American Exceptionalism. It’s an idea that means a different thing to nearly everyone who considers it.
One hundred years ago, even fifty years ago, most Americans took it for granted that there was something “different” about America. Alexis de Tocqueville first referred to America as “exceptional” in the 1830’s. It made perfect sense to Americans, who had emerged from revolution and developed an ideology which, though based on the combined ideas of Locke, Hobbes, Paine, and Rousseau, was as a whole uniquely American. Some even stretched that to mean that as an exceptional nation, America also had an exceptional mission: to spread liberty and democracy to the rest of the world.
If you read the words of the Founders, though they may certainly have agreed that America was exceptional both as an idea and as a nation, it is clear that they would not have agreed that the exceptionalism extended into the spread of democracy and liberty. (They were terrified of true democracy.)It is true that they valued liberty above all else, but it is also abundantly clear that they understood that liberty was worthless if it was not earned. Liberty cannot be spread from those who have to those who don’t. It must be asked for, demanded, fought for, and people must die to earn it.
I take a slightly modified view of American Exceptionalism. I do believe that America is different because of the foundations of liberty and free market that were set in motion by the Founders. I also believe that America has proven through the years that we are different. Especially in the 20th Century, most military conflicts involving the United States were directed not only toward protecting our own resources, but toward protecting the sovereignty and resources of other nations. Once those conflicts were over – most of which were won in large part due to American aid – instead of waltzing in and taking over other nations and territories at will, we instead helped even enemy nations to rebuild. We kept small military bases in strategic locations to prevent further conflict, but nothing more.
Today, more and more people want to make an issue out of the idea of American Exceptionalism. They want everyone to be upset by the idea that Americans might think themselves superior in any way. They point to European qusai-socialism as a model for the way Americans ought to act and govern, and they look to Marx and Mao for more egalitarian solutions to this perceived arrogance.
The irony? Marxism has failed everywhere it has ever been tried, but these people swear that this time it will be different. These people who hate their own nation for its arrogance in believing that the American system is somehow better also want us to believe that the only reason Marxism has always failed is that Americans haven’t tried it yet. Which, loosely translated, means that if Americans do it we will necessarily do it better than anyone who previously tried it because…wait for it…Americans are better than anyone who has ever tried it before.
How’s that for American Exceptionalism?