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Why You Should Never Use Coupons Or Shop At Wal-Mart If You Want To Get Rich…

Discussion in 'BlackHat Lounge' started by lehpet, May 31, 2010.

  1. lehpet

    lehpet Registered Member

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    This is part of an old Mike Dillard email that I read often. What do you think?

    "I've been debating whether or not to write this email for about two weeks now because I know that quite a few people will wrongly be offended by it, and that my inbox will be flooded by derogatory responses.

    Then my new issue of Perry Marshall's Newsletter arrived in my mail box, and I changed my mind...

    Here's the introduction to his newsletter:

    "You know what's wrong with the internet?

    Smart people and stupid people get equal airtime. And since stupid people tend to shout longer and louder than people who have acquired wisdom and judgment, ignorance usually prevails.

    Stupid people proudly step forward and identify themselves. They self-select. As soon as this newsletter issue hits the streets, people who are angry about this newsletter and this irrelevant first section which "obviously has nothing to do with marketing will send nasty emails and cancel their membership. This naturally weeds the stupid people out of my Renaissance Club." - Perry Marshall.

    Perry's point is that you should never stifle the growth of the wise minority for fear of loud reprisal by the ignorant majority. With that said, here is a very basic, very simple message on the surface that will contain deeper meaning for those who get it...

    I hate shopping at Wal-Mart. It makes me sick to my stomach, but the important part is why... (And if you're going to read this, you need to read the entire page).

    For as long as I can remember, I've had a burning desire to achieve above average financial prosperity... To have the million dollar home on the lake, the cars, and the ability to do anything, or buy anything I want. 100%, pure freedom.

    But it's not just about material goods. Money gives you the freedom, options, and power to have a large and positive impact on society through charity, education, and reform.

    Because I have such strong feelings and emotions attached to the desire to achieve wealth and success, I have equally strong feelings of repulsion for poverty and weakness.

    Most wealthy and successful people share this repulsion.

    Why?

    Because they are consciously aware (unlike the majority of society), that thoughts, ideas, and attitudes are real things, and that they are contagious.

    You will adopt the ideas, beliefs, and mindset of the people you spend the most time with (including the people found on TV, in books, or on tape), which will lead you to make similar decisions, which will lead you to assume a similar life and lifestyle.

    Rich people know this, and they know that a person's mindset is fluid. It's always changing with the ideas and interactions it comes into contact with on a daily basis.

    This is why rich people protect themselves from everything associated with struggle and poverty.

    Ever wonder why they live together in walled communities closed off from the rest of society with massive gates? Ever wonder why they shop at expensive boutiques, fly first-class, stay at $500/night hotels?

    Ever wonder why most of them belong to "members only" country clubs?
    Is it because they want to enjoy the finer things in life? Well sure. But that's not the only reason.

    They want to protect their minds from the thoughts of poverty and struggle that are held by the rest of common society because they know that all thoughts are contagious, and they have a burning desire to live un-common lives.

    The rich get richer because they only invite and interact with other prosperous people.

    The common man sees this behavior as "stuck-up" and "snobby". The rich simple see it as an unfortunate necessity, as I do.

    That's why I never shop at Wal-Mart. Have I? Yes. But just walking into that store makes me physically uncomfortable. My stomach turns.

    I feel that way because I associate that store and the people who shop there with struggle and poverty.

    The entire company is designed around the concept of "saving money" and pinching pennies.

    It's a physical monument dedicated to thoughts like...

    "I only have this much money, so I need to save as much as I can."
    "The economy is crashing, so I need to guard what little I have."
    "I can't afford it..."
    "We're on a limited budget."

    That kind mindset is a disease voluntarily held by people who go through life as victims.

    They are subservient to their boss, to economic times, to prices, and to money itself.

    Money has the power, and they are lucky to acquire and save any that comes their way.

    The rich think differently.

    They believe and accept that they have the power to change and shape their lives as they wish. Money doesn't own their lives, they own the money. They have the power.

    The difference between these two mindsets can be summed up like this...

    Someone with a poverty mentality says, "I can't afford it".

    Someone with an abundance mentality says, "How can I afford it?"

    The more you start to think like the rich, the more apparent this mindset will become to you. One day, you'll walk into Wal-Mart and you'll literally FEEL what I'm talking about.

    You'll feel like you're out of place... Like you've walked into a club or restaurant where you're the one person who doesn't belong.

    Now I know that there are a lot of people out there reading this who DO shop at Wal-Mart and are saying, "that's easy for you to say Mike. You don't have a family of 4 to support and you're not struggling to get this home business thing off the ground anymore."

    Well I have shopped at Wal-Mart and I have been as low as anyone. When you're pawning your DVD collection to eat as I have, you've basically hit the bottom.

    But the difference is that even during those times, I have NEVER been comfortable shopping there because in my mind, I was different. I didn't belong in that store. I didn't share the same mind-set that the rest of the people in there did.

    I have nothing against saving money when you're struggling. I was there. But I do, and will always wage war against a poverty mentality.

    Whether or not you shop at Wal-Mart is not important. Everyone starts from the bottom and does whatever they have to do. Whether or not you are comfortable and happy shopping at Wal-Mart is where your personal truth is found.

    If you don't have the feelings, desires, and aspirations to separate yourself from the crowd of Middle America discount shoppers, then I don't know why you're even on this list.

    To take this attitude of abundance vs prosperity to another level, I've also adopted the following habits:

    I never use coupons and I never accept coin change from a purchase. If my bottle of water costs $1.75, the cashier gets $2.00 and keeps the 25 cents.

    Why?

    Because I NEVER focus on pinching pennies. I focus on MAKING MORE.
    I constantly hold an abundance mindset, and these two habits are a physical expression of that mentality that I have held even when I was making $1,500/mo as a waiter. It's a message to my subconscious mind to always see life through a lens of prosperity.
     
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    Last edited: May 31, 2010
  2. haverox

    haverox Regular Member

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    Really? I remember like 10-12 years ago bill gates went on tv and said that all the clothes he was wearing at the time, including his watch and shoes, cost less than $200. Strange.
     
