Although the United States was born in the Enlightenment, it was bred in Romanticism. The conflict in American culture between the two traditions is wonderfully memorialized in Huckleberry Finn in the standoff between Aunt Sally, who belongs to the school of Plato and St. Augustine, and Huck Finn, who is a Wordsworthian:
. . . if I'd'a' knowed what a trouble it was to make a book, I wouldn't'a' tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.
Huck is confident that he will maintain his happiness and virtue better out in the Territoy, close to nature,than he will in town, near civilization and Aunt Sally. But there is little in human history to justify this Romantic faith.
The conflict between our Enlightenment and our Romantic views of human nature continues unabated in American culture today. Lately, there has perhaps occurred a tempering of our optimism about the beneficence of things natural and the innate goodness of human nature -- the tragedy of the Vietnam War, the halt in continually rising prosperity, the omnipresent television scenes of genocidal conflict throughout the world, the violence among children in our schools -- this drumbeat of tragic experience has tended to qualify our anti-tragic Romantic faith in the inherent goodness and dependability of the human child when allowed to follow its own development. Increasingly, there has been a questioning of the belief that all will be well if the child is encouraged to grow naturally like a tree, and there has been a renewed interest in the idea of moral education -- a kind of symbolic reinstatement of Aunt Sally.
-- From The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch, pp. 77-78.