social life of the country (Dobel, 2001). Appropriate civil attitudes correspond to the following characteristics of an individual’s personality: “civility, sociability, honesty, self-restraint, tolerance, trust, compassion, a sense of duty, a sense of political efficacy, capacity for cooperation, loyalty, courage, respect for the worth and dignity of each person, and concern for the common good” (Wilkinson, 1992, 134)

All the above-mentioned skills and attitudes may be developed with the help of the following activities:

  • Participation in various public organizations related to democracy and its processes.
  • Various social services can provide development of social responsibility of an individual.
  • Various projects correspond to cooperative activity that has one common aim.

The process of identifying a citizen’s role in society may be achieved through different types of projects (Kreyling, 1998). As a rule, the study activity is conducted in small groups to properly identify the issue of it in various polities, what rights and duties do it provide, and how is interrelated with various institutions especially of the country where a person lives. In order to participate properly in the life of the country, citizens should not only understands these basic aspects but develop their own approach consisted of the participatory problem (Lipset, 1979). Further on research is conducted with an aim of obtaining information about the subject related to any field of political activity.

Conclusion

As it was stated in the aims and objectives this research attempted to identify the meaning of citizenship and the role of the citizen in the US society. As it could be seen the role of a “real” and responsible citizen provides not only the rights but also certain obligatory duties which help the democratic polity to operate properly. The system of values and traditions as well as the concept of citizenship corresponds to the history of the USA. Since the USA was separated from the outer world by two oceans it became possible to develop their system of values which regulates the together with the religion the ways how the foreign and domestic policies are conducted.

It could be stated that the values and the traditions of the USA should be protected by every citizen of the country as it corresponds to the very meaning of the concepts and processes which rule the country.

References

Browning, D. S., Miller-McLemore, B. J., Couture, P. D., Lyon, K. B., & Franklin, R. M. (1997). From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate (1st ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Dobel, J. P. (2001). Paradigms, Traditions, and Keeping the Faith. Public Administration Review, 61(2), 166.

Dodds, K. & Atkinson, D. (Eds.). (2000). Geopolitical Traditions: A Century of Geopolitical Thought. London: Routledge.

Dynneson, T. L. (1992). What’s Hot and What’s Not Effective Citizenship Instruction. Social Studies, 83(5), 197-200.

Gabriel, R. H. (1974). American Values; Continuity and Change. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Kane, J. (2003). American Values or Human Rights? U.S. Foreign Policy and the Fractured Myth of Virtuous Power. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 33(4), 772+.

Kreyling, M. (1998). Dixie Rising: How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture. The Mississippi Quarterly, 51(4), 701.

Lipset, S. M. (1979). The First New Nation: The United States in Historical States in Historical and Comparative Perspective. New York: Norton.

Mathiopoulos, M. (1989). History and Progress: In Search of the European and American Mind. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Thatcher, A. (2002). Living Together and Christian Ethics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ungar, S. (1991). Civil Religion and the Arms Race. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 28(4), 503-525.

Wilkinson, R. (Ed.). (1992). American Social Character: Modern Interpretations : from the ’40s to the Present. New York: Icon Editions.