I first read Frederick Jackson Turner’s groundbreaking 1893 analysis of our distinctly American character, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, when I was in high school—many years ago.
Given that it is today dismissed by Woke historians who consider it an example of self-serving and racist American triumphalism, I have to suspect very few students read this seminal essay anymore—which is a shame. Regardless of whatever faults it might contain, it still provides a compact and unique analysis of the forces that helped to create those independent, pragmatic, and adventurous Americans who turned a few scattered colonies into a superpower.
Mr. Turner’s thesis, briefly, is this: The existence of a vast amount of available land to the west of the original American colonies offered an absolutely unique opportunity for risk takers to forge a new future for themselves that included great danger, unheard of personal autonomy, a faith in their futures, and a reliance on sometimes cruel cunning for sheer survival. Hence, as he writes near the conclusion, that which we readily identify as American is but a product of the frontier experience that created our nation.
Mr. Turner’s own words summarize it well:
“The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedomthese are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.”
It has, of course, been roughly 150 years since America’s pioneer days met their abrupt and inevitable end at the crashing shores of the Pacific Ocean. With no more hilltops and mountains to surmount, our nation and its now razor smart people turned inward and began creating a modern America with great cities, thriving industry, a boundless faith in technology as a tool for improving lives, and an increasingly muscular desire to extend the benefits of the American experiment to other lands and people. Of course, our evangelical faith in the innate wonders of all that was American presented its own problems at times, but our country was, nonetheless, still an irresistible magnet to immigrants from all around the world—as it is up to this very day.
Sadly, the prickly individualism and tumultuous initiative that have been historically associated with all that is American are under siege today by those who see safety in intellectual conformity and a brutal suppression of our individualism. These elites favor a strict adherence to both bureaucratic mandates and technocratic direction as the ruling principles of our nation.
Today unapproved thought and action is frowned upon in a manner not at all dissimilar to parents dealing with unruly children crashing around the house on a rainy day. We are urged to quietly comply with instructions, ask no questions, and sneer at those who are disruptive. All happiness and security is apparently to be found in unquestioning obedience, and those who challenge this mentality are quickly and mercilessly culled from the herd.
It requires very few words to explain just how far removed this all is from the impudent daring and vibrant inquiry that were the signal qualities of a nation that went from a few coastal shacks to a colossus standing astride the globe in but a few hundred years of howling growth. Nations that lose this potent pioneering spirit and are unwilling to ditch the comfortable assumptions of the cozy mainstream are predicting their own decline with their lassitude. Success requires inconvenient people asking inconvenient questions—and demanding inconvenient answers.
A respect for those in authority in any nation has to be earned—and this is especially true in a democracy. We have no Kings and Queens who rule through divine right, and the purest treason any American can commit is to stay silent in the face of stupidity and malfeasance. Asking hard questions and expecting direct answers from those who presume to lead our nation is the birthright of all Americans.
Perhaps the new “frontier spirit” that we can now all embrace is to push forward to reform our country’s decayed, decadent, and dysfunctional government and institutions with the same restless energy that we once used to build America—so that we can today rebuild it. To retake our nation from the nihilists and numbskulls who now presume to lead us is an endeavor worthy of the sacrifices of our pioneering ancestors, and we do honor to both ourselves and our nation every time we refuse to go along with foolishness that is harmful to our communities and country. It is not our duty to make official idiocy either a comfortable or profitable pursuit.
There is a distinctly American way of life and thought, but it has been dulled by many decades of listening to politicians, academics, and celebrities showering us with heartfelt double talk and gobbledygook that is divorced from reason or morality. The seething anger that is today so common in America is often accompanied by a great sense of hopelessness. “What can I do on my own”, many now ask, “to change all that I see is so very wrong around me.”
The answer is simple: You are capable of more than you think you are. We shortchange both ourselves and our nation if we think otherwise and fail to act. It is high time we all made some real noise while pushing on to a new frontier that will lead to a revitalized and newly purposeful America.
Fear of speaking out is understandable. We have seen lives and careers ruined by the oppressive Cancel Culture that runs rampant in America today. However, this is one instance when we must—absolutely must—learn from the example of those who built our nation.
The American pioneers had to deal with fear on an almost daily basis as they forged ahead—not knowing what laid over the next mountaintop. However, they did not curl up into a fetal position and surrender. They overcome uncertainty and worry and became even more resolute in their purpose.
Those Americans learned from the arduous and eventful lives they led that fear was a terrible weakness that only made them more vulnerable. To be brave was to be safe; quivering only hastened your demise. This is a lesson we all need to remember today.
Be tough, be strong, be independent, and be free. Be an American.
This is what we all must do today.