Skip to main content

tv   Foreign Perspectives on America  CSPAN  August 19, 2019 9:32pm-10:32pm EDT

9:32 pm
saturday beginning at 8:30 a.m. on c-span's washington journal and on american history tv on c-span 3. author james nolan looks at foreign visitors to america during different periods. he focus on their thoughts regarding their relationship between individuality and conformity in america and considers the relevance of their analysis today. mr. nolan is the author of what they saw in america, alexis to toteville, max webber, gk tester ton. this is an hour. good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming out to be with us tonight. i would also like to say hello to those who are watching the talk on c-span. my name is will randolph, first
9:33 pm
year scholars, it is honor for me to serve as the mc for this program tonight. our guest this evening is dr. james nolan, 1859 professor at williams college. he is author of several books, one what they saw in america, alexis detotfil, chester ton. i especially look forward to this discussion as dr. nolan's insights will help us wrap up the year long study on american political culture inspired by toteville's america, uc california days and degrees from university of virginia.his research fall in the general areas of law and society, culture, technology and social change and historical comparei
9:34 pm
sociology. he is the recipient of several grants and awards, for the humanities scholarship and full bright scholarship. we acknowledge dark strands and bright threads. dr. nolan has agreed to take questions from the audience following his remarks, so please wait for one of our scholars to bring you the microphone before you ask your question. i now invite you to please join me in inviting dr. nolan to the podium. >> thank you, will and thank you. dr. greg for sponsoring and inviting me to be here. i'm delighted to be here with you this evening. in democracy in america alexis toteville believes it lives inned a ration of itself, only
9:35 pm
foreigners can make certain truths reach the ears of americans. when keeping with this observation, my study, the book project, what they saw in america, listens to four important foreign visitors, alexis toteville, max vapor -- and seeks to learn something from their assessments about the united states. the work that is inducted, that is it focuses on what their visitors saw on the ground, where did they go, who did they see and takes particular attention to some of the common themes discernible in the collective visits which span 120 years. the title for the talk dark strands andz bright threads and that comes from another project, another source, martha bay lis's book dark screen, which she
9:36 pm
views outside views of those around the world based on her travels and listening to what people said about the united states and more contemporary project. she identifies both america's positive and laudable attributes, as well as some of its less admirable qualities, dark strands, which make up the tapestry of american society. like martha bay lis, i found both dark strands and bright threads in listening to these visitors and among the themes i found tonight i want to focus on the theme of individual lichl and conform. >> reporter: and the role that local level volunteerism plays in these tendencies. i will talk about more recent
9:37 pm
trends and developments. okay. i begin with toekville. after four months of traveling around the united states, toekville arrived in boston on september 9th, 1831. his good friend and traveling partner gus tov liked baltimore but the elite cost of notables they associated with, the boston bromens, which included among others john quincy adams, the sixth president of the united states. he observed local political life learned from his informants and began to ponder themes that would result in some of his most important insights about american society. at the end of their three weeks in boston, he entered into his travel notebook what he discerned two great principles with american society. the first, the majority is mistaken at some point, but finally it is right and no moral
9:38 pm
power above it. second, every individual private person in society, community, or nation is the only lawful judge of its own interest and provided it does not harm the interest of others, nobody has a right to interfere. so here then toekville put his finger on a great paradox, one which he would continue to ponder throughout his travel and ultimately discuss at some length in his bock democracy in america. it instoled the freedom of the individual, while also enencouraged conformity to the sovereign majority. put another way a society with contradictory tendencies toward conformity and commission of the crowd. concerning the fins principal, it was in boston where he heard for the first time the tyranny
9:39 pm
of the majority. it was a concept he would hear about again from a number of his interlocutors and ultimately he wrote rather ominously about it and this is what he said. he said "the majority of the united states has an immense power and power and opinion almost as great and once it has formed on a question, there are to speak obstacles i can say stop and crushes as it passes the consequences of the state of things are dire for the future." sort of oppression that inhibited not only the expression of minority views, but the thinking of individual thoughts. toekville stated i do not know any country where any general less independence of mind and general freedom of discussion
9:40 pm
laying than in america. beaumont were somewhat surprised to find higher levels of conformity in the americans, in boston toekville and beaumont traveled into the american frontier, which included a trip into what was then called michigan territory between saginaw and detroit, back and forth. three-week journey and he wrote about it. and inspired in part by his relative, who had written about in very romantic terms about america's wilderness and toekville wanted to experience it. so on this trip they were surprised with what they found. first of all, they had trouble getting helpen planning the trip. the americans they encountered in setting up for the trip couldn't understand why they would be interested in the wilderness for its own sake.
