Why the fear of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism?

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics -

Talk of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism en­rages some lib­er­als. For ex­am­ple, it drove Oliver Stone and Amer­i­can Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Peter Kuznick to pen a USA To­day com­men­tary say­ing Wash­ing­ton should have a wall with “the names of all the Viet­namese, Cambodians, Lao­tians, and oth­ers who died [in the Viet­nam War].” That, they said, would be “a fit­ting me­mo­rial to all the vic­tims of ‘Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism’ … a per­fect tomb­stone for that most dan­ger­ous of Amer­i­can myths.”

New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion’s Michael Lind, in a 2011 piece ti­tled “The Case Against ‘Amer­i­can Ex­cep­tion­al­ism,’” dis­missed the idea as “amus­ing, if it were not so dan­ger­ous.” Amer­i­can “ex­cep­tion­al­ists,” he ar­gued, are know-noth­ing boast­ful boobs “not al­lowed to peep be­yond [their] bor­ders, to learn from the suc­cesses and mis­takes of peo­ple in other coun­tries.” They “thump” The Fed­er­al­ist Pa­pers as if it were the Bi­ble, try­ing to “de­duce what Hamil­ton, Madi­son and Jay might have said about physi­cian re­im­burse­ment rates.”

Oh my. Stuff that straw man be­fore you knock it down, Mr. Lind.

Mr. Lind and Mr. Stone miss the point com­pletely. Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism is not about nos­tal­gic ya­hoos rail­ing against “fur­riners.” Thomas Jef­fer­son staunchly be­lieved that Amer­i­cans had an ex­cep­tional des­tiny. His en­tire world­view was in­formed by Euro­pean phi­los­o­phy. He took ideas from Swiss nat­u­ral law philoso­pher Em­merich de Vat­tel to write the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, and he was a great ad­mirer of the French philoso­pher Voltaire. Is Jef­fer­son a know-noth­ing rube for be­liev­ing in Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism?

Those who be­lieve in Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism don’t re­ject for­eign­ers. They rec­og­nize what’s unique about our his­tory: a dis­tinc­tive con­flu­ence of cul­ture, govern­ment and econ­omy, and an ethos of per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity that tamed the econ­omy’s wild horses and tem­pered the po­ten­tially an­ar­chic ten­den­cies of free peo­ple. These, not govern­ment ac­tion, gave rise to the wealth­i­est and most pow­er­ful na­tion on earth.

Some may think this coun­try is bet­ter than oth­ers, but that’s not the cen­tral claim of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism. It’s that our dif­fer­ences, es­pe­cially from Europe, ac­count for our suc­cesses.

Each time an im­mi­grant comes here to live the Amer­i­can dream, it con­firms this truth. Im­mi­grants be­lieve Amer­ica is pos­i­tively dif­fer­ent from coun­tries they left be­hind, even if Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tu­als don’t.

It also is con­firmed by the unique role Amer­ica has played since World War II. It car­ried most of the mil­i­tary bur­den for the al­liance of free na­tions that con­tained the Soviet Union. Our al­lies trusted Amer­ica be­cause they knew it was dif­fer­ent from other pow­ers vic­to­ri­ous in war: It was a lib­er­a­tor, not a con­queror.

If that’s not an ex­cep­tional story, I don’t know what is.

Were these just the fever­ish imag­in­ings of a few in­tel­lec­tu­als, there would be no need to worry. But the cam­paign against tra­di­tional Amer­i­can­ism has en­tered the ranks of the U.S. mil­i­tary. The jour­nal Mil­i­tary Re­view re­cently ran an ar­ti­cle by three re­tired se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers calling the idea of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism racist. They likened it to the “psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­cesses” of anti-Semitism, for good mea­sure.

What ac­counts for this venom? Pro­gres­sives have been wag­ing in­tel­lec­tual war on Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism for more than a cen­tury. Woodrow Wil­son pre­ferred Ger­man philoso­pher Ge­org Wil­helm Friedrich Hegel, who in­spired Karl Marx, to Jef­fer­son and Madi­son. In this re­spect, there’s noth­ing new un­der the sun. There’s also a bit of pro­ject­ing their own ar­ro­gance onto their op­po­nents.

But a deeper anx­i­ety is at play. De­spite at­tempts to blame ev­ery prob­lem on the tea party, Amer­i­can lib­er­als sense some­thing’s not quite right with their pro­ject. The wel­fare state in Europe is fail­ing. And while they are win­ning many elec­tions in Amer­ica, the na­tion’s sky­rock­et­ing debt doesn’t bode well. At some point, the party of spend­ing ever more money to cover the cas­cad­ing crises will end.

When that day comes, Amer­i­cans will turn the other way. For in­tel­lec­tu­als steeped in self-ha­tred of Amer­ica, this is a fright­en­ing prospect. It means not only con­ced­ing the ar­gu­ment. Even more painfully, it means ac­knowl­edg­ing that the rubes may be smarter than they think.

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