The Meaning of America with Ken Burns

Programs 56, 57 • 58 mins


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Jacob NeedlemanBeyond the symbolism of flag-waving and patriotic cliches lies the heart of American Democracy: our system of personal rights and human dignity. Conceived in rebellion against the absolute right of monarchs, the American revolution asserted that the people are sovereign, that they must be free to speak, to choose their leaders, to pray — or not to pray — as they wish. Messy, highly imperfect and in need of constant maintenance, it is a system that confers on us the priceless gift of human freedom. On this special two-part episode of Humankind, we explore the basic American right of citizens to follow the dictates of their conscience in their own personal pursuit of happiness. Hear PBS Filmmaker Ken Burns (top), philosopher/historian Jacob Needleman, and the words of America’s founders, as we try to uncover the true meaning of America.

Ken BurnsThe gift of freedom is a gift of action, it seems to me. This is what Jefferson is saying, that we are in pursuit of happiness. The idea is: this is an active searching. And we need to do that. Unfortunately, many of us take the apparent physical, social, political freedom, and allow stuff to atrophy. That’s why in the richest country on earth, in the freest country on earth, we have such abysmal statistics with regard to education and health. At the same time, the best of the best is always better than anybody else because it is the proof positive that the liberated mind, the liberated environment provides for a liberated existence.”

—Ken Burns, PBS Filmmaker


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