Lexington Green asks this question over at Chicago Boyz while providing his own answer. It’s a phrase you often hear but that rarely is explained. I wonder if it isn’t largely personal in nature and possibly dependent on your political proclivities. However, given the existence of the concept, I also feel that there are common threads through the idea that weave it into a general belief system for most Americans. Since I’ve often heard the phrase but never taken the time to define it for myself, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to do so.
Leave us alone. Stealing the concept from Grover Norquist, I think Americans would typically want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit financially, spiritually and politically. We believe that we are the best judges of what is good for us and that no amount of central planning will ever take the place of our own decisions.
Hard work done intelligently should produce just rewards I Corinthians 3:5-9 says that God will reward us each according to our work. We have internalized this as a national concept. We believe that if we work hard and produce something of value, our efforts will typically be rewarded or at the very least not drastically hindered by forces outside our control. If we develop something successful, it will not be taken from us by the more powerful and we will be left to exploit our hard work in whatever manner we see fit.
The system is not rigged Closely related to the above point, we will be treated honestly and fairly as individuals, both by our fellow citizens and by our government. Favoritism and cronyism will play no part in the advancement of our ideas and efforts.
We have the freedom to change our own circumstances For better or for worse, we can always pick up and do something else, always of our own volition. This may be from a career standpoint or a geographical one.
We are not responsible for the follies of others There seems to be a strong sense of justice in American citizens and we are typically most offended when we feel that someone has escaped the effects of bad judgment. You should have the right to screw up your life but you should not expect anyone to provide a helping hand when you do so.
We are compassionate If you do screw up, we are likely to help out but we would prefer this help to come from families, friends and charities and not the central government.
We have the right to defend ourselves at all costs This is true in both domestic and foreign issues. This was important enough to encode in the Second Amendment and our history as a nation has typically shown that we are slow to respond but when we do, it is with the entire force of the American nation.
Generally, my idea of the American Way of life is largely Jacksonian in that the people should be in charge of the Republic. Andrew Jackson, despite many flaws, believed that the common people should be deeply involved in American democracy and that when they were not, the democratic tradition was subverted. I believe the American Way of Life is defined by the empowerment of the people to improve their situation, protect their family, friends and property and to live a life of their own choosing.