Americans like to see themselves as rugged individualists, a nation defined by the idea that people should set their own course through life. Think of Clint Eastwood rendering justice, rule-bound superiors be damned. Think of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.”
The idea that personal liberty defines America is deeply rooted, and shared across the political spectrum. The lifestyle radicals of the ’60s saw themselves as heirs to this American tradition of self-expression; today, it energizes the Tea Party movement, marching to defend individual liberty from the smothering grasp of European-style collectivism.
But are Americans really so uniquely individualistic? Are we, for example, more committed individualists than people in those socialist-looking nations of Europe? The answer appears to be no.