some ethical thoughts

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Posts tagged core political ideals

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Thomas Patterson on why being American is different to other nationalities

Americans’ ideals are the basis of their national identity. Other people take their identity from the common ancestry that led them gradually to gather under one flag. Thus, long before there was a France or a Japan, there were French and Japanese people, each a kinship group united through blood. Even today, it is kinship that links them. There is no way to become Japanese except to be born of Japanese parents. Not so for Americans. They are a multitude of peoples linked by a political tradition. The United States is a nation that was abruptly founded in 1776 on a set of principles that became its people’s common bond.

  A strong bond of some kind was a necessity. Nationalities that warred constantly in Europe had to find a way to live together in the New World. Americans’ shared ideals contributed to a oneness, however uneasy, among nationalities that had never before trusted one another… The US is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants and of people struggling for a greater level of acceptance and unity.


Patterson then outlines what he considers to be these “Core Political Ideals”

Liberty: The belief that individuals should be free to act and think as they choose, provided they do not infringe unreasonably on the freedom and well-being of others [aka. John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle].

Equality: The belief that all individuals are equal in their moral worth and are entitled to equal treatment under the law. 

Self-government: The belief that the people are the ultimate source of governing authority and must have a voice in how they are governed.

I’m not convinced by many arguments for equality - at least as Patterson has phrased it - so I guess it makes me a two-thirds American? However, if these core ideals are what constitutes “an American”, in terms of national identity, then anyone who does not support marriage equality laws, for members of the LGBT community, cannot be American. All three are undermined by governmental rule that unreasonably undermines gay rights. It’s a nice - but I think empty - sentiment. 

THOMAS E. PATTERSON in We the People: a Concise Introduction to American Politics (5th Edition).

Filed under America USA core political ideals politics history national identity equality liberty self-government thomas patterson quotations