It is difficult to contemplate nearly two and a half centuries that have passed since adoption of American society’s main principles. The eventful course of history demonstrates stark contrasts even in understanding these principles through generations of the U.S. citizens. Liberty, equality and self-governance were formally in place all those years. The same holds true about the present-time America. Yet, the number of transformations that still occur under the influence of these core principles does not seem to abate. Surely, it could not have taken so much time to establish the liberty or to enforce proper governance. This race is about changing definitions.
Any form of social structure is, ultimately, an experiment. Such experiments are highly complicated, hardly predictable and never fully reproducible. However, there are common historical features, suggesting that societies with greed and contempt in their base are usually outlived by those containing a bit more humanity. Human values were recognized by the major part of the society from the outset of American experiment. Modern Americans seem to value the same notions; however, Thomas Jefferson could not have imagined the extent of his idea’s application. Values remain while the culture constantly evolves, transforming people’s views, beliefs and the very logic of the experiment.
Patterson describes a culture as “a customary way of thinking about the world” (4). It was customary once to treat black people specifically, to think of women as of a lower sort, or to express little tolerance toward any kind of behavior that differs from the cultural norms. Indeed, one might accuse those long gone ancestors of racist views. However, it was just a cultural stereotype, yet another legacy of European origin. Since the rule of white dominance has persisted through the generations of colonists, it was inevitably taken for granted, not much differently from the assumption of rightfulness in dislodging the native American tribes. The notion of black people being equal to former masters was absurd; yet, it was eventually voiced and substantiated. Skin color should not prevent human being from pursuing the happiness – another universal right that is stated among the great American principles. It took decades for the idea to think. New generations of white Americans were not so confident of their superiority under the influence of that notion. The eventual result is apparent today: black communities are well integrated into American society, being no longer outcasts. The equality idea has dominated through the entire course of public view’s transformation. There is still a long way to go, as people of color have not yet truly merged with the rest of society. They move toward the general life’s standards with the help of that same notion of equality.
It seems that underlying principles of democracy face more challenges along the way of society’s progress. Social conflicts never fully cease, but they are subject to a “…framework that continually transforms conflict into energy for change”, as James Carroll puts it in “What We Love about America” essay. He brings up an extraordinary example of President’s administration being prosecuted for the improper treatment of Guantanamo prisoners. The Founders could not foresee that extent of human rights defense, but they have provided a tool for the job. They shaped core ideals that “…are general principles, not fixed rules of conduct” (Patterson 9). Due to these principles, the term “American conservatism” does not necessarily mean something stuck in development, as would have been the case in a majority of the other states. While rules change, the general principles remain intact, forcing the development in a direction pointed long ago.
Another principle that underlies the American experiment is a free market. The capitalism in its current form appears to be at odds with equality principle at a first glance. It is difficult for a Detroit worker to feel equal to capitalist owners. However, recent phenomena demonstrated by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates prove the possibility for self-made geniuses to rise. Equal and unrestricted opportunities for success urge people to exercise their abilities fully, up to individual limits that are not considered by society as shortcomings. Government does not intervene much to affect the capitalist way of running the economy. “The cornerstone of society is the individual rather than the government” (Patterson 5), which ensures the choice of possibilities, unencumbered by government regulations. Modern examples of self-made people are highly inspirational for the next generation of Americans who will carry on with the old dream. The main principles’ level of fundamentality allows for the continual progress, never hitting the dead end imposed by any contemporary event’s development. Carroll perfects the value of foundation principles in a concise and accurate way: “America is by definition unfinished, because it forever falls short of itself”. The statement might look a bit pompous to an outsider, but reflects the essential characteristic of the great experiment.
Future developments might challenge the core American values to the new and unpredictable extent. As notions of pre-computerized world seem alien to the generation raised on PC games, in 20 years society can find present-time daily objectives rather feeble and unimportant. However, the underlying principles will stay, ensuring the continuity of universal goals. As Carroll points out, “America began … as a half-formed and rough idea, but that idea became the meaning against which all life in the United States has been measured ever since”. There are no doubts that America will continue to benefit from that rough but perfect idea of freedom.