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A Search for an American Identity ALAN D.ABERBACH Few students of contemporary Canadian civilization are unaware of the intensity of those feelings and thoughts permeating today's search for a national identity. Virtually every aspect of Canadian life today seems to involve some attempt to resolve the crisis of identification. We are, therefore , inevitably exposed to endless debates over "a national anthem 11 versus "the national anthem.," and periodic questioning of whether "one nation" is reconcilable with "two nations." We have even learnt to tolerate (and perhaps even enjoy) the perennial attempt to find out "who we are" and "where we belong." This search for a national identity is not an easy process for, as every student of nationalism knows., the quasi-psychological forces of nationalism, with its components of patriotism, militarism , and chauvinism, often unleash passions that can not be easily contained . Ultimately a Canadian identity will emerge: one that will be capable of finding expression in positive terms rather than in the traditional antiAmerican and/ or anti-British outpourings that seem so fashionable today. Canada is evolving its own special characteristics in a slow but steady process, a process that seems to promise an identity with or without the necessity of a final rupture from the Commonwealth. In this regard the actions of the government seem to correspond to the wishes of the majority. Time is on our side. The American experience was quite the reverse. The audacious act of revolution, in an age when kingship in Europe still contained elements of Divine Right, threatened the fabric of politics and society not only in Great Britain but in all the major European countries including those that had been friendly to the rebellious colonies. The American War for Independence involved a fundamental upheaval in the spheres of politics, society, and culture the consequences of which have had varying degrees of effect on virtually every major power since that time. This revolt had a profound impact on those who still vividly recollected their last years as subordinate elements of British rule. In Europe as well as in America some viewed the revolution as the logical outcome of Enlightenment THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. II, NO. 2, FALL 1971 thought. The great experiment to see if man could truly govern himself would be tested in an open laboratory with the world as both spectator and judge. With peace and independence secured the emotional overtones of war gradually subsided, to be replaced by an intellectual awareness of the enormity of the problems confronting the infant states. Interestingly enough the political rupture seemed to create, for some, a psychological crisis that called for a cultural break as well. Few of the colonists deliberately denied the British heritage (although Paine insisted that France was America's true mother country) but few wished to acknowledge an indebtedness to this heritage. Some of the major figures of the revolutionary period desired to create a self-imposed alienation from the European cultural scene; an alienation that would prove as consummate in the cultural realm as the Declaration of Independence had been in the political realm. A void had been created. Next came a deliberate and intentional design to create a culture and a heritage that would replace the British and European traditions, and perhaps more importantly, one that would be superior. For all of the colonists the situation was unique, for an opportunity was presented to them to construct a new nation, a new cultural entity, a new political system and a new social philosophy which could assume for itself a position among the nations of the earth. Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764-1831) played a significant role in this decisive period. Although an enlightened figure Mitchill did not accept the major scientific premise of the Enlightenment. The idea of a fixed, mechanistic universe based on detached natural laws to be discovered exclusively through the use of reason was too restricting. As far as Mitchill was concerned it tended to deny the random, intuitive, non-rational and romantic possibilities of the human mind. Mitchill's belief in the role of the individual was paramount, for man's destiny in America was to create as perfect...


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