  3. themliteguy

    themliteguy Registered Member

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    Cliff notes please
     
  4. lehpet

    lehpet Registered Member

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    LOL! I think Bill Gates is the exception to a lot of rules, including this one apparently. :fing26:
     
  5. lehpet

    lehpet Registered Member

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    Sure! There's a button for that you know...lol! :p

    I'm glad it got you thinking...that was the point of putting it up here. =)
     
  6. Bolo334

    Bolo334 Junior Member

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    Great article about beliefs and how beliefs can be contagious.

    If you hang around guys who say things like "I'm broke as a joke" or "Fuck rich people. They screwed somebody over to get that money" then you're going to have a very negative attitude about money or just be indifferent.

    If you ever hung out at a Wal-mart then you see what type of people tend to shop there. I can't say they're the finest looking representatives of humanity.

    There's a price to pay for every thought you create and entertain in your mind. And you will pay the price for admittance to that
    audio-video experience in terms of your kinesthetic sensations or feelings, your emotions, your health and well-being, your sanity
    and adjustment to reality, and your responses. What price are you paying for the thoughts playing in your mind?
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2010
  7. liquidglass

    liquidglass Registered Member

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    Well Lehpet I have a simple question for you (not in anger of course just curiosity) How much money have you accumulated?

    Firstly let me start off saying that I agree with the mindset you're putting forth, that is how many successful people think.

    However I would like to point out that even though we all (least I do) know struggle and hardship. It's not going out and spending $100 on an item rather than $50 that is apart of that mindset. It's spending $50 on it and using the extra money to your advantage.

    People that have "jobs" (just over broke) spend their money on what they need and pinch pennies to spend money on what they want.

    People that are successful pinch pennies to use that money to build more money. Plain and simple.

    Here's an example. I know a very successful woman who was dead broke and stationed her life around keeping the money she had to build more. Tearing napkins in half, etc. She has accumulated massive amounts of wealth that most people here could never attain (because of their mindset) she shopped and still shops at walmart. Still tears napkins in half and saves where she can even though she has enough money she has no need for it.

    Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy spending thousands on expensive things because I know I can and it makes me feel good I've achieved a small stepping stone. But it is not a result of separating myself from people. It comes from being around many people and taking the advice of those that are successful. Many unsuccessful people have wonderful ideas, they just don't take the next step and put it into action.

    Just a thought.
     
  8. goawayplease

    goawayplease Regular Member

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    One shouldn't mistake mere frugality for what Lehpet is talking about. Tons of wealthy people are frugal... Warren Buffet still lives in the first house he bought for something like $60,000.

    Careful management of money is an important aspect of the wealthy mindset.

    Men like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet value something other than money, and did even before they had lots of it... and they infuse these values into how they manage their money.

    Look at the guy who owns Virgin Corp, he's always tossing huge sums of money into seemingly insane projects but at the same time he also makes huge sums of money through insane projects... His priorities and values dictate his spending, and his other actions and this leads to a return beyond any dollar amount.

    Ultimately time is our most valuable asset, and when it counts most we can't get that back... people who generated wealth in their lifetime tend to recognize that. You can always earn a buck, but a minute is priceless... so they prioritized, got in touch with their values and then ran head long into success.
     
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  9. liquidglass

    liquidglass Registered Member

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    I will add that I do not disagree in the slightest that the people you hang around CAN affect your mindset. Being solid in your mindset though means that no one can affect it but you.

    So I disagree slightly, but overall I liked your post, even thanked it.

    I, like many of you, remove myself from negative people and situations because I don't need to deal with it, not because they'll affect me. In fact I've set a goal before to quit a job I hated on a certain date. I quit as I said I would with no solid plans in place to replace the income. But because of my mindset that I would/could achieve better I started another opportunity out of the blue in less than 72 hours that has since more than quadrupled my income. (and I'm still not satisfied, I'm hungry, and because I'm not becoming stagnant it's only increasing.)

    Many people here might say "but I just can't do that, I can't quit" Yes you can. And if you're still sitting there thinking "I need it" well then with that mindset you always will "need" it. I do what I do for fun now, not because I have to.
     
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  10. liquidglass

    liquidglass Registered Member

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    great point, I think thats where my point of contingent arose. Although I have been up for quite a while today so I'll attribute it to that.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2010
  11. wowhaxor

    wowhaxor Executive VIP Premium Member

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    This may be true but I think for different reasons. Because I have lived a certain way and have been through certain things in life I'm able to have a perspective on the things that really matter and understand that making money is not that important. Don't get me wrong, I get 100% of my income from IM and love it - but I love it because it allows me to work only when I need to and make enough to get by while I do what makes me happy.

    People with narrow views that surround themselves with only those who strive to make money and more money are probably very happy making a ton of money - but its more than they need. I've been on both sides and I can tell you that a healthy middle ground is where happiness is really at.
     
  12. tymillz

    tymillz Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I remember that article. Got it from Mike a few years ago. Its a good read. It is suppose to remind you of what it is to have a successful mindset.
     
  13. phatzilla

    phatzilla Supreme Member

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  14. digzober

    digzober Junior Member

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    I beg to differ, but I have plenty of rich people in my family, including my father. From my experiences, they all use coupons and they all LOVE Walmart! I believe to be rich is to never show it off. If you are rich, you are most likely using coupons and shopping at places even cheaper than Walmart.
     
  15. Jared255

    Jared255 Jr. Executive VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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    I don't think this is true at all. You can easily shop at Walmart and be rich.

    Mind over matter... if I go and buy a pair of flip flops for $1 at Walmart instead of some designer store, or some undershirts there because they're cheap as fuck doesn't mean I'm going to be poor...
     
  16. tacopalypse

    tacopalypse Executive VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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    ^ that's pure gold right there.

    the shift in focus from saving money to making more money is also crucial to being successful. sadly though, if you have a regular job where your employer controls your income, this just isn't possible.

    there's also this other quote i like: "average together the incomes of your 5 closest friends, and that's how much you're making."
     
  17. liquidglass

    liquidglass Registered Member

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    I agree, but the thing most people dont' realize is the only way to make more money is not to let an employer control our income. You have to 'fire your boss' it's the only way to do it. People are just too scared to risk security for big time gains.
     
