The Gutenberg Address vividly portrays national ideas and uniqueness of the American national character. Historical events have a great impact on self-identity of the nation and its cultural values. Individual national identities differ in content, but the evidence strongly suggests that the psychological imperative of national formation is universal. If it can be inferred that quest for identity achievement is central to all people, then there is a powerful argument for at least a minimal form of equality as a political value. Without a common minimum of security and opportunity, and without basic social tolerance of diverse identities, individual humanness and humanity collectively are endangered. While minimal levels of tolerance and security are vitally important, the distinctions that cultures establish in recognizing competence, generating integrity, and supporting mutuality are also critical to the developmental process.
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Culture largely determines the materials available for national formation. This tension between the universal and the particular in identity formation holds the analytic key to understanding the relationships between national uniqueness and politics. The following remarks reflect the whole idea of the American identity: "a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" (Lincoln). Having opened the issue of deep-seated differences, Lincoln explores the political implications of differentiation. Race as a contributor to identity poses the issues of universality and particularity in the clearest possible form. On the side of the particularity of race, there are such facts as intrinsic differentiation, whether seen as genetic or merely as a matter of skin color. There is the massive historical experience of racism. There are the behavioral preferences that distinguish races from each other. There are commonalities of religion, politics, and culture clearly associated with race. What the phenomenon of race makes evident is the fact that there can be no standardized human experience at the level of culture. Race opens our eyes, if they are clouded by a naive humanism, to the phenomenon of variation among human beings, and it does not stop with race or with gender.
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