de toqueville

From the comments over at Crooked Timber comes this great quote from de Toqueville:

All free nations are vainglorious, but national pride is not displayed by all in the same manner. The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise. The most slender eulogy is acceptable to them, the most exalted seldom contents them; they unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties, they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous; it will grant nothing, while it demands everything, but is ready to beg and to quarrel at the same time.

If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, “Ay,” he replies, “there is not its equal in the world.” If I applaud the freedom that its inhabitants enjoy, he answers: “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” If I remark on the purity of morals that distinguishes the United States, “I can imagine,” says he, “that a stranger, who has witnessed the corruption that prevails in other nations, would be astonished at the difference.” At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge and does not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.

It’s amazing to me how much is as true now as it was then…