VIEWSnAMERICAN MANNERS by John Lukacsn^ *• “V othing, at first sight, seems less important than then1 1 external formalities of human behavior,” wrotenAlexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, “yet therenis nothing to which men attach more importance. They cannget used to anything except living in a society which doesnnot share their manners. The influence of the social andnpolitical system on manners is therefore worth seriousnconsideration.” But what are manners? “Definitions,” saidnDr. Johnson, “are tricks for pedants.” A definition ofnmanners will not do. We may, however, discriminate,nattempting to say what manners are not. Manners are morendeep-seated than fashions and styles; they are also morenenduring. Manners have certain things in common withnetiquette but they are broader than etiquette, which concentratesnon particular situations and special occasions. Andnwhile a sensitive and sensible minority plays an importantnpart in the creation and the dissemination of manners,nmanners are not exclusively, or even primarily, an aristocraticnphenomenon.nLike character, but unlike fashions, styles, or etiquette,nmanners change gradually. No matter how self-centered ornintrospective, a man may not know much about his ownnmanners, while other people will. This is true of a nation,ntoo. When it comes to American manners, we ought to readnthe observations of foreigners.nFrances Trollope and Alexis de Tocqueville came tonAmerica about the same time. Mrs. Trollope was a middleclassnEnglishwoman, a literary housewife. Tocqueville was anFrench aristocrat, a political philosopher. Upon returningnhome, she wrote Domestic Manners of the Americans, henDemocracy in America.nMrs. TroUope’s title is deceiving. Domestic Manners ofnthe Americans is a travel book about the young UnitednStates, not very interesting, in spite (rather than because) ofnbeing archly critical. Her theme is summed up early. “Thentotal and universal want of good, or even pleasing, manners,nboth in males and females, is . . . remarkable.” And later:n”It should seem that nature herself requires some centuriesnof schooling before she becomes perfectly accomplished innministering to the luxuries of man, and . . . the champagnenand the Bordeaux of the Union may appear simultaneouslynwith a Shakespeare, a Raphael, and a Mozart.” Not so.nJohn Lukacs is professor of history at Chestnut HillnCollege in Pennsylvania, and the author of OutgrowingnDemocracy: A History of the United States in thenTwentieth Century.nAt times, however, she could be acute. Observing “thenimmaculate delicacy” of the ladies in a Western Americanncity, she wrote, “I confess I was sometimes tempted tonsuspect that this ultra-refinement was not very deep-seated.nIt often appeared to me like the consciousness of grossness,nthat wanted a veil; but the veil was never gracefullynadjusted.” The odd thing is that all the prejudices of thisnmiddle-class woman were in favor of aristocracy. Shen”endeavored to show how greatly the advantage is on thenside of those who are governed by the few, instead of thenmany.” She abjured “the wild schemes of placing all powernof the State in the hands of the populace.”nnn.J^-n5^ ‘^%”55n•*~^.>.s..nNOVEMBER 1988/9n