Are there limits to Turner’s notion of heightened individualism and fundamental democracy in a frontier or borderland?

A

Turner argued that the frontier encouraged individualism, as there were no large communities or nations where one could turn for support. He further proposed that Americans have built a uniquely democratic society that was superior in that aspect to European implementations of the concept due to that trait. However, there was opposition from other historians to his exceptionalism. This post investigates the ideas and their origins, implications, and limits, both in the past and present.

There is merit to the claim that life in harsher circumstances would foster a higher degree of individualism than that in safe inner states. Bazzi, Fiszbein, and Gebresilasse note that former frontier counties exhibit opposition to government intervention to this day. Thus, according to Hurtado, Turner believed that Anglo-Americans would create a unique culture and foster democracy. In part, he may have been correct, but he possibly overestimated the tendency of people to create new cultures.

Once Americans managed to settle down and civilize the former frontier, they began returning to old ways of life and normalizing their social structures. The change in the Mormon church as described by Taysom can serve as an example, as the group abandoned many of its unique policies and became an integral part of the United States. One possible reason mentioned by Hurtado is that Turner overlooked the influence of Hispanic and Native American communities on the formation of the country. Ultimately, Americans were unable to achieve the historian’s idealized conception of democracy.

Turner’s belief that American individualism of the frontier would lead to the creation of a new culture and the emergence of true democracy was ambitious, but not necessarily possible. The former border states remain resistant to a government authority, but ultimately, the traditional European approach, albeit a modified one, was more comfortable to adopt. It is possible that the historian’s ideas were inaccurate and did not account for some factors.

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Academic.Tips. "Are there limits to Turner’s notion of heightened individualism and fundamental democracy in a frontier or borderland?" September 14, 2021. https://academic.tips/question/are-there-limits-to-turners-notion-of-heightened-individualism-and-fundamental-democracy-in-a-frontier-or-borderland/.

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"Are there limits to Turner’s notion of heightened individualism and fundamental democracy in a frontier or borderland?" Academic.Tips, 14 Sept. 2021, academic.tips/question/are-there-limits-to-turners-notion-of-heightened-individualism-and-fundamental-democracy-in-a-frontier-or-borderland/.

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