American way

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For other uses, see American way (disambiguation).

The American way of life, or simply the American way, is the unique lifestyle, real or imagined, of the people living in the United States of America. It refers to a nationalist ethos that purports to adhere to principles of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." At the center of the American way is the American Dream, the idea that upward mobility is achievable by any American through hard work. This concept is intertwined with the concept of American exceptionalism, the notion that the American way is only possible in the U.S. because of the unique culture of the nation.

This way of life, which developed from the 17th century onward, is an example of a behavioral modality, a set of behavioral norms which develops in a group.

Author William Herberg offers the following definition:[1]

1937 Louisville, Kentucky. Margaret Bourke-White.[2] There's no way like the American Way

The American Way of life is individualistic, dynamic, and pragmatic. It affirms the supreme value and dignity of the individual; it stresses incessant activity on his part, for he is never to rest but is always to be striving to "get ahead"; it defines an ethic of self-reliance, merit, and character, and judges by achievement: "deeds, not creeds" are what count. The "American Way of Life" is humanitarian, "forward-looking", optimistic. Americans are easily the most generous and philanthropic people in the world, in terms of their ready and unstinting response to suffering anywhere on the globe. The American believes in progress, in self-improvement, and quite fanatically in education. But above all, the American is idealistic. Americans cannot go on making money or achieving worldly success simply on its own merits; such "materialistic" things must, in the American mind, be justified in "higher" terms, in terms of "service" or "stewardship" or "general welfare"... And because they are so idealistic, Americans tend to be moralistic; they are inclined to see all issues as plain and simple, black and white, issues of morality.

— William Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: an Essay in American religious sociology

One commentator notes, "The first half of Herberg's statement still holds true nearly half a century after he first formulated it", even though "Herberg's latter claims have been severely if not completely undermined... materialism no longer needs to be justified in high-sounding terms".[3]

In the National Archives and Records Administration's 1999 Annual Report, National Archivist John W. Carlin writes, "We are different because our government and our way of life are not based on the divine right of kings, the hereditary privileges of elites, or the enforcement of deference to dictators. They are based on pieces of paper, the Charters of Freedom - the Declaration that asserted our independence, the Constitution that created our government, and the Bill of Rights that established our liberties."[4]

See also[edit]


  • Herberg, William (1955). Protestant, Catholic, Jew: an Essay in American religious sociology. University of Chicago Press. 


  1. ^ Herberg (1955), p. 79
  2. ^ The American Way of Life. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph, gelatin silver print n. 1973.195
  3. ^ Wood, Ralph C (2004). Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-haunted South. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 21. 
  4. ^ "The National Archives and Records Administration Annual Report 1999". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.