I am heading to Europe in two weeks, and was just thinking about how America and Britain differ.
America, it strikes me, is much more old fashioned than Britain. Britain is a very Republican place.
They believe in the sovereignty of one’s own self and one’s own opinion, and believe that one man is as good as the next… that all men are equal. It’s a very British way of looking at things.
America, conversely, has a class system. We believe in the primacy of money and of hierarchies and…. most interestingly….. we actually believe in BELIEVING IN THINGS.
And here is the main point of my post, and probably the biggest difference between cultures…
Unlike Americans, Brits are a very skeptical people. If you wanted to define the English character in a more intellectual way, I would say that they are “empirical.”
Britain’s greatest gift to Europe and to the intellectual thrust of the last 500 years has been empiricism. It’s how Newton beat Pascal... how he was right. The French are rationalists, Brits are not, and in fact they distrust rationalism and superstition as being two wings of the same heresy.
That’s also why Britain has an established church in which no-one believes… because their empirical nature leads them to test things.
In America, we have almost a religious idea about liberty. One could say that we fetishize the ideal of liberty.
In fact, we have this tendency with other things as well. We fetishize the right to bear arms without really testing it.
The Brits have a more “let’s test it. Does that work?” Attitude. In America, on the other hand, everything rises and falls by the constitution and the ideals it imparts.
It follows then that in America, freedom of speech becomes more important than justice because freedom of speech is fetishized in the constitution. To a Brit, that idea is preposterous. To a Brit, being just to people is the first end of a state, in other words, the most important function of a state is to be a just state. Not for it to be a free state, but freedom is a good means of achieving a just state.
In other words, freedom of speech is a concept, and justice is concrete.
So my question to you…. do you think the idealistic nature of Americans is as the empiricism of our counterparts across the pond, or is our sense of idealism simply the sign of a young, perhaps naive state that hasn’t quite figured it all out yet?
Personally, I believe the Brits have it right. Would like to hear your thoughts.