9:41 pm
so toekville and beaumont strategized about this and they then feigned interest in purchasing property and only then would the americans give them more attentive assistance. they found the american pioneer was not different than the city dweller, same mind, same clothes, same habits. beaumont likewise noted from new york to the great lakes i looked in vain for intermediate degrees of american society. instead he found as he put it the same men, same passions and way of life. it is a strange thing beaumont observed that the american nation is made up of all peoples of the other and no nation as a whole has such uniform characteristics. meditating on the despotic potential of the sovereign majority he worried about the united states becoming a nation, as he put it, as nothing more
9:42 pm
than a herd of timid and strauss animals. he even said in minor cal associations, there was more expression of freedom of thought than in the united states. if ever freedom is lost in america, one will have to blame the omnipotence of the majority. interestingly this would not be the first time that one of my visitors used the image of the herd to describe americans. chester ton offered the last hysteria of the herd instinct, describing as a frantic agitated herd. another visitor, the russian exile who came to america in the mid-'70s similarly warned of the dangerous tendency in america to form a herd. for toekville, the power of the majority was only the fist part
9:43 pm
of the puzzle. remember he also scribbled into his travel notebook during his last days in boston contrasting and mitigating principal that every individual is the only lawful judge of his interest, both regarded unrestrained individual. >> reporter: as untenable, a society that neglected any kind of cooperative life amidst a perilous decline into barberism. so how did he -- stole the virtues of individualism and also conformity. he called self-interest rightly understood. what did he mean by this? well, toekville thought one recognized that to realize aspirations of personal well-being one had to cooperate with others. in his words each man perceives
9:44 pm
that he is not as independence of those like him as he first fancied. and that to obtain their support, he must often lend them his cooperation. such cooperative behavior which restrain and thus benefited the individual took on two related forms in america, toekville observed. voluntary observations and local level of governing practices. toekville found voluntary associations to be ubiquitous in every -- he wrote americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but also a thousand other kinds. religious, moral, grade, futile, immense and very small. americans give organizations to faith, seminaries, to inns to
9:45 pm
raise churches books to send to missionaries. hospitals, prisons schools, everything. it's very impressed by this. this modus operandi toekville was told had become natural to americans, not anything mandated by a centralized bureaucratic authority. instead such initiatives are local habitual, part of the very narrow american's collective yet decentralized life together. the habits of volunteer. >> reporter: and local governing practices serve to draw the independence individual out of himself or herself and into cooperative involvement with others, but preventing the potential pearls of a selfish withdrawal from society life and local self-governess is a barrier of the conformist
9:46 pm
tendencies it encouraged. he found local level volunteer. >> reporter: as a key feature of american life that helped reckon sigh the countervailing tendencies of individuals and as such he saw as vital to the success of american democracy. so very central to the strengths of american democracy. okay. i will turn to our next visitor. german sociologist max vapor visited in 74 and he saw these tendencies mitigated by voluntary associations. however, he saw the proliferation of associations by coming from different source. according to vapor, prodestant sects or churches provided a template more broadly. the schema of the sect was the original prototype for the
9:47 pm
tremendous blood of the associations that penetrated every nook and cranny of american life. these associations which existed for every conceivable purpose according to vague boar followed directly from the sample of the prodestant sect. he saw it as a powerful and pervasive feature of american democracy and helped temper individuals. mask frag meanted into adams he wrote is fundmently mistaken as far as american democracy is concerned. the general american democracy was never such a sand pile. he concluded it would be inaccurate to characterize american democracy as a sand pile of unrelated individuals. toward the end of his life vapor even speculated about taking the model of voluntary associations
9:48 pm
to germany. it would either be regarded as illegitimate at best, when started it would be taken over by the ages of the state apparatus, in other words, he saw this positive trait of american life, this bright thread of american society as uniquely american and something that would not easily transfer to his home country. okay. on to our english character, who visited in united states twice in 1921 and 1930 and into 1931. chester ton picked up on the paradox first conformed bid toekville and how american individuals actually led to conformism. they value and even venerate the individual. in this exultation of the individual, however, chester ton
9:49 pm
noted a curious contradiction, namely that american individuals is the reverse of individuality, something that toekville said, in slightly different terms. chester ton explained this by the habit fostered by the capitalist society where men are trying to compete with each other he said. they are trying to copy each other. they become standardized by the very standard of self. americans were particularly vulnerable to this habit of competing with and thus copying others according to chester ton because they are a very self-conscious people who are intensely sensitive and conscious of criticism. such sensitivity and self-consciousness leads to conformity. it is this vividness of itself that leads to -- this is self-conscious that they are like each other. the conformest tendencies led him to conclude that individual
9:50 pm
is the death of individuality. one way to understand chester ton's point here is to conserve the general process of homogenization he saw as uniquely uniform. and contrasted them with the idiosyncratic charm of the english inn. he also sob served, as if his wife frances, who traveled with him, that american fashion tended to be uniform as well. he said americans all dress well, one might say american women look well, but they do not, compared with european lts, look very different. conformist tendencies were for him not limited to the uniform features of american hotels or dress styles. importantly, conformism could result in a dangerous and unforgiving uniformity of public opinion. in chesterton's words, public opinion can be a prairie fire. it eats up everything that opposes it.