  18. lehpet

    lehpet Registered Member

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    That's really the issue. I once heard that it's actually better to be dead-ass broke than to be "middle class." The reason? When you're completely and totally broke, you have nothing to lose. It's the middle class people that are just secure enough to never take a risk. They're trapped. Their 401Ks and health insurance benefits keep them locked in the rat race.

    My Dad is a case in point. He reminds me of Robert Kiyosaki's "poor Dad." He's worked at Sprint for 15 years but, it seems like every other day they are doing some merger or whatever, and he has to worry about being laid off. It's sick.

    My entire family thinks I'm completely insane. Going to Wal-Mart DOES make me cringe. I hate it there and they just do not "get it." I'm glad I found BHW...you're the "sanest" group of people I've ever known! At least here, the members acknowledge that there are inherent--insidious almost--problems in the staus quo and we strive to BREAK OUT!

    :family1:
     
  19. blanko

    blanko Power Member

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    AT NINE o'clock on the morning of September 11th 2001, President George Bush sat in an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, listening to seven-year-olds read stories about goats. "Night fell on a different world," he said of that day. And on a different America.

    At first, America and the world seemed to change together. "We are all New Yorkers now," ran an e-mail from Berlin that day, mirroring John F. Kennedy's declaration 40 years earlier, "Ich bin ein Berliner", and predicting Le Monde's headline the next day, "Nous sommes tous Amricains". And America, for its part, seemed to become more like other countries. Al-Qaeda's strikes, the first on the country's mainland by a foreign enemy, stripped away something unique: its aura of invulnerability, its sense of itself as a place apart, "the city on a hill".

    Two days after the event, President George Bush senior predicted that, like Pearl Harbour, "so, too, should this most recent surprise attack erase the concept in some quarters that America can somehow go it alone." Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, suggested that "America may become a more ordinary country in the sense of having concrete interests and real vulnerabilities, rather than thinking itself unilaterally able to define the nature of the world it lives in."

    Both men were thinking about foreign policy. But global terrorism changed America at home as well. Because it made national security more important, it enhanced the role of the president and the federal government. Twice as many Americans as in the 1990s now say that they are paying a lot of attention to national affairs, where they used to care more about business and local stories. Some observers noted "a return to seriousness"—and indeed frivolities do not dominate television news as they used to.

    But America has not become "a more ordinary country", either in foreign policy or in the domestic arena. Instead, this survey will argue that the attacks of 2001 have increased "American exceptionalism"—a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in the mid-19th century to describe America's profound differences from other nations. The features that the attacks brought to the surface were already there, but the Bush administration has amplified them. As a result, in the past two years the differences between America and other countries have become more pronounced.

    Yet because America is not a homogeneous country—indeed, its heterogeneity is one of its most striking features—many of its people feel uneasy about manifestations of exceptionalism. Hence, as this survey will also argue, the revival and expansion of American exceptionalism will prove divisive at home. This division will define domestic politics for years to come.

    Not all New Yorkers any more

    From the outside, the best indication of American exceptionalism is military power. America spends more on defence than the next dozen countries combined. In the nearest approach to an explicit endorsement of exceptionalism in the public domain, the National Security Strategy of 2002 says America must ensure that its current military dominance—often described as the greatest since Rome's—is not even challenged, let alone surpassed.

    In fact, military might is only a symptom of what makes America itself unusual. The country is exceptional in more profound ways. It is more strongly individualistic than Europe, more patriotic, more religious and culturally more conservative (see chart 1). Al-Qaeda's assaults stimulated two of these deeper characteristics. In the wake of the attacks, expressions of both love of country and love of God spiked. This did not necessarily mean Americans suddenly became more patriotic or religious. Rather, the spike was a reminder of what is important to them. It was like a bolt of lightning, briefly illuminating the landscape but not changing it.

    The president seized on these manifestations of the American spirit. The day after he had defined America's enemies in his "axis of evil" speech, in January 2002, Mr Bush told an audience in Daytona Beach, Florida, about his country's "mission" in the world. "We're fighting for freedom, and civilisation and universal values." That is one strand of American exceptionalism. America is the purest example of a nation founded upon universal values, such as democracy and human rights. It is a standard-bearer, an exemplar.

    But the president went further, seeking to change America's culture and values in ways that would make the country still more distinctive. "We've got a great opportunity," he said at Daytona. "As a result of evil, there's some amazing things that are taking place in America. People have begun to challenge the culture of the past that said, ‘If it feels good, do it'. This great nation has a chance to help change the culture." He was appealing to old-fashioned virtues of personal responsibility, self-reliance and restraint, qualities associated with a strand of exceptionalism that says American values and institutions are different and America is exceptional in its essence, not just because it is a standard-bearer.

    On this view, America is not exceptional because it is powerful; America is powerful because it is exceptional. And because what makes America different also keeps it rich and powerful, an administration that encourages American wealth and power will tend to encourage intrinsic exceptionalism. Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations dubs this impulse "American revivalism". It is not an explicit ideology but a pattern of beliefs, attitudes and instincts.

    The Bush administration displays "exceptionalist" characteristics to an unusual extent. It is more openly religious than any of its predecessors. Mr Bush has called Jesus his favourite philosopher. White House staff members arrange Bible study classes. The president's re-election team courts evangelical Protestant voters. The administration wants religious institutions to play a bigger role in social policy.

    It also wears patriotism on its sleeve. That is not to say it is more patriotic than previous governments, but it flaunts this quality more openly, using images of the flag on every occasion and relishing America's military might to an unusual extent. More than any administration since Ronald Reagan's, this one is focused narrowly on America's national interest.

    Related to this is a certain disdain for "old Europe" which goes beyond frustrations over policy. By education and background, this is an administration less influenced than usual by those bastions of transatlanticism, Ivy League universities. One-third of President Bush senior's first cabinet secretaries, and half of President Clinton's, had Ivy League degrees. But in the current cabinet the share is down to a quarter. For most members of this administration, who are mainly from the heartland and the American west (Texas especially), Europe seems far away. They have not studied there. They do not follow German novels or French films. Indeed, for many of them, Europe is in some ways unserious. Its armies are a joke. Its people work short hours. They wear sandals and make chocolate. Europe does not capture their imagination in the way that China, the Middle East and America itself do.

