Thursday, December 21, 2017


The instinctive generosity of the Americans is curiously linked with rapacity, their kindliness with cruelty, their violence with fear of disorder.  They are warm-hearted and cold-blooded, their assertive self-confidence is mingled with self-criticism, and their conservatism is the other lobe of an unparalleled recklessness.  Yet the most serious mistake of Europe has always been to misunderstand their romanticism, which is the consequence of having lived a Cinderella story.  It has been repeatedly mistaken for softness, gullibility, decadence.  Their smile is childlike and bland; they affect an innocence and credulity which the European mind has accepted as real.  Yet from Franklin and John Jay on, their negotiators have usually come back not only with all that the adept cynicism of their opponents undertook to take from them by means of a cold deck, but with the scarf pins, cuff links, and pocket watches of the cynical as well.  For the romanticism is the thinnest possible veneer.  There have been no such realists since the Romans and they are the hardest empiricists of the modern world.
 - Bernard DeVoto, “The Century”, (1950)

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