9:51 pm
under this condition, minority views could be treated harshly and unfairly. he saw this as a threat to democracy. the danger of democracy, chesterton wrote, is not anarchy, but convention. this was not, however, for chesterton, the whole of the story. there is much about america that chesterton liked and admired. for one, like his predecessors, he saw voluntary associations as an admirable and sustaining feature of american democracy. in fact, chesterton went so far as to call american habits of spontaneous social organization as a power that is the soul and success of democracy. elaborating on this point he observed of americans their high spirits, their humane ideals, are really creative. they abound in unofficial institutions. he noted favorably all the leagues and guilds and college clubs and saw the building blocks of american states and cities born out of a love of comrades. chesterton was a great admirer
9:52 pm
and defender of main street america. very much appreciated the friendliness and hospitality and democratic spirit he experienced when he lived for six weeks in south bend, indiana, with the bixler family in 1930. in fact, it bothered and puzzled him that during his time, s sinclair lewis had been awarded the nobel prize in literature, the first american to receive the nobel prize in literature. this bothered him because he felt sinclair lewis was mocking main street, and chesterton found main street america to be one of america's most laudable assets. like tocqueville, chesterton commented on the importance of local governing ras, a societal arrangement he saw on the decline in which he thought americans should work to recover. a true democracy, he observed, was a system where the people actually knew and lived near those who governed them.
9:53 pm
chesterton argued, we should try to make politics as local as possible. he whimsically asked, while making a serious point, that we should keep politicians near enough to kick them. like tocqueville, chesterton noted individualistic and conformist tendencies, and while he wished for the recovery of more local governance, he viewed quite positively smalltown life and the salient american habit of joining together. he saw in this habit as he put it the power that is the soul and success of democracy. okay, to my fourth and final visitor, the egyptian sayyid qtib. he was less attendant to volunteerism and social life in america even though he voluntarily participated in a number of institutions, the national club in greeley, company, where he lived for six months in 1949. he also joined a number of church clubs which he wrote
9:54 pm
about in his accounts of america. on evening walks through greeley he'd note the well-manicured lawns. each house appears as a flowering plant, the streets are like garden pathways. he observed the residents never interacted with one another. the owners of these houses spend their leisure time working hard, watering their private yards, trimming their gardens. this is all they appear to do. he saw residents' preoccupation with their individual lawns as a selfish, noncommunal, utilitarian sort of activity. qutb was not alone in making such a general assessment about individualistic inclinations in american society at that time. his interpretation should be qualified by the observations of a later french visitor, jacques
9:55 pm
meritan, who spent time in the united states and wrote about what he saw. he spent time in the united states about the same time qutb was here. unlike qutb, her meritan observed mid 20th century america still flourishing, as he puts it, the countless initiatives of fraternal help which are the daily bread of the american people. he took positive note of the many active associations, communities, and brotherhoods and clubs in the united states. yet even meritan, though disposed to emphasize the lurking positive, observed worrying signs. he detected tensions between tendencies toward individual freedom and efforts to preserve community and conceded in partial agreement with qutb that a genuine sense of community may have been on the decline. okay. so what of volunteerism and civic engagement today?