    Mr Bush's own family embodies the shift away from Euro-centrism. His grandfather was a senator from Connecticut, an internationalist and a scion of Brown Brothers Harriman, bluest of blue-blooded Wall Street investment banks. His father epitomised the transatlantic generation. Despite his Yale education, he himself is most at home on his Texas ranch.

    Looked at this way, the Bush administration's policies are not only responses to specific problems, or to demands made by interest groups. They reflect a certain way of looking at America and the world. They embody American exceptionalism.

    American exceptionalism is nothing new. But it is getting sharper

    "EVERYTHING about the Americans," said Alexis de Tocqueville, "is extraordinary, but what is more extraordinary still is the soil that supports them." America has natural harbours on two great oceans, access to one of the world's richest fishing areas, an abundance of every possible raw material and a huge range of farmed crops, from cold-weather to tropical. Not only is it the fourth-largest country in the world, but two-thirds of it is habitable, unlike Russia or Canada. Any country occupying America's space on the map would be likely to be unusual. But as de Tocqueville also said, "Physical causes contribute less [to America's distinctiveness] than laws and mores."

    In his 1995 book "American Exceptionalism," Seymour Martin Lipset enumerates some of these laws and social features. In terms of income per head, America is the wealthiest large industrial country. It is also the only western democracy to have practised slavery in the industrial era. It has the highest crime rate and highest rate of imprisonment (though crime, at least, is falling towards European levels). Its society is among the most religious in the world. Perhaps less obviously, Americans are more likely than almost anyone else to join voluntary associations.

    America has a highly decentralised political system, with federal, state and local governments all collecting their own taxes, writing their own laws and administering their own affairs. Its federal government spends a relatively low share of national income. The country has more elective offices than any other, including, in some states, those of judges, which means that in each four-year cycle America holds about 1m elections. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it also has one of the lowest voter turn-outs, making it at once the most and the least democratic democracy.

    It has no large socialist party, and never has had. Nor has it ever had a significant fascist movement. Unlike conservative parties in Europe, its home-grown version has no aristocratic roots. America has one of the lowest tax rates among rich countries, the least generous public services, the highest military spending, the most lawyers per head, the highest proportion of young people at universities and the most persistent work ethic.

    But the term "exceptionalism" is more than a description of how America differs from the rest of the world. It also encompasses the significance of those differences and the policies based upon them. People have been searching for some wider meaning to the place since its earliest days. In 1630, the year the Massachusetts Bay Company was founded, John Winthrop, the colony's governor, described his new land as "a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us."

    And as they have looked, people have found two quite different reasons for thinking that America is special. One is that it is uniquely founded on principles to which any country can aspire. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the first Federalist Paper that "It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."

    That is America-as-model. George Bush has embraced the idea. Commemorating the first anniversary of the attacks of September 11th 2001, he said that "the ideal of America is the hope of all mankind." He was echoing Lincoln, who called America "the last, best hope of earth".

    But exceptionalism has another meaning: that America is intrinsically different from other countries in its values and institutions, and is therefore not necessarily a model. Thomas Jefferson said that "Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours are perhaps more peculiar than those of any other in the universe."

    In 1929, Jay Lovestone, the head of the American communist party, was summoned to Moscow. Stalin demanded to know why the worldwide communist revolution had advanced not one step in the largest capitalist country. Lovestone replied that America lacked the preconditions for communism, such as feudalism and aristocracy. No less an authority than Friedrich Engels had said the same thing, talking of "the special American conditions...which make bourgeois conditions look like a beau idal to them." So had an Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, and a British socialist, H.G. Wells, who had both argued that America's unique origins had produced a distinctive value system and unusual politics.

    Lovestone was purged, but his argument still has force: America is exceptional partly because it is peculiar. As usual, de Tocqueville had thought about both meanings of exceptionalism before anyone else. In his book "Democracy in America", he described not only what is particular to democracy, especially the way in which it changes how people think and act (what he calls "the quiet action of society upon itself"). He also described what was, and is, particular to America: its size, the institutions it had inherited from England, its decentralised administration.

    These two versions of American exceptionalism have more in common than might appear at first sight. Both suggest that the experience of America is open to others. The idea of America-as-model implies that other countries can come to be more like America, though American differences may still persist over time. The idea that America is intrinsically different is also consistent with the notion that outsiders can become American, but they must go there to do it and become citizens—hence America's extraordinary capacity to assimilate immigrants.

    There are three points to grasp from this gallop through the history of American exceptionalism. First, it is, as Mr Lipset put it, a double-edged sword. It helps explain the best and the worst about the country: its business innovation and its economic inequality; its populist democracy and its low voter turn-out; its high spending on education and its deplorable rates of infant mortality and teenage pregnancy. Exceptionalism is often used either as a boast or as a condemnation—though in reality it is neither.

    Second, the two strands help explain why exceptionalism is divisive within America itself. Most Americans are doubtless proud of the "exemplary" qualities of their country. But the non-exemplary, more peculiar features do not always command universal approval.

    Third, there should be nothing surprising, or necessarily disturbing, in a revival of exceptionalism. America has almost always been seen as different. The question is: has anything changed recently?

    Unparallel tracks

    It is always risky to proclaim a break in a trend. Yet evidence is growing that, over the past decade or so, America has been changing in ways that do make it more different from its allies in Europe, and September 11th has increased this divergence.

    Most of the previous half-century was a period of convergence. Between 1945 and about 1990, America and Europe seemed to be growing more like one another in almost every way that matters. Economically, Europe began the post-war period in ruins. According to Angus Maddison, an economic historian, in 1950 average incomes in western Europe were 54% of American ones. By the early 1990s, the ratio had passed 80%. Richer EU countries now boast a standard of living comparable to America's. Until the mid-1980s, America and Europe also both had stable populations, declining fertility rates and growing numbers of old people.

    In the 1960s, America moved closer towards European levels of government spending through the Great Society programmes. This was the start of Medicaid for the poor and, later, increased regulation of industry through bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency.

    With Watergate and the Vietnam war, America started to approach European levels of cynicism about government and military intervention abroad. In 1976, a sociologist, Daniel Bell, wrote a book whose title encapsulated the conventional wisdom of the time: "The End of American Exceptionalism". Later changes seemed to prove him right. In the 1980s, European countries started to organise their economies on more American lines. Governments privatised and deregulated. Companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, set up NASDAQ clones and started using share prices to measure a company's or manager's performance.

