David Kolb
Bates College
What does it mean to be a modern American today? These slides summarize the discussion from five lectures delivered in winter 2019 at the University of Oregon's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The lectures themselves are available on YouTube Just how different is American from other cultural identities? We have thought of ourselves as the specially modern nation, spreading the revolutionary gospel of freedom from traditional restrictions. Some condemn this American exceptionalism, while others celebrate it. Don't take sides too quickly, there are deep issues here. -- The first lecture poses the question whether American identity is a rigid given set of traditional substantive values, or a free floating modern identity with at most a set of formal procedural values. -- The second and third lectures dismantle these options, arguing that any substantive identity must include areas of inner freedom and mobility, and any formal procedural identity needs substantive style and content in order to exist at all. Personal and social identities are two leveled, with given values and projects plus inner self-reflection and space for revision. -- The fourth lecture argues that what makes American identity special is neither its substantive values nor its modern formalism, which are shared with other modern nations, but rather the particular slant of its second level attitudes and practices towards first level substance. -- The fifth lecture asks what America can learn and teach in an increasingly multicultural world.
Keywords american individualism  modernity  traditional society  Hegel  Wittgenstein  american exceptionalism  multicultural society
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