9:56 pm
what relevance do these visitors' views have for us in making sense of this phenomenon today? there's a range of values on this question. some suggest that tocqueville's concerns about unrestrained self-interested individualism have, at least in part, been realized. this is certainly what the authors of "habits of the heart," an important book whose title bears a tocquevillian phrase, found in their 1985 study of middle class americans. based on numerous views, the five authors discovered the dominant moral languages in contemporary american society at that time were expressive individualism and utility darren individualism. less evident today is the rightly understood part of the individuals in paradox. as individualism has advanced, so, some argue, has civic engagement declined.
9:57 pm
in "bowling alone," harvard political scientist robert putnam documents the precipitous decline of american volunte volunteerism, joining habits, and social capital. some of you may have read putnam's book. others such as sociologist claude fisher are more optimistic about the persistence of volunteerism among americans. seeing volunteerism not only as a defining american trait but a quality of americanism that remains vital even today. visher among others calls into question putnam's findings arguing that while certain forms of association may have declined, others, and even more, have emerged to take their place. there may be fewer bowling leagues, kiwanis clubs, rotary groups, pta groups, but there are more self-help groups, book clubs, yoga classes, hiking groups. what has remained over time, argues fisher, is american volunteerism and joining habits. nevertheless, even fisher acknowledges that the binding
9:58 pm
nature of group associations has changed. a quality of contemporary association life discussed in princeton absorb at robert wethnow's book on small groups suggesting small groups have emerged precisely because other formals of social capital have declined. 40% of americans, he reports, now are part of some kind of small group. wethnow observes that these groups can be seen as, on the one hand, the most recent manifest case of america's joining tendencies, on the record, wethnow concedes there's something equal dateively different about equal groups as compared to earlier forms of associational life. contemporary small groups are less binding, are often centered on individuals' emotional needs and problems, and are easier to enter and exit. in wethnow's words, the social contract binding members
9:59 pm
together in small groups asserts only the weakest of obligations. come if you have time, talk if you feel like it, respect everyone's opinion, never criticize, leave quietly if you become dissatisfied. arguably the weaker ties and the greater ease with which one can enter and exit such group forms is even more pronounced in so-called digital communities. several recent studies show that while new social media technologies offer more avenues for social connection, they may actually be fostering greater social distance. according to jacqueline olds and richard schwarts in "the lonely american," new forms of digital connectivity offer a limited substitute for community characterized by real physical presence. similarly sherry terkel argues persuasively in "alone together" that though americans may be increasingly connected to one another, electronically they are also, as she puts it, oddly more
10:00 pm
alone. even fisher, thor sanguine about the continuing inclination of americans to join together, wonders at what point does having more options for more people to exit more groups create a society in which too little is certain, too little can be counted on, and people are too often left behind, sometimes by just an unsubscribed email? i should also add while ear on the topic of social media that an often-cited benefit of new social media is the opportunity it gives people for individual self-expression. right? as conventionally understood, facebook and other social media venues represent places where one can express one's unique and highly individualized self. right? so in terms of tocqueville, the kind of individual impart of the paradox. yet the technology writer christine rosen discovers, even here one finds a curious sort of conformism. in words that approximate the
10:01 pm
paradise, rosen characterizes facebook and other forms of social media as, her words, an overwhelmingly dull sea of money months us in weakness, of conventional individuality, of distinctive sameness. in other words, it's a medium that reflects individuals and conformism paradox detected by our visitors. whether fostered by new social media technologies or other factors, evidence of growing disconnectedness among americans is difficult to ignore. the number of one-person households, for example, in the united states has increased from 7.7% in 1940 to 17% in 1970 to 28% in 2017. in some places, such as washington, d.c., as high as 45%. in manhattan, it is 48%. nearly half of the households in manhattan are people living alone. general social survey data reveals a decline in the number
10:02 pm
of people discuss important matters. 2004, nearly one-quarter of respondents reported not having a single confidant with whom they could discuss important matter. even enthusiasts for the promise offered through greater digital connectivity now worry about the tendency for individuals to visit websites and connect with people who share -- already share their own views and prejudices. and thus reinforcing them, what ethan zucker man calls cyber vulcanization. cyber balkanization mill dates against the bridging social capital that people like putnam view as important for revitalizing civic engagement and building levels of trust among americans from different backgrounds. however, that people in the united states still seek out opportunities to join together, whether in small groups, online communities, or other venues, is suggestive of longstanding inclination among americans to
10:03 pm