    In politics, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were both engaged in similar projects to shrink the size of the state. Bill Clinton (who was wildly popular in Europe) proclaimed himself a paid-up member of the largely European "third way".

    When communism collapsed, Mr Fukuyama hailed "The End of History". Countries, he argued, would henceforth tend to become more alike, more democratic, more liberal, more globalised. There would be less exceptionalism, of the American or any other kind.

    But things did not work out that way in foreign affairs, and other sorts of convergence may be coming to an end, too. The demographic differences are now startling. Around 1985, America's fertility rate bottomed out and began to rise again. It is now at almost two children per woman, just below the replacement level of 2.1, and looks set to rise further. Europe's fertility rate is below 1.4 and falling. Even China's is 1.8, and its birth rate is dropping fast.

    At the moment, the EU's population is considerably larger than America's—380m against 280m—and will grow further with enlargement next year. China's is nearly four times as large as America's. But on current trends, by the middle of this century America's population could be 440m-550m, larger than the EU's even after enlargement, and nearly half China's, rather than a quarter.

    America will also be noticeably younger then and ethnically more varied. At the moment, its median age is roughly the same as Europe's (36 against 38). By 2050, according to Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, America's median age will still be around 36, but Europe's will have risen to 53 (and China's will be 44). In the 1990s, America took in the largest number of immigrants it had ever seen in one decade: 33m people now living in the country were born outside it, and Latinos have become the largest ethnic group. "America," says Hania Zlotnik of the United Nations Population Division, "is the world's great demographic outlier."

    Then there is the technology gap. Each year, more patents are applied for in America than in the European Union. America has almost three times as many Nobel prize-winners than the next country (Britain), and spends more on research and development than any other country. On one measure of academic performance, over 90 of the world's top 100 universities are in America.

    Europe and America have also been diverging economically, though one should be cautious about that. In the seven years from 1995 to 2001, real GDP rose by 3.3% a year in America but by only 2.5% a year in the European Union. The bursting of the stockmarket bubble and the subsequent recession reversed this pattern—in 2001, GDP growth was higher in Europe than America—but the gap opened up again as the economies recovered. On current estimates and forecasts, growth in America in the three years to 2004 will average 1.3 percentage points a year more than in the 12-country euro area. Some 60% of the world's economic growth since 1995 has come from America.

    These relative economic gains may be reversed. It is hard to see how the country can sustain both its huge trade and budget deficits. On the other hand, its growth in the 1990s reflected a big improvement in productivity, which rose by over 2% a year in the 1990s. The number of hours worked also rose. In 1982, Europeans and Americans put in roughly the same number of hours each year. Now, Americans work a daunting 300 hours a year more.

    These divergences began at different times and for different reasons. The demographic gap began to open up as long ago as the mid-1980s. Economies started to diverge in the mid-1990s. Even in the area most relevant to the terrorist attacks—foreign policy—the roots of transatlantic differences arguably go back to the fall of communism in 1989-91. September 11th did not create these tensions, but it dramatised some of them. The attacks took place at a time when America was governed by an administration already less engaged in Europe than any in recent history, and when almost all the other measures were, for the first time in 50 years, pointing in the same direction—away from Europe, as well as from much of the rest of the world.

    If this pattern continues, America may be entering a period of even greater dominance in world affairs. That alone makes American exceptionalism of more than domestic importance. American power will be divisive abroad—but it will also bring conflict at home, because a significant portion of Americans does not believe that the era of convergence is over. When Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate, said that "We won't always have the strongest military," he was slapped down by his own party as well as by Republicans. But he touched a nerve. The next section will explain how exceptionalism divides America as well as defining it.

    American values divide as well as define the country

    THE new National Constitution Centre in Philadelphia stands three blocks from where the Declaration of Independence and the American constitution were adopted. Post-it notes are dotted around the museum for visitors to reply to questions such as "What does it mean to be an American?""It means I have a responsibility and obligation to protect my freedom and that of my children," runs one typical reply. Or: "It means to say when I disagree." Or: "Sometimes it means unbridled capitalism."

    To a second question, "Should the ten commandments be displayed in public buildings?" the replies range from, "They are the foundational laws for the constitution" to, "We have the right to freedom from religion." And to a third, "What makes you feel free?", they include: "Our military forces willing to give their lives for mine"; "Not to have to think about it"; or simply, "USA rocks!"

    American values are distinctive, but not uniformly so. Patriotism and religious faith are unusually strong. Americans stress personal responsibility rather than collective goals. Many are fairly conservative in their social opinions and are somewhat more likely than Europeans to disapprove of divorce, abortion and homosexuality. Yet people on both sides of the Atlantic find international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction equally worrying. And Americans are in some ways more open than Europeans—or were, until the terrorist attacks of 2001 made them less welcoming—in their greater approval of immigration and the value of "other cultures". It is this particular combination of values, as much as strong patriotism or religiosity, that really makes America stand out.

    Begin with an area of clear difference: attitudes to the role of government in a free market. People in almost every country surveyed by the Pew Research Centre in 2003 say they are better off in a free-market economy. But asked which is more important—that the government should guarantee no one is in need, or that it should not constrain the pursuit of personal goals—Europeans in both east and west come down roughly two-thirds/one-third in favour of a safety net, whereas Americans split two-thirds/one-third the other way.

    However, when asked, "Does the government control too much of your daily life? Is it usually inefficient and wasteful?", two-thirds of respondents on both sides of the Atlantic say yes. So the differences seem to have less to do with the way that governments are viewed, and more to do with Americans' belief in the importance of individual effort. Pew's pollsters sought to measure this belief by asking people in 44 countries, "Do you agree or disagree that success is determined by forces outside your control?" In most countries, fewer than half thought that success was within their control. In only two did more than 60% consider success a matter of individual effort: Canada and, by the widest margin, the United States.

    In other areas, American exceptionalism is less clear-cut. For example, nine out of ten Americans say they are very patriotic, according to Pew. But Indians, Nigerians and Turks are equally patriotic. Among wealthy nations, Americans are also the most likely to go to church and to say God is very important in their lives, but again Indians, Nigerians and Turks are more religious than Americans.

