“Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die,…
They clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight.
An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on; he will plant a garden and rent it just as the trees are coming into bearing; he will clear a field and leave others to reap the harvest;
he will take up a profession and leave it, settle in one place and soon go off elsewhere with his changing desires. If his private business allows him a moment’s relaxation, he will plunge at once into the whirlpool of politics.
Then, if at the end of a year crammed with work he has a little spare leisure, his restless curiosity goes with him traveling up and down the vast territories of the United States. Thus he will travel five hundred miles in a few days as a distraction from his happiness. Death steps in in the end and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes him.
At first sight there is something astonishing in this spectacle of so many lucky men restless in the midst of abundance. But it is a spectacle as old as the world; all that is new is to see a whole people performing in it.”
Democracy in America, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. George Lawrence, vol. 2, part 2, chapter 13, p. 536 (1969). Originally published in 1835–1840.
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