form voluntary associations. so one can understand new efforts to connect with others regardless of the social capital that is actually achieved as an indication of this enduring cultural propensity, right? like if we talk in terms of american national character, the inclination to join with one another, whether or not the venues we pursue in that actually achieves social capital, the fact that we still are inclined is indicative of the persistence of this inclinati inclination. as it concerns the continuing significance of local governing practices, this is something alexander solzynicin lived here. while he was unabashedcy lit call of commercialism, materialism, and conformist tendencies, he was also deeply appreciative of a number of qualities of american society, including the small-scale democratic self governing practices he witnessed firsthand
10:04 pm
when he lived in new england. when preparing to return to russia in february of 1994, he warmly thanked the people of cavendish, vermont. he said, here in cavendish and the surrounding towns, i have observed the sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy in which the local population solves most of its problems on its own. not waiting for the decisions of higher authorities. and in fact, he would cite new england, he would cite cavendish, vermont, when he returned to russia and tried, arguably very unsuccessfully, to promote democracy in his home country. okay, in closing, let me end on a hopeful note. in their recent book "our towns," james and deborah fowlos suggest optimistic that america's bright thread of volunteerism and local-level civic engagement is, if anything, experiencing something of an exciting and promising resurgence. for several years between 2013 and 2017, the fallows threw flew
10:05 pm
around the country covering over 100,000 miles. with a specific goal of studying america's local civic life. they did so during a time when our national-level politics and political discourse arguably was becoming increasingly polarized, incendiary, and dysfunctional. however, what they found as they visited 29 small cities throughout the united states, including louisville, kentucky, and the majority of the cities they visited were in the so-called flyover states, they found that local civic life is flourishing in america. that individuals from a range of backgrounds and perspectives are working together at the local level to solve a variety of local problems. and they also found that they didn't talk much about national politics. let me give a couple of examples from their book. one of the city the fallows visited was holland, michigan. they found a vibrant town center
10:06 pm
seamlessly integrated with hope college, the institution of higher learn town. holland prides itself on a place that makes things and one resident told the fallows one reason the town flourished was the local industries stayed in holland and had artfully reinvented themselves over time and stayed connected with the community. one of the businesses that stayed in holland, and again has kind of reinvented itself over the years, was a recycling business run by the padnose family. the company recycles virtually any item that has been discarded in america's so-called throw-away culture. items are cleaned, repaired, repurposed for resale and reuse. the company employs 600 people, including ex-inmates who are given a job as a way to help get a new start in life. the fallows also visited louisville and were especially taken by the innovative work of a small manufacturing outfit called first build.
10:07 pm
what they liked about first build, a spinoff of ge, it represented a locally vibrant form of manufacturing that moved away from the large-scale, more bureaucratic industries and toward a kind of small-scale form of production involving more creativity, craftsmanship, flexibility, and innovation. they also noticed when they visited first build that it provided a work space for students in schools to come and practice and participate. and when they visited, a number of university of louisville students were there. they also found as a general rule that cities with colleges or universities tend to be doing better reinvigorating their downtowns and cultivating more active and engaged local civic life. they were hesitant to offer that because obviously not every city has that. they found when they visited that if there was a college or university in a town, it tended to do better in these efforts at building social capital. the fallows also visited
10:08 pm
columbus, mississippi, where they found not only new industry moving into the racially mixed and historically low-income region but a vibrant two-year public boarding school for high school students and a community college that was proactively working to train people in their region for work in these new industries. in columbus they highlighted the work of palmer house, a privately funded orphanage established in 1895, had made several recent changes, a shift from large dorm-style living to smaller cottages where six to eight students would live -- children would live with a host parent. another thing they observed is palmer house had started a csa, community-supported agriculture. farm. not only does the csa produce revenue for the palmer house, but children from the orphanage work on the small farm and learn valuable agricultural skills and
10:09 pm
earn a little pocket money. the fallows found csas in a number of cities they visit ad round the country. i think csas are a wonderful example of the kind of local-level community building that people like tocqueville and chesterton would have celebrated. it's a selltively new phenomenon. the first csa in the united states started in western massachusetts and was only in 1985. today there are more than 6,000 csas throughout the united states. another example of local-level and community building the fallows found around the united states were the increasing number of micro or craft breweries. like csas, this is a relatively new development. in the 1970s the united states had only a few hundred breweries, mostly large-scale industrial types. by 2017, there were more than 5,000, many of which are the small, local craft breweries that the fallows found as they traveled around the united states. so significant was this