    Lots of Americans like to buy products that shout, "I'm large. I'm loud. I'm ready for anything," such as army assault vehicles lightly disguised as cars, or outdoor grills the size of small kitchens, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, calls this "getting in touch with your inner longshoreman". Yet at the same time Americans seem to be developing a more restrained side. They are just as likely as Europeans to say that people with AIDS should not be discriminated against. Support for the idea that "women should return to traditional roles in society" has fallen from just under a third in the late 1980s to about a fifth now, roughly the same as in Europe. Both Americans and Europeans overwhelmingly disagree that when jobs are scarce men should be given priority.

    Americans are slightly less likely than Europeans to find homosexuality socially acceptable, and less likely to support gay marriage, but tolerance of gays is on the increase (see chart 3). Americans also tend to be fairly positive about the contribution of immigrants to society, whereas in most of the rest of the industrial world more than half the population thinks immigrants are bad for their countries.

    These differences and similarities are best understood as values arranged along two spectrums of opinion. One spectrum, says the World Values Survey of the University of Michigan (which invented the idea), measures "traditional values". The most important of these is patriotism; others concern religion and traditional family ties. Americans tend to be traditionalists. A remarkable 80% say they hold "old-fashioned values" about family and marriage. At the other end of this spectrum are "secular-rational" values, for whose adherents religion is a personal, optional matter, patriotism is not a big concern and children have their own lives to lead. Europeans tend to be secular-rationalists. On this spectrum, America is indeed exceptional.

    The other spectrum measures "quality of life" attitudes. At one end of it are the values and opinions people hold when economic and physical insecurity dominates their lives, as often happens in poor countries. This makes them suspicious of outsiders, cautious about changing patterns of work and reluctant to engage in political activity. At the other end are values of self-expression involving the acceptance of a wide range of behaviour. On this score, Americans and Europeans are similar, because neither group is engaged in a struggle for survival any more.

    But the two spectrums together suggest that there is a "values gap" within America itself too. In Europe, countries have become both more secular and more "self-expressive" as they have got richer. In America, this did not happen. That has profound implications.

    E pluribus duo

    In 1999, Gertrude Himmelfarb, a social historian, argued that America is becoming "One Nation, Two Cultures". One is religious, puritanical, family-centred and somewhat conformist. The other is tolerant, hedonistic, secular, predominantly single and celebrates multiculturalism. These value judgments are the best predictor of political affiliation, far better than wealth or income.

    In the 2000 election, 63% of those who went to church more than once a week voted for George Bush; 61% of those who never went voted for Al Gore. About 70% of those who said abortion should always be available voted for Mr Gore; 74% of those who said it should always be illegal voted for Mr Bush. As Pete du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, pointed out, a map showing the sales and rentals of porn movies bore an eerie resemblance to the map of the 2000 election results.

    America, it is said, can live together because Americans live apart. The two cultures occupy different worlds. Traditionalists are concentrated in a great L-shape on the map, the spine of the Rockies forming its vertical arm, its horizontal one cutting a swathe through the South. With a couple of exceptions, all these "red states" voted for Mr Bush in 2000.

    The rest of the country is more secular. This includes the Pacific coast and the square outlined by the big L, consisting of the north-eastern and upper mid-western states. With a few exceptions, these "blue states" voted for Mr Gore in 2000.

    Their differences are deeply entrenched. Traditionalists are heavily concentrated in smaller towns and rural areas. Secularists dominate big cities. Southerners tend to be a bit more religious, a bit more socially conservative and more supportive of a strong military stance than the rest of the country. Intriguingly, black southerners are more conservative than blacks elsewhere, though less conservative than their white neighbours.

    The political effect of these differences is increasing. For historical reasons (Republicans having been the anti-slavery party in the civil war), white southerners were part of the Democratic coalition, circumscribing for many years the political impact of southern conservatism. Now, as the region becomes more Republican, that conservatism is getting noisier.

    In contrast, multiculturalism is deeply entrenched in blue states. The states with the highest levels of immigration of Latinos and Asians include New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and California—what Mr Frey calls America's new melting-pots. Mr Gore won all of them, except Texas and Florida. These were special cases: both had governors called Bush; both had seen the largest inflow from other parts of America of white immigrants, who tend to be more conservative.

    The differences between the two Americas seem to be getting sharper. A new survey of American values by Pew finds greater social and sexual tolerance, yet also more strictness on matters of personal morality. The number of people saying they completely agree that there are clear and universal guidelines about good and evil has risen from one-third to two-fifths in the space of 15 years.

    One of America's characteristic features is its sunny optimism, the sense that anything is possible. Yet there is an 18-point gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans who agree with the statement "I don't believe there are any real limits to growth in this country today." Democrats are usually keener than Republicans to urge the administration to pay attention to domestic issues. This gap has widened from three points in 1997 to 16 points now. On America's role in the world, the importance of military strength and patriotism itself, the gap between the parties has never been wider.

    So if there is a revival of exceptionalism—in the sense both of greater divergence from other countries, and of policies based on it—it will be controversial. Red states are likely to welcome it. Blue states probably will not.

    But there are complicating factors. The red-blue split implies that two tribes are forming, with people within each of them thinking more or less alike. In reality, things are rarely that clear-cut. In his book "A California State of Mind", published in 2002, Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute in San Francisco showed that voters in that state do not fit the bifurcated pattern of the 2000 election. California is one of the most solidly Democratic (blue) states. Most voters call themselves socially liberal and environmentally friendly, which seem like "European" attributes. Yet in other ways California is as unEuropean as you can get, a place of swirling ethnicities that looks towards Latin America and Asia.

    Californians wanted the large tax revenues the state had generated during the boom years of the 1990s to be spent on social programmes, rather than handed back in tax cuts—again, a European impulse. Yet, in flat contradiction, they did not want their state government to grow because they did not trust politicians to spend the money wisely—an exceptionalist, American characteristic.

    Part of this muddle is doubtless specific to California. Yet there are mixed views and big contrasts between opinion and behaviour in many other places too. For example, Americans in heartland states express traditional views about family and personal morality especially strongly, yet the incidence of divorce, teenage pregnancy, births out of wedlock and murder is slightly higher there than elsewhere.

