In last Wednesday’s NYT, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had an opinion piece published. In it he assailed President Obama’s policy on Syria and decried the reference to American Exceptionalism. To be precise he said it was extremely dangerous to tell a people they are exceptional. A statement that shows Putin to be totally ignorant about what the term means and how it is used.
President Putin’s ignorance, while striking, is forgivable. He after all was born and raised in the Soviet Union. Force fed communist propaganda and even being its top enforcer, he is no more able to comprehend America than a alien from another solar system. Of course one could say something similar for President Obama.
President Obama has never understood American Exceptionalism either. A product of leftest ideology and social justice inspired rage, he is nearly as foreign to America as Putin. He once declared that he believed in American Exceptionalism in the same way Greeks believe in Greek Exceptionalism. In his Syrian war speech he declared that America;s willingness to fights to protect others is what makes it exceptional. With all due respect, no Mr. President it is not.
Despite Putin’s inference about American Exceptionalism, it is not akin to the nationalistic fervor that gripes European nations and is not unknown in Russia; American Exceptionalim is not a matter of blood or birth. Nor is American Exceptionalism found in its military prowess. To understand it one most first look to its founding documents and the people who forged them.
The birth of the United States was unique in many ways, not the least of which was its form of government, America is a constitutional Republic, the first of its kind. Upon its success the world has built copies across the globe, none of which have quite seemed to get it totally right. The people of the United States embraced the right of the individual over the state, an institution they relegated to mere servitude. Its founding documents declared the basic right to control one’s own life was God given and the purpose of government was to protect and aid in this. Something no nation before or since has declared quite the same.
American Exceptionalism is also found in the culture that produced it. The American people, prepared by the Great Awakening, embraced the concept of freewill as an unshakable tenant of both God and man. Charity was ingrained through its churches as was self-reliance and hard work. The universal goal burned into the American psyche was to leave the world a better place than you found it, The golden rule too was taught in both church and school, accepted without question by the vast majority of its citizens.
Americans at the time of the Fight for Independence were different in other respects as well. Due to protestant influence it was one of the most literate countries on earth. The treatises of Locke and the speeches of Burke were read across the colonies and the ancient philosophers were studied as well. All was done in an air of freedom unknown in the rest of the world.
Without understanding these facts about America one cannot understand America. A nation that does not brag on its inherent virtue but rather seeks to share its “good news” of economic and social salvation to the rest of the world. Not only is American Exceptionalism not elitist, it leads to American society being one of the most inclusive on earth.
The truth is no where on earth can a man come from a foreign land and become what he was not born to be, an American. In Europe a sojourner from France will always be an outsider no matter how many generations away from the mother country he is. So it is with the rest of the world as well. Not so in the U.S., America is different. It is a light on hill that shines the way others to follow and others to join. It has shone a great beacon to the rest of humanity; a light by which they to could find their way to peace and prosperity. It was no accident that the form of government the U.S. founded became the pattern of the world. Luck had no part in America’s growth from a colonial backwater to the most powerful nation on earth. At one point nearly half the world’s goods came from her shores. The uplift of the world from horseback to rocket-ships and from quill dipped ink to digital text messaging was done mostly on her shoulders. It is also worthy to note that America has sent more soldiers to fight for the freedom of others than all other countries combined. If this is not exceptional what is?
It is undeniable that America has been an exceptional nation and by all measures the most remarkable in history, By every measure it leads all others by not inches by a huge spans of time and distance. To understand not only this, but why it is so, is to understand American Exceptionalism. And, despite what President Putin might think or even Obama, it is something not confined to boundaries of one nation. All nations can achieve the same if the choose to embrace the same tenants as America did.
Of course just as this exceptionalism can be achieved by all, it can be lost also. As America has veered away from those ideas that have made it great a rot has set in. A unmistakable scent of decay surrounds the United States. The founding principles are being tossed aside, freedom is being traded for security and self-reliance for government dependency. Children, once cherished above gold, now play second fiddle to the pleasure of adults. This might be news for President Obama, but to the extent America is still exceptional it is only marginally so. Much of what has made her great is being lost. A trend the President has accelerated beyond measure.
America became exceptional due to the philosophies its people embraced and the values it held. Together creating a new society where freedom to own property was granted to all men as was the right to expect equal treatment before the law. It succeeded because the people themselves embraced the tenants of its founding. A people yearning to breath free can only be so if, that desire extends to wanting the same for their neighbors as well. Prosperity too is reliant on a spirit of self-reliance as much as it is on the Rule of Law and property rights. American Exceptionalism exist, or doesn’t, based on the people’s embrace of these values.
The saddest words the world can hear is America is Exceptional no more. If the United States stays on the path it is on that day is coming sooner than most might think possible. In fact, if the present course is not altered it is not mediocrity that awaits the U.S. but collapse.
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