The American way of life or the American way refers to the American nationalist ethos that adheres to the principle of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the center of the American way is the belief in an American Dream that is claimed to be achievable by any American through hard work. This concept is intertwined with the concept of American exceptionalism, the belief in the unique culture of the nation.
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 (1955)
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".
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."
- Herberg, William (1955). Protestant, Catholic, Jew: an Essay in American religious sociology. University of Chicago Press.
- William Herberg
- The American Way of Life. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph, gelatin silver print n. 1973.195
- Herberg (1955), p. 79
- Wood, Ralph C (2004). Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-haunted South. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 21.
- "The National Archives and Records Administration Annual Report 1999". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. August 15, 2016.