April 10th, 2012 // 8:54 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America that nearly all Americans are Cartesians, even though few of them know that a “Cartesian” is one who follows the philosophy of Rene Descartes.
Cartesians are famous for following the maxim, “I think, therefore I am,” which translates into little faith in experts and a deep belief in the ability of one’s own mind to figure things out.
In short, Tocqueville was saying that most Americans would rather think on their own, look over all sides of things and draw their own conclusions than give credence to the so-called “authority” of the experts.
One side of this coin is a trust in one’s own mind, thoughts and abilities, and the other side is a deeply imbedded mistrust of experts, officials, politicians, bureaucrats or anyone else claiming any kind of superiority, credibility, class standing, celebrity or special credentials.
The American founders wrote this philosophy right into our founding documents when they outlawed titles of nobility.
In a new book, Bunch of Amateurs, author Jack Hitt writes that this spirit of self-confident amateurism is central to the American character and that indeed, “the amateur’s dream is the American Dream.”
It is an interesting addition to the important genre of understanding the American character.
For those who enjoy this kind of societal analysis, Bunch of Amateurs is an enjoyable read.
I didn’t agree with all of Hitt’s points, but this just added spice to the debate.
I loved the inclusion of the history of Franklin and Adams and how their interactions provide an iconic look into the American character.
The juxtaposition of these two founders with modern commentators Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert is worth the price of the book.
In places, the writing reminded me of books by Steven Pinker, and in other places of Roy H. Williams—both are excellent writers.
If I was only going to read one book of this kind and on this subject area, it would be the brilliant book Rascal by Chris Brady.
Bunch of Amateurs is a quality addition to this important conversation about the American character and, by extension, its emerging future.
I highly recommend it.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.