05 December 2012

American Incompatibilities

Humility belongs with mercy among the cardinal Christian virtues.  "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."  But the demands of Christianity and the success myth are incompatible.  The competitive society out of which the success myth and the self-made mah have grown may accept the Christian virtues in principle but can hardly observe them in practice.  The motivating force in the mythology of success is ambition, which is closely akin to the cardinal Christian sin of pride.  In a world that works through ambition and self-help, while inculcating an ethic that looks upon their results with disdain, how can an earnest man, a public figure living in a time of crisis, gratify his aspirations and yet remain morally whole?


"It was in the world of politics that he lived...Politics were his life, newspapers his food, and his great ambition his motive power....His ambition was the little engine that knew no rest." (William Herndon)

Richard Hofstadter, "Abraham Lincoln and the Self-Made Myth" in The American Political Tradition.

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