10:10 pm
particular indicator, according to the fallows, of vibrant social capital that they identified local craft breweries as one of the most reliable signs of civic energy in the united states. interestingly, chesterton, who visited the united states as i mentioned between -- once in 1921, then again in 1930, '31, his visits book ended america's experiment with prohibition. now he was relentlessly critical of this. he thought this was a terrible thing, however, prohibition did not prevent chesterton from consuming his share of a variety of locally produced beer. indeed, at one point, even though he was severely crystal of prohibition, he farcecally proposed he quite like prod hib business and wanted to take it back to england, "i've never had so much good homebrew," he said. having turned to chesterton, let me close with one of his famous paradoxical statements. of america's bright threads, "the best things do not travel, and yet we must travel to find
10:11 pm
them." and what he and my other visitors found in traveling to america were the commendable qualities of local-level governance, associational life, volunteerism, and small-scale local enterprises. these were among the brightest of america's bright threads that they discovered. as we've heard, they also detected some dark strands, including trends toward lonely individualism and suffocating majoritarian sentiments. there are some indications these darker strands may also be intensifying. however, findings from the fallows' recent tocquevillian-like travels give us hope that local-level civic engagement is still alive and may even be experiencing something of a resurgence and revitalization. this is hopeful because our visitors viewed these qualities as an antidote to the potential dangers of hyperindividualism and the tyranny of the majority
10:12 pm
and as a vital feature of american democracy, "the power that is the soul and success of democracy." thank you. okay, i understand i have time to take a few questions. we have students who have mics and they'll walk up to you to ask the question. >> thank you so much for a very informative talk. my question really relates to how you see or how you think, other than tocqueville, who was really of a different era, the bicoastal versus the internal strands coming today within the united states. >> okay.
10:13 pm
so -- our visitors did, you know, visit both the coasts and the middle america, if you will, right? so chesterton himself, during his second visit, went all the way to california, went up and down the west coast. and qutb, the last leg of his journey was in california. and the fallows in their work do cover 29 cities in total. and they were very intentional about making sure the majority were in the flyover states. because part of their argument or part of their conclusion was that that part of america gets ignored. and in fact, we just pay attention to national politics and we just pay attention to new york, washington, san francisco, los angeles, right? so they were very intentional
10:14 pm
about visiting smaller places and not focusing on the coasts. and again, i think the most hopeful thing about the fallows' conclusion is that in visiting these other places, they found that national politics didn't define the way in which individuals related to one another. they didn't talk about it that much. they were really much more interested in taking care of their own local needs and interests, and in fact, they did a good job of integrating people into their local community from other places and that you had people with very different views and backgrounds and political dispositions working together. it was very hopeful. it was a very hopeful thing. and they even go so far as to say that inasmuch as -- the less they talked about national politics, the better they were doing. >> who would you say or who would they say today would be
10:15 pm
the closest to america in all those features? what country or continent would be, if any, closest to us? >> okay, so they being my visitors? >> right. >> so in my visitors' observations, inasmuch as they compared the united states to other countries, which other country would be most like the united states? >> right. >> that's interesting. now all of them constantly made comparative observations. tocqueville said, i never made an observation in america without france on my mind. he always was thinking comparatively. this is different than france in this way. chesterton in his writings are often comparing england to the united states. and if you've ever read chesterton, he's a lot of fun. all these kind of paradoxes. and he himself also is making comparisons. as i mentioned, vaber did this
10:16 pm
as well. as did tocqueville as well. he basically on the bit about association life, vaber wanted to bring it to germany, he said, it wouldn't go. we're so used to talk-dune in a large state apparatus this volunteerism wouldn't work. and tocqueville observed something similar about france. tocqueville's purpose for coming to the united states was actually, he was sent by the ministry of the interior to study america's prisons. so that was his ostensible reason for coming to the united states. and he and beaumont did a pretty good job of visiting america's prisons. they wrote a book on it. and they made a similar conclusion. they said, american penitentiaries are good for these reasons, and for all these reasons it wouldn't work in france. it wouldn't transfer. so i know that doesn't directly answer your question, but they were very mindful of their home countries. the one article that qutb wrote
10:17 pm
when he was here in the united states, in "the fulcrum," the college newspaper in greeley, a story about egypt being the mother and giving birth to these other countries and giving birth to a little boy that then rebels against egypt and the little boy is western civilization that rebels against the mother egypt. and so again, he's kind of making a kind of comparison. now i don't know that i can actually answer what they saw as being the closest. because their observations were always in contrast. it was always about what's different. so there wasn't much observation about, oh, this is like this country. >> so i've seen alex sales de tocqueville's "democracy in america" and read much of it,
