Restoring the Culture of the Five American Ideals

The Five American Ideals

America has been described as the land of Exceptionalism or having a Manifest Destiny or even as a global Superpower, but those are just effects of her legacy both positive and negative. What really unpins the greatness of America, the real magic of America are the five core ideals that constitute the breadth and depth of the original American psyche.

For 150 years, the isolated English colonies carved a civilization out of the wilderness. Through hardship and privation the early Americans developed a view of life and the world that is unique in history. Following the path of nascent Greece and Rome, the early Americans discussed, argued over, and ultimately birthed a nation founded on the bedrock of five primary ideals. For the next almost 250 years, America became a bastion of liberty and the dream of millions of immigrants worldwide based on the perpetuation of those five ideals. That hope was immortalized in 1886 with the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, which was later made a national monument in 1924.

These five ideals were gleaned from the best of history. They were hard earned and jealously guarded for generations until the national culture was fully permeated. The globally impacting American legacy ideals are:




Public Virtue


GeorgicsFrom the Greek and Latin, literally meaning “to work the earth.” Historically, a mentality and lifestyle of rural food production that results in citizens and communities who value divinity, privacy, property, traditional family, self-reliance, justice, order, frugality, duty, and self control.
LiberIn ancient Greece and Rome, the population was divided into two distinct classes: the slave class and a group we call the Liber. Liber is a Latin word, and one of its meanings is a biological term for the inner layers of tree bark. Because tree bark was written on directly or was processed to make paper on which historical records, laws, and contracts were written, we associate the word liber with those who could read, write, and engage in any form of interaction requiring a written record.
ProvidenceThe founding generation believed that not only was there a God, but that this Supreme Being had a very personal and specific mission for each person to fulfill while in this life. They believed in a culture where everyone was supposed to search for their mission, prepare for it, and then fulfill it. This American cultural concept can be traced back through the Reformation, the founding of the Catholic Church, where it splits into two paths one that continues to the founding of the Church by Jesus all the way all the way back to the Hebrews and another path influenced by the Greek mythology and ideology, primarily Plato and Aristotle. Americans took the greater values of both the Greeks and the Hebrews (including Jesus) and became the greatest nation the world has known. Today we are losing the best of both of these culture’s values that were passed on to us by the founders.
Public VirtuePublic virtue means to voluntarily sacrifice personal benefit for the good of society.
LibertyThe mentality, will, and ability to live a life independent of government overreach or corporate monopoly and in a way that serves mankind. True guardians of liberty live self-determining lives, are financially secure, are informed and intellectually autonomous, and are self-reliant, acting to reestablish the proper parameters of government and business/industry as the need arises. Liberty can only be maintained when mankind is liber. Liberty is not just the absence of bondage or slavery but the fitness of an individual to be a citizen. Liberty is an environment of just positive legislation founded in natural law including the protection of the natural rights of mankind. As with Providence, many of the component ideas that constitute liberty come from Greek, Roman, and Hebrew origins.

Erosion of the Five American Ideals

Today, we live in a time when these sacred ideals are little more than a whisper of bygone times and are no longer valued by the upcoming generations. Much of what is wrong in American culture today is a result of moving away from these American ideals. What once made the American citizen and family strong emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially are the same ideals that we are lacking in our families, communities, states, and on the national level.

This decline of American values was prophetically exposed in the seminal work, A Thomas Jefferson Education. Oliver DeMille identifies the reasons for the decline and reveals a foundation for a strategy to correct the problem:

In 1987, the bicentennial of the Constitutional Convention, three very important best sellers swept America: Robert Bork’s The Tempting of America, E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, and The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. They presented essentially the same message about law, society, and education respectively: that we have strayed from our founding—and not in a good direction. In fact, together they are a sort of update to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
Consider Allan Bloom’s profound analysis of American education . . . First, societies are successful when people choose to be good. If people choose mediocrity, they end up with mediocre society. If they choose excellence, they build an excellent society; if they choose decadence, society decays. This is not only common sense, it is historically accurate.
Second, people choose to be good when they are taught and believe in good. People’s choices are a direct result of their beliefs. And their beliefs are profoundly influenced by what they are taught by parents, friends, teachers, clergy, etc. If they are taught a falsehood or even evil, and if they believe it, they will choose poorly. Teaching influences belief, which guides action.
Third, the thing which determines how well they are taught is their national books. A national book is something that almost everyone in the nation accepts as a central truth. The national book of the Jews is the Torah; Muslims, the Quran; Christians, the Bible; etc. It could be argued that Shakespeare is a national author for England, Goethe and Luther for Germany, Dante and Machiavelli for Italy, Tolstoy for Russia, and so on. Whatever the nation, its national books—the books almost everyone in the nation revere and believe in—will determine the culture. Good national books, like the Bible or Shakespeare’s works, will lead to a good nation. Bad national books like the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf will lead to bad nations until they reject such books.
Now, what of a nation with no national book, with no central text which almost everyone agrees upon as the measuring rod of right and wrong? Such a nation is simply without culture, or at best it is in the process of losing it.

