The tension between liberalism and democracy also explains many traits of American democratic conformism. But behind all these changes remained one thing, the courage to be as a part in the productive process of history. And this is what makes of present-day American courage one of the great types of the courage to be as a part. Its self-affirmation is the affirmation of oneself as a participant in the creative development of mankind. There is something astonishing in the American courage for an observer who comes from Europe: although mostly symbolized in the early pioneers it is present today in the large majority of people. A person may have experienced a tragedy, a destructive fate, the breakdown of convictions, even guilt and momentary despair: he feels neither destroyed nor meaningless nor condemned nor without hope.
When the Roman Stoic experienced the same catastrophes he took them with the courage of resignation. The typical American, after he has lost the foundations of his existence, works for new foundations. This is true of the individual and it is true of the nation as a whole. One can make experiments because an experimental failure does not mean discouragement. The productive process in which one is a participant naturally includes risks, failures, catastrophes. But they do not undermine courage. This means that it is the productive act itself in which the power and the significance of being is present. This is a partial answer to a question often asked by foreign observers, especially if they are theologians: the question For what? What is the end of all the magnificent means provided by the productive activity of American society? Have not the means swallowed the ends, and does not the unrestricted production of means indicate the absence of ends? Even many born Americans are today inclined to answer the last question affirmatively. But there is more involved in the production of means. It is not the tools and gadgets that are the telos, the inner aim of production; it is the production itself. The means are more than means; they are felt as creations, as symbols of the infinite possibilities implied in man’s productivity. Being-itself is essentially productive. The way in which the originally religious word “creative” is applied without hesitation by Christian, and non-Christian, alike to man’s productive activities indicates that the creative process of history is felt as divine. As such it includes the courage to be as a part of it. (It has seemed to me more adequate to speak in this context of the productive than of the creative process, since the emphasis lies on technical production.) Originally the democratic-conformist type of the courage to be as a part was in an outspoken way tied up with the idea of progress. The courage to be as a part in the progress of the group to which one belongs, of this nation, of all mankind, is expressed in all specifically American philosophies: pragmatism, process philosophy, the ethics of growth, progressive education, crusading democracy. But this type of courage is not necessarily destroyed if the belief in progress is shaken, as it is today. Progress can mean two tilings. In every action in which something is produced beyond what was already given, a progress is made (pro-gress means going forward). In this sense action and the belief in progress are inseparable. The other meaning of progress is a universal, metaphysical law of progressive evolution, in which accumulation produces higher and higher forms and values. The existence of such a law cannot be proved. Most processes show that gain and loss are balanced. Nevertheless the new gain is necessary, because otherwise all past gains would also be lost. The courage of participation in the productive process is not dependent on the metaphysical idea of progress. The courage to be as a part in the productive process takes anxiety in its three main forms into itself. The way in which it deals with the anxiety about fate has been described. This is especially remarkable in a highly competitive society in which the security of the individual is reduced to almost nothing. The anxiety conquered in the courage to be as a part in the productive process is considerable, because the threat of being excluded from such a participation by unemployment or the loss of an economic basis is what, above all, fate means today.
Only in the light of this situation can the tremendous impact of the great crisis of the 1930’s on the American people, and the frequent loss of the courage to be in it, be understood. The anxiety about death is met in two ways. The reality of death is excluded from daily life to the highest possible degree. The dead are not allowed to show that they are dead; they are transformed into a mask of the living. The other and more important way of dealing with death is the belief in a continuation of life after death, called the immortality of the soul. This is not a Christian and hardly a Platonic doctrine. Christianity speaks of resurrection and eternal life, Platonism of a participation of the soul in the transtemporal sphere of essences. But the modern idea of immortality means a continuous participation in the productive process—”time and world without end.” It is not the eternal rest of the individual in God but his unlimited contribution to the dynamics of the universe that gives him the courage to face death.