    Land of the soccer moms

    Among all the ways America is unusual, one of the least noticed but most important is that more than half the population lives in suburbs. In this, it is unique in the world: in most European countries, for example, over two-thirds of the population is classified as urban. American suburbia has changed radically in the past 20 years. It is no longer a homogeneous world of nuclear families, dormitory towns and middle-class whites. Now there are ethnic suburbs (most immigrants go straight there); office parks (90% of office space built in the 1990s was suburban); poor suburbs near towns; and rich ones on the outskirts. Some suburbs even try to recreate European towns: an intriguing counter-example to the general pattern of divergence.

    Yet compared with the sharp differences between cities and rural areas, suburbs still show a residual similarity of values. Those that matter most are family achievement and moderation. This is the land of soccer moms, SUVs, meticulously kept subdivisions, oboe practice for kids and school runs.

    Such people make up a hefty share of the roughly 40% of Americans who describe themselves as politically moderate. They explain the softening of some of the sharp edges of American exceptionalism, such as declining support for the death penalty since the mid-1990s and greater acceptance of gays and inter-racial dating. Suburban moderation cuts across the bright line between red and blue states.

    On this reading, the distribution of American opinion forms a bell shape. The traditionalists and the secularists are the two tails, which are getting fatter and more vocal. In the middle is a bulge of moderate opinion, indifferent to, or even repelled by, this contest. It is up to politicians to decide whether to appeal to the extremes or to the centre. But before delving into politics, stop to look at the most important of the "exceptional" qualities: religion and patriotism.

    Americans are becoming more religious, but not necessarily more censorious

    SADDLEBACK church could exist only in America. On any Sunday, over 3,000 people from the suburbs of southern Los Angeles flock to the main Worship Centre, which looks less like a cathedral than an airport terminal. If you want to experience the rock bands, theatrical shows and powerpoint sermons in a traditional church, you can: they are piped into one by video link. Or you can watch the service on huge video screens while sipping a cappuccino in an outdoor caf.

    But in case you think this is religion lite, Rick Warren, the pastor, will quickly encourage you to join one of the thousands of smaller groups that are the real life of the church. Saddleback members will help you find a school, a friend, a job or God. There is a "Geeks for God" club of Cisco employees, and a mountain-bike club where they pray and pedal.

    To Europeans, religion is the strangest and most disturbing feature of American exceptionalism. They worry that fundamentalists are hijacking the country. They find it extraordinary that three times as many Americans believe in the virgin birth as in evolution. They fear that America will go on a "crusade" (a term briefly used by Mr Bush himself) in the Muslim world or cut aid to poor countries lest it be used for birth control. The persistence of religion as a public force is all the more puzzling because it seems to run counter to historical trends. Like the philosophers of the Enlightenment, many Europeans argue that modernisation is the enemy of religion. As countries get richer, organised religion will decline. Secular Europe seems to fit that pattern. America does not.

    In fact, points out Peter Berger, head of the Institute on Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, few developing countries have shown signs of religious decline as their standards of living have risen. It may be Europe that is the exception here, not America. There is no doubt, though, that America is the most religious rich country. Over 80% of Americans say they believe in God, and 39% describe themselves as born-again Christians. Furthermore, 58% of Americans think that unless you believe in God, you cannot be a moral person.

    There is also some evidence that private belief is becoming more intense. The Pew Research Centre reported that the number of those who "agree strongly" with three articles of faith (belief in God, in judgment day and in the importance of prayer in daily life) rose by seven to ten points in 1965-2003. In the late 1980s, two-fifths of Protestants described themselves as "born again"; now the figure is over half.

    The importance of religion in America goes well beyond personal belief. Back in the 1960s, Gallup polls found that 53% of Americans thought churches should not be involved in politics, and 22% thought members of the clergy should not even mention candidates for public office from the pulpit. By 1996, these numbers had reversed: 54% thought it was fine for churches to talk about political and social issues, and 20% thought even stump speeches were permissible in church.

    For God and Republicanism

    These shifts in opinion have given a boost to one particular group of churches: evangelical Protestants. They embrace a variety of denominations, including Baptist, Confessional and Pentecostal churches, all of which stress individual salvation and the word of the Bible rather than sacraments or established doctrine. In 1987, they were the third-largest religious group in America, with a membership of 24% of the adult population; now they are the largest, with 30%. The percentage of Catholics has stayed stable, largely thanks to Latino immigrants, but established Protestant churches, such as Presbyterians, have declined sharply.

    A marriage of church and politics

    Evangelical Protestants bear out the European view that religion in America is politically active, socially conservative and overwhelmingly Republican. Almost two-thirds of committed evangelicals—the ones who attend church most frequently and say they hold strictly to the Bible—describe themselves as conservative, by far the largest proportion of any religious group. They are also more likely than other churchgoers to rate social and cultural issues as important, somewhat more likely to say homosexuality should be discouraged, and most likely to want to rein in the scope of government.

    Over time, evangelicals have become more willing to engage in politics, too. White evangelical Protestants represent almost a third of registered voters now, up from slightly below a quarter in 1987. Their leaders have tried to unite the various evangelical churches as a political force, establishing the Moral Majority in 1979 and the Christian Coalition in 1989. Their comments speak for themselves. Franklin Graham (Billy's son) called Islam "a wicked religion". The former president of the Southern Baptist Convention called the Prophet Muhammad "a demon-possessed pedophile".

    Such political activism, the growth of new churches and the increased intensity of belief has led some to argue that America may be in the early stages of a fourth Great Awakening, a period of religious fervour when the variety, vigour, size and public involvement of religious groups suddenly increases. Earlier awakenings occurred in the late colonial period, the 1820s and the late 19th century. Might the same thing be happening again?

    The evidence seems to be against it. Church attendance has not been increasing, as a new awakening would suggest. The Gallup organisation found that it fell slowly in the 1960s and 1970s, stabilised in 1980 and has remained level since then, with about two-thirds of the population claiming membership of a church.

    These findings are based on how often people say they go to church, something they tend to exaggerate. But a collection of records from the churches themselves, summarised by Harvard University's Robert Putnam, shows the same pattern (see chart 4). So do figures from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which show that in 2000 some 141m Americans—or half the population—were members of a church. That is a lot, but it falls well short of the four-fifths who believe in God as a private matter. And it is active churchgoing that makes the difference between private belief and public consequences.

    Even among fundamentalist Protestants, public influence is patchy. There was, for example, no huge turn-out of conservative Christians in the 1998 mid-term elections, even though the Lewinsky scandal infuriated religious voters. After President Bill Clinton's impeachment and acquittal, Paul Weyrich, a leader of the Moral Majority, wrote to the Washington Post to say that conservative Christians had "lost the culture wars"—hardly evidence of growing influence.

    It is not even clear how important religion is in determining the political and social views of evangelical Protestants. The largest concentration of these churches is in the South, among whites. But white southerners held conservative views on homosexuality, government, defence and so on long before the Moral Majority was invented. It is just as likely that social conservatism has encouraged evangelical churches as the other way around.

    The Pew study tried to disentangle the role of religion in determining churchgoers' views from other factors, and found that only in social and cultural attitudes (on matters like abortion and homosexuality) was religion alone a powerful factor. Even there, broader demographic factors were more important.

    Don't believe a word of it

    Lastly, although the number and membership of charismatic churches has certainly grown, there has been an offsetting increase in those who describe themselves as of no religion at all. Since 1960, the number of self-described secularists (atheists, agnostics and those not affiliated to any organised religion) has roughly doubled. According to a survey by the City University of New York (CUNY), 14% of Americans between 18 and 34 describe themselves as "secular" and a further 9% as "somewhat secular".

    Secularists are more likely to live on the Pacific coast or in the north-east, in a city, have a college degree, be male, single, and either lean towards the Democrats or be politically independent. Committed evangelicals are more likely to live in the south, vote Republican, lack a college degree, live in towns or rural areas, and be female and married. In other words, America looks like two tribes, one religious and one secular.

    But the really distinctive feature of American religion is the area in the middle. Most Americans do not become members of a church to sign up for a crusade or to sit in judgment on miserable sinners. For them, churchgoing is a matter of personal belief, not conservative activism. Their religion is mild.

    In 1965, according to Gallup, half of respondents said the most important purpose of their church was to teach people to live better lives. Since then, the share has grown to almost three-quarters. This is the biggest change in America's religious life in the past 40 years.

    Alan Wolfe, of the Boisi Institute for the Study of Religion at Boston College, points out that American religion is exceptional in two senses: not only are Americans more religious than Europeans, but they have no national church. Thanks to the separation of church and state, the country has nothing comparable to, say, the Catholic churches of Italy and Spain, or the Church of England. Americans are members of sects.

    The two kinds of religious exceptionalism are connected. Rather as in the economic sphere competing private companies tend to produce wealth and activity, whereas monopoly firms have the opposite effect, so in the religious sphere competing sects generate a ferment of activity and increased levels of belief, whereas state churches produce indifference.

    This has implications for the quality of American belief. Churches come and go with astonishing speed. The statisticians of American religious bodies tracked 187 denominations (and there were many more) between 1990 and 2000; in that time 37 disappeared and 54 new ones appeared on the scene. Adherents and pastors, too, are constantly on the move. One study found that half the pastors of so-called "mega-churches" (suburban ones like Saddleback, with Sunday congregations of 2,000 or more) have moved from another denomination. According to the CUNY study, 16% of American adults—33m people—say they have switched denominations. For some churches the share of new adherents was startlingly high. In 2001, 30% of Pentecostalists had joined from another church and 19% had left; among Presbyterians, 24% came in and 25% went out.

    Such churning limits doctrinal purism, which might otherwise be expected in a new church. Instead, churches try to attract floating believers—what Wade Clark Roof, a sociologist, calls "a generation of seekers". According to Mr Wolfe, American churches are therapeutic, not judgmental. They stress "soft" qualities such as guidance and mutual help, not "hard" ones like sin and damnation.

    This means that the charismatic and evangelical churches are not typical of the whole of religious life in America. If the pattern of public opinion in general is bell-shaped, that of religious belief has the profile of a Volkswagen Beetle: a bump of evangelical Protestants at the front, a bigger bulge of uncensorious congregations in the middle and a stubby secular tail. That must temper the notion that religion is running amok in America, or that it is causing America to run amok in the world.

    At Saddleback church, Rick Warren preaches that abortion is wrong. On a recent Sunday, anti-abortion groups lobbied for their cause as parishioners left church. Mr Warren told them not to return. He agreed with their views, but members of his church, and newcomers, might not. He did not want abortion to get between members and the more important matter of their relationship with God.

    American patriotism is different from the European variety

    HERMANIO BERMANIS holds up his right hand to take the oath of American citizenship. Half a million do the same every year, but this ceremony is unusual. It is being held in the Walter Reed military hospital, in the presence of two cabinet members, because Army Specialist Bermanis, who was born in Micronesia, had both legs and his left arm blown off on active service in Iraq. His right hand is all he has to hold up.

    The ceremony gave expression to a powerful sentiment: American patriotism. As de Tocqueville noted long ago, "The inhabitants of the United States speak much of their love for their native country." Seymour Martin Lipset begins his book on American exceptionalism with a remark unusual for an academic: "I write as a proud American." In a new survey of American values by the Pew Research Centre, fully 91% of Americans say they are very patriotic.

    Europeans have long been bothered by this feature of American life. De Tocqueville again: "There is nothing more annoying...than this irritable patriotism of the Americans." But since September 11th the Europeans have become even more disturbed. They associate patriotism with militarism, intolerance and ethnic strife. No wonder they consider it an alarming quality in the world's most powerful country.

    Yet European and American patriotism are different. Patriotic Europeans take pride in a nation, a tract of land or a language they are born into. You cannot become un-French. In contrast, patriotic Americans have a dual loyalty: both to their country and to the ideas it embodies. "He loved his country," said Lincoln of Henry Clay, "partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country." As the English writer G.K. Chesterton said in 1922, America is the only country based on a creed, enshrined in its constitution and declaration of independence. People become American by adopting the creed, regardless of their own place of birth, parentage or language. And you can become un-American—by rejecting the creed.
     
  20. blanko

    blanko Power Member

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