America’s National Books

This leads to the question, “What is America’s national book?” Bloom argues that when he was teaching college at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, he could tell what the national books were by asking students what books formed the core of their lives, the basis of society. The two answers he always got were the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. In the late 1960s this changed: Bloom’s students really couldn’t answer his question. They stopped referring to the Bible and the Declaration, and they listed . . . nothing. No national books. The Bible and the Declaration remained for the older generations, but the youngsters came up with no core source of absolutes, no central foundation of truth.
In the 1980s it changed again: students began listing various rock n’ roll music artists as the thing they revered and turned to for truth and answers. Practically every college student knew this new fountain of truth, studied it daily and for long hours, and felt passionate about it. If you doubt it, Bloom suggested, try to tell a group of youth why their music is bad and they will respond with the same energy and even anger as if you had tried to tell a group 100 years ago that the Bible was bad. This obviously could have some very negative ramifications for America’s future, but even rock music isn’t truly a national book because it is only shared by the younger generations.
In fact, there is no true national book in America today. No national books means no culture; and this is ominous for the future. Any society which loses its national book declines and collapses in ignorance, dwindles and perishes in unbelief. In Bloom’s own words: “The loss of the gripping inner life vouchsafed those who were nurtured by the Bible must be primarily attributed not to our schools or political life, but to the family, which, with all its rights to privacy, has proved unable to maintain any content of its own . . . The delicate fabric of the civilization into which the successive generations are woven has unraveled, and children are raised not educated . . . “People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life. Educational TV marks the high tide for family intellectual life.
“The cause of this decay of the family’s traditional role as the transmitter of tradition is the same as that of the decay of the humanities: nobody believes that the old books do, or even could, contain the truth . . . In the United States, practically speaking, the Bible was the only common culture, one that united simple and sophisticated, rich and poor, young and old, and . . . provided access to the seriousness of books. With its gradual and inevitable disappearance, the very idea of such a total book and the possibility and necessity of world-explanation is disappearing. And fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their children is for them to be wise—as priests, prophets or philosophers are wise. Specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine.”
Bloom is not only correct about the failure of the American family to fulfill its role as the primary center of education, his analysis of the modern famine of classics as the source of education is equally important: “My grandparents were ignorant people by our standards, and my grandfather held only lowly jobs. But their home was spiritually rich because all the things done in it, not only what was specifically ritual, found their origin in the Bible’s commandments, and their explanation in the Bible’s stories and the commentaries on them, and had their imaginative counterparts in the seeds of the myriad of exemplary heroes. My grandparents found reasons for the existence of their family and the fulfillment of their duties in serious writings, and they interpreted their special sufferings with respect to a great and ennobling past. Their simple faith and practices linked them to great scholars and thinkers who dealt with the same material . . . There was a respect for real learning, because it had a felt connection with their lives. This is what a community and a history mean, a common experience inviting high and low into a single body of belief . . .
“Without the great revelations, epics, and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished.”
If Bloom is correct, and I think he is, then America cannot remain free, prosperous or moral unless the overall culture adopts a central text of the caliber of the Bible. This is not only profound, it is actually a marching order for parents and educators. The whole problem is a result of families failing to teach, educate, train, and civilize.

Restoration of the Five American Ideals

These sentiments are echoed by many great American educators such as Russell Kirk, Jacques Barzun, Mortimer Adler, Wendell Berry, and Louise Cowan to mention a few. The five American ideals represent the culture of the most liberty-minded nation known to man.
We are standing on the precipice of history; can a people retain liberty and the culture to perpetuate it—or not? Will the annals of history record that we failed, or will they proudly proclaim that it was our generation that turned a nation away from the abyss of ignorance and slavery.
We declare that the five American Ideals as outlined above are America’s original “national book,” that this culture must be restored to restore America, and that this important task can only be accomplished in the arms of loving families by American parents and grandparents.

The Center for American Legacy Studies is dedicated to leading the way for a return to the original American legacy ideals. As families are the only historically proven means of perpetuating a liberty-based culture, our efforts are aimed at parents and grandparents specifically and families generally.