Civic Republicanism: The Greatest American Value

Oath of Office

For much of the Obama administration’s time in office, political rivals have been baffled as to how President Obama successfully won two terms in office. Through their rhetoric, they have attempted to instill fear in the hearts of voters. The fear they want to resonate is a fear that the United States is moving away from the ideal of the American Dream, the mythical idea that the only barrier between poverty and success is an individual’s desire to work. While there is a nice sentiment to individuality, and working hard in order to achieve different levels of success, this ideal has never been realistic at any point in the history of the United States as a means for the many to become prosperous. But, although President Obama has presented a very significant message (one which detractors claim is significantly different from anything the United States has ever seen), his message is very common throughout the history of the United States. Time and time again, the American people display attitudes that reflect their desire to work together, because the foundation of society is strongly set in the ability of citizens to work together in order to achieve goals. Civic republicanism, not individualism, has formed the basis for American society. It is the most integral part of American life, but politicians who preach the necessity of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” and warn that collective action in order to solve problems will lead to the eventual downfall of the United States have diminished the importance of civic republicanism in the past two decades. But, in order to properly understand the civic republicanism of the American people, it is necessary to look towards the policies/attitudes of the most prominent historical figures of the United States, and then to examine the very message provided by President Obama.

The historical scope of this discussion should be limited to the 20th century of the United States, as many volumes can be filled regarding the republican ideals commonly held by the founders and revolutionaries, and many brilliant men and women during the 19th century as the United States was thrown into internal turmoil. But, the 20th century in the United States saw the prominence of many social policies born out of republican thought that still hold a crucial place in a modern context. Beginning with President Franklin Roosevelt’s (FDR) time as Commander in Chief, one must looks towards the climate of the United States during the Second World War. The federal government, and many others, successfully created a sense of civic duty within each American citizen in order to achieve the goal of defeating the Axis powers. This civic duty was only possible through the efforts of all citizens collectively contributing towards the war efforts in a variety of different ways. Propaganda was developed in order to push Americans towards the war effort, and most of this propaganda still holds a prominent, or symbolic, place in American culture. The attitudes regarding Americans working collectively throughout the Second World War, and the efforts immediately after the war to expand prosperity to a larger share of the population are still fresh in the memory of many. It has become an integral piece of having pride for the United States, and holds us close to our republican roots.

Another glowing example of the prominence of republican values can be seen through the inaugural address of President Kennedy in 1960, one of the most important speeches in the history of the United States. As the “threat” of communism continued to expand, Kennedy called upon all Americans to come together in order to set an example for the world, an example of how to defeat evil. Even further, after President Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson’s infamous State of the Union marking the beginning of the so-called “War on Poverty,” placed a special emphasis of the need for a full national effort in order to help all citizens. This rhetoric has become highly important to the very ethos of American society, and attempts to inspire collective action in order to fight the ills of society.

Finally, the Obama administration, has inherited this message of civic duty that has seen prominence throughout the history of the United States, and tried to expand upon it. Since the previous examples have been based in some type of rhetoric used by past American figures, one must next look towards President Obama’s second inaugural address. Throughout the address, Obama appeals to a communal feeling among Americans, and continually underscores the importance of “we” in American society. Without “we,” the United States could never have addressed times of turmoil. Because of “we,” the United States became the most important superpower in the world. So, in totality, it is important to recognize the importance of civic republicanism in American society. It makes the United States great, and allows for continual growth and progress.


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7 Responses to Civic Republicanism: The Greatest American Value

  1. nshah210 says:

    Alright, so I just want to clarify the argument of the post. Are you saying that Obama’s ideology mirrors civic republicanism and that the United State’s overall embodies the same ideology as well? Through your post, you state a very broad time frame of using the 20th century and you listed some events that fall under the category of civic republicanism. However, I really feel like the claims you make are a bit too general. I can get behind how the United States has the foundation of trying to provide for the people and how we work together to provide better representation and care. Although, I feel like a great deal of individualism plays a key role into our society as well. Even when we look to the foundation, they were a bunch of men who wanted their single ideology heard for the betterment of society. I would even argue that many minority groups use the same method. Granted that they are a group that fight on behalf of that minority group, there is a sense of individualism that is being addressed. There isn’t a single ideology that can be labeled to the United States, even for that 20th century time period. In class we mentioned how there was a middle ground between classical democrat and civic republican that would be a better way to describe the United States today. Overall, I really enjoyed the post and agree with a lot of it.

