The end of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

As the pas­sage of the bill that will start the process of na­tion­al­iz­ing health care in Amer­ica be­comes al­most in­evitable, so, too, the process of un­do­ing Amer­ica’s stand­ing as the last best hope of Earth will have be­gun.

That de­scrip­tion of Amer­ica was not, as more than a few Amer­i­cans on the left be­lieve, made by some right-wing chau­vin­ist. It was made by Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln in an ad­dress to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862.

The big­ger the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment be­comes, the more like other coun­tries Amer­ica be­comes. Even a Demo­crat has to ac­knowl­edge the sim­ple logic: Amer­ica can­not at the same time be the last best hope of earth and in­creas­ingly sim­i­lar to more and more coun­tries.

Ei­ther Amer­ica is unique, in which case it at least has the pos­si­bil­ity of uniquely em­body­ing hopes for mankind — or it is not unique, in which case it is by def­i­ni­tion not ca­pa­ble of be­ing the last best hope for hu­man­ity — cer­tainly no more so than, let us say, Swe­den or the Nether­lands.

In­deed, Pres­i­dent Obama ac­knowl­edged this in April, when asked by a Euro­pean re­porter if he be­lieves in Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism. The pres­i­dent’s re­sponse: “I be­lieve in Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism, just as I sus­pect that the Brits be­lieve in Bri­tish ex­cep­tion­al­ism and the Greeks be­lieve in Greek ex­cep­tion­al­ism.”

The pres­i­dent was hon­est. In his view, as in the view of to­day’s Demo­cratic party, Amer­ica is spe­cial only in the same way we par­ents re­gard our chil­dren as “spe­cial.” We all say it and we all be­lieve it, but we know that it is mean­ing­less ex­cept as an emo­tional ex­pres­sion of our love for our chil­dren. If ev­ery is child is equally spe­cial, none can be spe­cial, in fact. If ev­ery coun­try is ex­cep­tional, then no coun­try is ex­cep­tional, or at least no more so than any other.

With the largest ex­pan­sion of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment and state since the New Deal, the Demo­cratic party — alone — is end­ing a key fac­tor in Amer­ica’s unique­ness and great­ness: in­di­vid­u­al­ism, which is made pos­si­ble only when there is lim­ited gov­ern­ment.

The for­mula here is not rocket sci­ence: The more the gov­ern­ment/state does, the less the in­di­vid­ual does.

Amer­ica’s unique­ness and great­ness has come from a num­ber of sources, two of which are its moral and so­cial value sys­tem, which is a unique com­bi­na­tion of En­light­en­ment and Judeo-Chris­tian val­ues, and its em­pha­sis on in­di­vid­ual lib­erty and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Just as the left has waged war on Amer­ica’s Judeo-Chris­tian roots, it has waged war on in­di­vid­ual lib­erty and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Hil­lel, the most im­por­tant rabbi of the Tal­mud (which, along­side the He­brew Bi­ble, is Ju­daism’s most im­por­tant book), sum­ma­rized the hu­man be­ing’s obli­ga­tions in th­ese fa­mous words: “If I am not for my­self, who will be for me? But if I am only for my­self, what am I? And if not now, when?”

What does this mean in the present con­text? It means that be­fore any­thing else, the hu­man be­ing must first take care of him­self. When peo­ple who are ca­pa­ble of tak­ing care of them­selves start re­ly­ing on the state to do so, they can eas­ily be­come morally in­fe­rior be­ings. When peo­ple who could take care of their fam­ily start re­ly­ing on the state to do so, they can eas­ily be­come morally in­fe­rior. And when peo­ple who could help take care of fel­low cit­i­zens start re­ly­ing on the state to do so, the morally coars­en­ing process con­tin­ues.

There has al­ways been some­thing pro­foundly en­nobling about Amer­i­can in­di­vid­u­al­ism and self-re­liance. Noth­ing in life is as re­ward­ing as lead­ing a re- spon­si­ble life in which one has not to de­pend on oth­ers for sus­te­nance. Lit­tle, if any­thing, in life is as re­ward­ing as suc­cess­fully tak­ing care of one­self, one’s fam­ily and one’s com­mu­nity. That is why Amer­ica has al­ways had more vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tions than any other coun­try.

But as the state and gov­ern­ment have got­ten big­ger, vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tions have been dy­ing. Why help oth­ers if the state will do it? In­deed, as in Scan­di­navia, the at­ti­tude grad­u­ally be­comes: why even help my­self when the state will do it?

Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are right about one thing — they are in­deed mak­ing his­tory. But their legacy will not be what they think. They will be known as the peo­ple who led to the end of Amer­ica as the last best hope of earth.

Lin­coln weeps.

Den­nis Prager is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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