10:18 pm
and it's two very large volumes. what volume of work has been done by the other three visitors you've mentioned? is it extensive? how much is there to be read? >> in particular about america? yeah, okay. so actually, just to go back to tocqueville, there are three books written about america. democracy in america, the book on the penitentiaries, and gustav de beaumont wrote "marie" about -- basically about race. and tocqueville and beaumont originally were going to write together, but somewhere along the journey they decided to write separate pieces. and so really interestingly, they both wrote home about this. and beaumont in a letter said, i am about to embark on the work that's going to immortalize me. who's read "marie," right? oh, really? fantastic, that's amazing. and then tocqueville wrote to i think his brother, and he wrote, i don't know, i'm finishing up here, i might be able to someday
10:19 pm
wry something respectable about america. "democracy" in america is a great classic. so the comparison is really almost comical. so vaber wrote several things about america. not a lot of people realize his most famous work, "the ethic and spirit of capitalism," is about america. it was published in two essays. the first written right before he came to america, the second after he returned. so it really is, i mean, his quintessential embodiment of the spirit of capitalism, it's benjamin franklin. it really is about america. he wrote an essay called "provident sects" in the spirit of capitalism which is all based on his time in america, and it's really an interesting read. originally it was meant to be part of, the third part. for whatever reason, it was left out. there's a great book by historian named -- oh, gosh.
10:20 pm
the name of the book is "vaber in america," with press ton university press, and i really comment it. the author's name is escaping me at the moment. it's very carefully researched, well documented book, and that's why i'd recommend it if you want to do vaber. "what i saw in america." the other is called "side lights." both written after his respective visits. and he also wrote "essays and s forth about america. and then qutb wrote a series of articles published in a journal called "the america that i have seen." and it's not extensive. but it's significant. and then sprinkled throughout his work, he makes various references to america. he published a book right before he came here called "social
10:21 pm
justice in islam." and what's interesting is it went through a number of revisions. if you look at the revisions, you see he works america into it. before, he hadn't been to america, so there's no mention of it. over time he introduces pieces of america, which were largely critical, in social justices. if you look at the different -- and i would recommend, there's a good section on qutb's time in america by historian at crayton named john calvert, biography on qutb that has an extensive kind of america section. >> thank you for speaking with us today. and i know that you've already mentioned some of the initial motivations for webber as well as tocqueville and qutb to come to the united states and their
10:22 pm
initial rationales for their visits. could you explain a little more about chesterton's initial motivations for his visits to the united states and how his initial expectations for what he would find compared with his eventual later studies and observations? >> okay. so chesterton. chesterton was very famous at the time. i mean, some circles of people read chesterton and a lot don't, he's rather forgotten. at the time he was immensely popular. he struggled with basically journalists following him everywhere. so it was a wonderful, for me, because also some newspaper accounts of his travels. and he was hounded by journalists. like a kind of paparazzi thing, so much so that frances hated it. she said one time, i never knew i was married to an important man until i came to america and i don't really like it. and part of his motivation was financial, actually. he and his brother had a journal
10:23 pm
going. and gas struggling financially. and he was offered money to give speeches. he had an agent who set up various talks around the united states. then his second time that he came also kind of financially motivated, was he was asked to give a series of six weeks of lectures at notre dame university. then on top of, in addition to that, he would travel around. both during his time in south bend and then after. so that was the motivation. now chesterton claimed that he came with a blank slate, like he really wanted to get out of his mind any impressions he had of america. he was very intentional about it. i think largely he did that, although it's comical, he says that, i'm not going to write a book about america, which he did, he goes, i'm going to have a blank slate, i'm not going to let any of my prejudices shape how i see things. one of the first things he writes about is criticism of
10:24 pm
prohibition. he thought it was an egregious violation of individual liberty. he made a joke coming into new york about the statue of liberty. he had this joke, he goes, we should rephrase patrick henry and say, give me death. because liberty was gone, people couldn't drink that kind of thing. he did have strong views. but chesterton, he was very interesting. because he was very comical. he would give lectures. you would think, how is that going to enable a guy to make sense of america? a number of people have said he was incredibly observant. it was almost misleading because he was this large, very large, 300-pound man, very disheveled looking. yet he would have these piercing insights. did anyone watch the detective series "columbo"? do you remember the detective in that? he's kind of that kind of guy.
