Appeared in Spring 2003, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1
“Who is the American, this new man?” Crevecoeur famously asked. Since the discovery and settlement of the continent across the Atlantic, European intellectuals have expended much energy answering this query. And ancestral political and cultural connections have made British thinkers among the most intrepid investigators of the character of these new men of the new world. With the United States’s attainment of great power status in the nineteenth century and its rise to globalism in the twentieth, however, such inquiries have become more pressing in recent times. Among British Christian writers, G.K. Chesterton and Christopher Dawson were especially interested in the American prospect and arrived independently at remarkably similar conclusions concerning it. Writing almost a generation apart, each man initially characterized, and criticized, the United States as the epitome of modernity. Yet both authors also discerned a tension in American culture between modern and traditional traits. Hence, as America’s predominance in the twentieth century became more apparent to each of them, he hoped that this country could become a beacon of rebellion against modernity and an alternative to his day’s despotisms, something both of them considered contingent on American acceptance of a Catholic Christian ethos.
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