GULF COAST ZEITGEIST
How our waterfront home has shaped our views
Going Coastal, Living Free
Although it goes without saying, it gets said all the time by those who live here: We live in a very special section of a very special country. Words to that effect have been spoken locally for over 100 years— and nationally for over 200.
An early witness to American exceptionalism was the French statesman and author Alexis de Tocqueville. After extensive travels in the U. S. during 1831 and 1832, he published his twovolume book Democracy in America ( considered an early work of sociology and political science). Having traveled throughout Europe, he recognized that the New World colonies allowed the freest possible expression of the national characteristics of the mother countries ( for example, French America emphasized the autocracy and class status of Louis XIV’s France, and Spanish America the disorganized withholding of knowledge of Philip IV’s Spain). Impressed by English common law and divisions of power in government, he celebrated that English America exaggerated the localism, the mercantilism and the libertarianism of the British state. He wrote that “the American is the Englishman left to himself.”
Like de Tocqueville, foreign visitors through the centuries noted at least seven peculiar characteristics about our society. Those who come to our Gulf Coast islands today make mention of the same seven, and the list is a measure of our Gulf Coast Zeitgeist (“spirit of the times”): 1) the many nongovernmental organizations, clubs, charities and foundations; 2) the cheerful materialism enjoyed regarding food, shopping and outdoor activities; 3) strong local government in town and county; 4) the pleasant coexistence of different religious denominations; 5) a de- emphasis of the extended family in favor of individualism and a circle of friends; 6) a fierce defense of private property and free- market competition; and 7) a reverence for personal freedom first and then collective need.
A recurring theme in the critical study of what makes our nation unique has been to connect liberty ( which English speakers take
for granted) with geography, viz., the protective border of the sea. Most English- speaking cultures are on islands: Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bermuda, and the more democratic Caribbean states. North America though not literally an archipelago, was geopolitically more remote than any of them, “kindly separated by nature on a wide ocean,” as Thomas Jefferson pointed out in his 1801 inaugural address, “from the exterminating havoc [ of Europe].”
English parliamentarian Daniel Hannan writes in his new book Inventing Freedom: How the English- Speaking Peoples
Made the Modern World: “Isolation meant there was no need for a standing army in peacetime, which in turn meant that the government had no mechanism for internal repression. When rulers wanted something, usually revenue, they had to ask nicely, by summoning people’s representatives in an assembly. It is no coincidence that the world’s oldest parliaments— England, Iceland, the Faroes, the Isle of Man— are on islands.”
How lucky we are to inhabit a coast, to live and move and have our being on the water. Whether you enjoy it visually through the window of a car, on sandy bare feet, pedaling a bike, straddling a paddleboard, sailing in a boat or fully immersed in a refreshing swim, savor our waterful wonderland. Abe Lincoln observed “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Our stunning seaside setting makes that decision easy! Our Gulf Coast lifestyle comes giftwrapped by the water each and every day. And in this country, we are free to be …
“By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea! You and me, you and me, oh how happy we’ll be!”
— Atteridge and Carroll ( 1914) Retired after 41 years of parish ministry, Dr. Randall H. Niehoff and his wife, Marilyn, have been residents of Sanibel for 22 years and are grateful for the nature and neighbors of our unique Gulf Coast.