What exactly is “America”? And does the idea live up to the reality? During the nation’s infancy, Alexis de Tocqueville meticulously studied America’s democratic experiment and defined the contours of American exceptionalism. Nearly 200 years later, scholars James Q. Wilson and Peter Schuck have gone back to reconsider what defines the United States and its role in our rapidly changing world. Their new book, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation (Public Affairs, 2008), is the ground-breaking result.
On Wednesday, April 23, Brookings hosted a panel discussion featuring Wilson and Schuck. They were joined by expert panelists, who commented on how federalism and bureaucracy structure our institutions, and on how economic inequality and immigration shape our democratic society. The discussion was part of the “Governing Ideas” series moderated by Brookings Senior Fellow William A. Galston. The series, hosted by Governance Studies at Brookings, is intended to broaden the discussion of governance issues through forums on timely and relevant books on history, culture, legal norms and practices, values and religion.
Countries like Brazil and Ethiopia have shown the dramatic progress that can be achieved through multipronged efforts. Successful strategies have included measures like targeted investments to help small farmers boost crop yields—which can bring a double-barreled gain of increasing farmers’ incomes while increasing food availability for others—to social support programs like school meals, cash transfers and seasonal employment initiatives that ensure even the poorest people can afford food during lean times.