  2. ztacner says:

    While personally, I believe and agree with the idea of your statement (and by association from your post Obama and his inaugural address) that there is power in “we” but at the same time I feel as though that is not the reality. Much of America’s strength and wealth lies in a very small percentage of the population within the hands of rather capitalistic and individualistic, individuals. I feel that they are the ones who hold wealth and connections with overseas powers, they are the main supporters of our government and the more realistic depiction of the driving force that made America a superpower.

  3. jfavila says:

    I enjoyed your post very much! You make a good argument about how the foundation of American society is civic republicanism and while there are certainly examples of it throughout the history of the United States I believe individualism is still very much a part of American culture. In our consumerist culture you don’t work so you can give to others, you work so you can get yourself a new house, car or simply something like just entertainment. We all have our own interests and we must work to get them. There is common ground but there are also individual interests. Like nshah210 said, not a single ideology can be labelled to the United States. Multiple ideologies can be seen within the United States.

  4. pooh0bear8 says:

    Strong article & well written, while I do not agree with everything within your post. Your points about civic republicanism developing the United States of America into what it is today I believe holds very true. JFK’s challenge to the American people to achieve the impossible goal, and united the people of a nation during social revolution that was causing chaos; talking about the space program. The civic republican (or unification) of the American people shines its brightest when Americans are faced with challenge to achieve; nationalism is dangerous but it will always make history. FDR’s strong leadership through the great depression & WWII made The United States of American into the super power it is today. Yes technology was ultimate factor with regards to the super power, but one may argue without maintaining high moral the United States would never become the super power it is.

    Point I will disagree with is that President Obama is a civic republican. To clarify my stance President Obama does believe in many ideas of civic republican ideas, but did not execute actions to unite the American people; he acted as individualist instead. He had several chance to seize the narrative but never did. During the first ‘debt ceiling debate’ President Obama could of change the narrative of this nation, but he choose not to challenge the will of the American people & instead give up on his civic duty. I voted for President Obama because he was ‘hope’, ‘change’, and instead history will remember him for one thing only, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; President Obama is an under achiever.

  5. iannukem says:

    I love your comparisons of President Obama’s rhetoric in his administration to the civic republican voices of the FDR and Kennedy administrations. All three of these presidents have shown in their policies and public addresses that they want to work to bring the country together, but I disagree that the the phrase “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is antithetical of these administrations. The Obama administration/government did not take over GM, Chrysler or Ford after the government bailout that gave them financial aid, they let those companies take the hard path to recovery on their own. FDR in the middle of the Great Depression did not hand out bring people together by giving away free items but by putting Americans back to work and giving them the opportunity to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. I understand that this is something today’s Republicans love to point out about Democratic policies intended to provide a safety net, but unless they are social Darwinists (or at the very least a strict Libertarian/liberal) then having programs that helps bring Americans together in terms of opportunities to work/achieving a higher socio-economic status sets up more people to work hard and achieve more.

  6. iramsey918 says:

    I enjoyed your post immensely and thought you made excellent points about the role of civic republicanism in the growth and successes in America. I especially liked how you showed the links in history and that of WWII when our “greatest generation” came together as one to overcome one of the greatest threats the world has ever seen. And while I agree with you that America owes much of her glory to the ideals of civic republicanism, I personally feel that what makes America great is her ability to work hand in hand with both individualism and communitarianism. You are absolutely right that during times of trial Americans are great at coming together to overcome great odds. However while other countries through history seem to tend towards communitarianism America’s the land of opportunity. While Americans value self-reliance and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” we can still pull together towards a common cause when the chips are down. Do we have the perfect system? Of course not, but I love that Americans can make the best of both worlds. Thank you again for posting and inspiring some thought.

  7. christiesm says:

    I agree with you that we need the “we” in our society in order to have progress and make things work, but i don’t believe it is our reality. I think individualism in our society is more present than civic republicanism. We incorporate many ideas of civic republicanism, because we know that people should work together and be good to each other, but I think people are thinking more about themselves and looking for benefits and not assistance.

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