The American Civilization
(TIME, May 29, 1964) -- It is not often that a U.S. President has tried to articulate the meaning and the goals of an American civilization that is distinct from its European roots and is more than a mere piece in the mosaic of world order. That, however, is what President Johnson accomplished last week. In a speech before 80,000 at the University of Michigan stadium at Ann Arbor -- where he was given an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree -- the President eloquently invited his fellow citizens to join in the pursuit of a "Great Society" uniquely American both in spirit and promise. Excerpts:
"For a century we labored to settle and subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all our people. The challenge of the next half-century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life -- and to advance the quality of American civilization.
"Your imagination, your initiative, your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time, we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society but upward to the Great Society.
"The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice -- to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning."
Quality, Not Quantity. "The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.
"But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.
"In the next 40 years we must rebuild the entire urban United States. It is harder and harder to live the good life in American cities. There is the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs. There is not enough housing for our people or transportation for our traffic. Open land is vanishing and old landmarks are violated. Worst of all, expansion is eroding the precious and time-honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. Our society will never be great until our cities are great.
"A second place is our countryside. We have always prided ourselves on being not only America the strong and America the free but America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air we breathe are threatened with pollution. Our parks are overcrowded and our seashore overburdened. Green fields and dense forests are disappearing. A few years ago we were concerned about the Ugly American; today we must act to prevent an Ugly America. [The President perpetuated a popular misconception. The hero of the 1958 novel is physically ugly but is the only "good" American among a host of inept blunderers working abroad for the Government.] For once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. Once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted."
In the Classrooms. "A third place is in the classrooms. Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. In many places classrooms are overcrowded and curricula are outdated. Most of our qualified teachers are underpaid, and many of our paid teachers are unqualified. We must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty.
"Those who came to this land sought to build more than a new country. They sought a new world. I have come here to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. Let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: 'It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the enrichment of his life.'"
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