10:25 pm
that was based in part on chesterton and his character, father brown, in the father brown mysteries, something that chesterton wrote. i think about that because that's kind of how he was. you would not know how insightful he could be because he didn't look like he would be. but he has penetrating insights that are really remarkable. and as i said, there is much -- he was a very friendly visitor. there was much that he liked about america. when he left the bixler, he and frances and dorothy, their secretary, when they left the bixlers' in south bend, they all cried, they had such affection for this family they'd been living with. he had a warmness toward americans and a deep appreciation of kind of small-town life. the democratic spirit of small-town life and that sort of thing. >> ladies and gentlemen, we have time for one more question. >> i'm sorry, i thought you were
10:26 pm
pointing behind me. first of all, thank you very much. it's been one of the most thought-provoking lectures i've come to in a very long time. and i appreciate your survey of people's opinions of the united states. before i preface my question, i'm a great fans of james fallows, his work with jimmy carter, his work at "the atlantic," especially his surveys of china. and i find his work so out of character for him, i find it almost looking for good rather than being as critical as he's been, say, with china and the transpacific partnership and everything. and then i listen to it. did you find him to be -- >> pollyannaish? >> yes. talking about the fragility of small-town life and the crisis they're facing. >> that's right. yeah, no, and they say -- they didn't expect to find what they found. the fallows said that, we didn't
10:27 pm
actually expect to find. they were going, as i mentioned, at a time when our national discourse seems to be completely fraught and polarized and so forth. and they say that they were really surprised. and they were intentional about trying to go to places that are not often heard. they wanted that. they were intentional about that. and -- because to your earlier question, it's the coasts that get all the attention, right? they're the big cities. and so they said they were surprised. n now, i guess i wouldn't be as celebratory about everything that they observed as they were. but i found in the main in reading the book that it was an honest depiction and that the small-scale things they observed were laudable and worthy of celebration and frankly quite hopeful. so, you know, i get your point, though. you're kind of like, really?
10:28 pm
is that really what you found? but you know, i have to admit that i was -- even though i didn't -- not all of what they found i would have been as celebratory about as they were, but overall, on the whole, i was persuaded and tended to agree with them. >> thank you. >> ladies and gentlemen, would you thank me -- join me in thanking dr. nolan for his time and expertise this evening. as a thank you on behalf of the mcconnell center, we would like to present you with this gift. >> oh, thank you very much. appreciate that. do you want me to open it? >> you can do that later. >> okay, i'll wait. >> and now we will do our book drawing for dr. nolan's book, "what they saw in america," if you would, please. >> do you want a drumroll or something? okay, here we go. sid. all right. >> sid, all right. >> i don't think i can read your last name.
10:29 pm
damnersfell. >> feel free to come up. >> i'll sign so it you can't sell it on ebay. >> i wouldn't want, to i want to read this one. >> enjoy. >> thank you. >> thank you again, dr. nolan, and thank you all very much for coming out this evening. it was a great talk. we ask that you all would be safe going home and that you would join us again in the fall as we resume the public lecture series next year. thank you all again and have a safe drive home.
10:30 pm
david truer, "the heartbeat of wounded knee." sharon robinson talks about "child of the dream." rick atkinson, author of "the british are coming." and thomas malone, founding director of the mit center for collective intelligence, discusses his book "superminds." the national book festival live saturday, august 31st, at 10:00 a.m. eastern on book tv on c-span2. in 1979, a small network with an unusual game rolled out a big idea. let viewers make up their own minds. c-span opened the doors to washington policy making for all to see. bringing you unfiltered content
10:31 pm
from congress and beyond. a lot has changed in four years, but today that big idea is morrell than ever. on television and online, c-span is your unfiltered view of government. so you can make up your own mind. brought to you as a public service by your cable or satellite provider. tony perrottet talks about "cuba libre," che fidel and the impossible revolution that changed history. he talks about castro's humble beginnings and highlights the role of women and poor people in the revolution. >> today we are very pleased to welcome to the smithsonian tony perrottet, australian-born, perpetual explorer, travel writer, and author of six books including "napoleon's privates: 25 years of history unzipped." "the sinnegr


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on