America is one of the greatest political-philosophical symbols in world history. It is equal in importance to Athens representing philosophy,Jerusalem representing biblical religion, Rome representing both its pagan and Catholic manifestations, and Mecca representing the home of Islam. But what is meant by America? When people refer to it are they signifying the precise measurements of the landmass that incorporates the territory fromCanada's Ellesmere Island above the magnetic pole in the north to Tierra del Fuego off the tip of Argentina in the south? Do they want to call attention to the area that in the year 2000 was home to forty-five countries and territories with 900 million people, where dozens of languages are spoken, and where can be found people of almost every ethnic origin, religion, and social and economic class?
It is unlikely that they are referring to these basic facts. Facts and figures do not begin to touch what America represents symbolically. Throughout its history, America has stood for two different, almost opposite, things. First, it stands for natural man, the Indians, who are said to represent the world's beginning. Second, it stands for the United States, the great political experiment based on natural rights, which has evoked inspiration and fear and envy. It inspires such strong feelings because the United States is often perceived as the world's future. America thus represents both the world's origins and its endpoint. This essay attempts to shed light on the "idea" of America by tracing its genealogy from America's discovery by Western man until the twenty-first century.
We fly to America with: