American Exceptionalism

During the last election cycle the Republicans practiced a form of secular worship (used very loosely here ~ really more a form of veneration) of Ronald Reagan, especially during the Republican debates. The favor of the lollipop this election cycle for the G.O.P. is “American Exceptionalism”. For anyone who watched numerous figures at the CPAC convention (as I did) knows this fact. Each Republican candidate will wave the American flag and try to be the most patriotic. Should we as Catholics endorse and support this? Is this not a form of secular paganism?

Books of interest:
A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters by Newt Gingrich

Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project) by Andrew Bacevich

The Post-American World (Release 2.0) by Fareed Zakaria

Any book by Stanley Hauerwas whose life work has been exploring this topic and others closely related to it.

Related Posts:
God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church

Conservatism and War

Sen. Webb – U.S. ‘blasé’ on use of force

Transforming Culture through Politics?

What is the meaning of existence?

The so-called conservative legacy of Reagan and a defense of Lew Rockwell Jr.

25 Responses to American Exceptionalism

  • Given that the Democrats openly or covertly support socialism, the infanticide of the unborn and the filth of homosexual sodomy, what other electable choice is there?

  • Should we as Catholics endorse and support this form of secular paganism?

    How does what you describe constitute ‘paganism’?

    The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project) by Andrew Bacevich

    There is no empire.

  • Paul – No one is endorsing the Culture of Death. As Catholics first and (possibly) Republicans second we need to be asking ourselves these questions. We are pilgrims on a journey, not operatives for any ideology – even those that wave a flag.

    Art Deco – Give Caesar what is Caesar’s, but has that balance been lost and have we begun to worship Caesar?

    The Neocons and War-Hawks in both parties sure think we are an Empire and conduct our foreign policy and international relations as if we are. As Sen. Webb, Paleo-conservatives, and Libertarians are all saying – it’s time to radically consider how we are conducting our foreign policy.

  • I would ask folks to seriously consider reading and engaging the thought of William T. Cavanaugh and Stanley Hauerwas. They will force you to ask (and answer) some serious and hard questions about the role of faith and culture, and how those of faith should view and interact with the state.

  • I understand, DL. I will say this: I was proud of America and to be an American until Obama and the liberals took over. While I don’t kid myself that the Republicans are the party of God, I certainly am ashamed of the direction this country has taken since that man took over. True, I didn’t agree with Bush about initiating force in Iraq. And he was wrong about other things. But whereas Bush was wrong yet still a good man, Obama is wrong and evil. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

    If Obama wins in 2012, then I won’t have an American flag in my apartment. I shock and surprise myself to say that, but if liberalism is what it takes to be an American, then count me out. Again, I am not enamored with the Republicans. But right now it is more important to defeat the Democrats (even if we have to hold our nose to do so) than have another four years of that despicable reprobate in the Oval Office.

  • Dear Mr. Jones;

    I am forced to disagree with your premise that “Republican practiced a form of secular worship of Ronald Reagan” and that the idea of “American Exceptionalism” is some type of “secular paganism.” Your argument is dismissive and faulty i.e. “favor (sic) of the lollipop” comment and please remember Catholics honor saints and Democrats honor their icon so do Republicans honor their icons. I do not see your comments as building bridges – you are positing either/or decisions i.e. support or not support Republicans. Your comments are inflammatory and lack civility necessary to have a rational conversation between two reasonable opposing view points – please reference “secular worship”, “lollipop”, “secular paganism”, and the dismissive attitude regarding “Republican candidate will wave the American flag . . .”

    To build bridges and restore civility one must reach out and find common ground not insult and be dismissive of others view points.

    Pax Tecum;

  • My intent in writing this post was not to attack Reagan or conservatives in general. My thoughts on the legacy of Reagan are contained in my post of that title. I recognize both the good and bad of his legacy.

    I am trying to lead a conversation on what it means to be truly conservative in our culture and is the current G.O.P. variation of it the real thing? I am also asking folks to consider what it means to be Catholics in this culture. Are we in the world but not of it and have we crossed that line?

  • D. L. Jones,

    I think that you have a somewhat generous and perhaps idiosyncratic understanding of empire. AD is correct that the US is not an empire as that term has been traditionally understood. Whether the US is too aggressive in defining and asserting its interests is a perfectly fair question, and certainly so-called neo-cons tend to be more aggressive in these respects than I would prefer, but such tendencies do not an empire make.

    You are certainly correct that we must understand ourselves as Catholic disciples of Christ first, and Americans somewhere thereafter. But I think that assertion will be found somewhat offensive to the participants of this blog, not because it is untrue, but because they regard it as obviously true and resent the condescension and implication. No one on this blog worships Caesar. But nor do they find impulsive hatred of America and its accomplishments to be a sign of intellectual or moral superiority.

  • Mike – Good points…

    I would ask you and others to consider once again the great question (and classic post) of this website – Are we Catholics first and Americans second or are we Americans first and Catholics second? Should not the name of this website be Catholic American?

    In reality do we honor our RNC card(s) greater than our own baptismal certificate(s)?

    And really this question goes much deeper than the current American incarnation. It’s the question that Saint Augustine and many other saints have asked regarding the two cities – where is our true home, the City of Man or the City of God?

  • D.L.,
    Fair enough. Regular self-examination certainly can’t hurt. We are all tempted to live in the City of Man etc. and such temptations can result in rationalizations and even delusions. But in my experience this blog has not been a forum for celebrating such temptations.

  • Mike – my concern is not for you and for other regular contributors to this website. This is a conversation among friends. I do wonder about others in the G.O.P. or in our culture in general though. It seems, or one might perceive, that they have lost this perspective. Even for us though we should feel a tension in asking and answering these questions.

  • Fair enough, D.L., but fwiw in my experience these failings do not concentrate in matters pertaining to overly aggressive foreign policies.

  • Like you (& others) I agree we must work to build a Culture of Life once again. Too many on both sides of the political spectrum have worked to either destroy or weaken it, or just ignore it as if these matters do not matter. I recognize that fiscal and monetary matters, as well as foreign affairs, are matters of prudence. Good Catholics can disagree on them.

    I also though don’t hold great trust in whomever wins political office because our hope is in Christ, not in any political party or figure. Christ is the one who makes us victorious.

  • I was thinking about the phrase “secular paganism” the DL used in his blog post. Then it occurred to me that it isn’t so much the GOP guilty of this but the liberal Democrats and their faux Catholics Komrades who think that with Marxist programs of social justice and the common good they can create a man-made Kingdom of Heaven here on earth through wealth redistribution and unlimited license without consequence. Most of my friends – Protestants and Catholics – who are conservative (and no, I don’t have liberal friends) realize that the government is NOT the solution, and that there is a God who watches over all and He is the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. Yes, they wave flags but again, those whom I know worship Jesus Christ, not the works of the hands of man. True, I disagree with my Baptist and Pentecostal conservative friends on matters of theology, but they have no illusions that by some kind of social program we can just magically make things better where the poor are fed and housed, and no one ever questions a woman’s right to choose.

    The term “secular paganism” belongs as a descriptor of the Demokratik Party (however much I find some things in the GOP unsupportable).

  • I remember Al Sharpton mocking fellow Democratic presidential candidates during the 2004 election, saying that soon they’ll have Bill Clinton walking on water. I don’t see the nostalgia in either party as particularly harmful. Nobody confuses Clinton or Reagan with a spiritual savior. I do see the veneration of the Constitution as harmful. Both sides venerate different parts of it. The right, the 2nd and 10th amendments. The left, the 1st and 14th amendments. Americans do confuse constitutional principles with moral ones.

    I also don’t like how the left is reacting to Republican veneration of Reagan by attempting to remake Reagan into a liberal. True, Reagan supported amnesty but Republicans today readily criticize that point. True, Reagan raised taxes but only after lower taxes much more and only after insisting on spending cuts to offset the tax hikes. True, he tripled the defense budget, but non-defense spending increased over his vetoes. True, he cut and ran from Lebanon but he invaded Grenada. True, he wanted to eliminate nukes, but he ultimately refused. At the same time, the left blames the credit crisis on deregulation starting with Reagan. What did Reagan deregulate? LBJ privatized Fannie Mae, Carter deregulated the airlines, rail, trucking, and natural gas, and Clinton deregulated telecommunications and repealed Glass-Steagall.

  • I recognize the freedoms we have as Americans versus those that many others around the world do not have. I have had the opportunity to travel throughout much of world, which includes Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. I wonder though how much patriotism is too much? Can there be too much? Do some Americans practice a form of hyper nationalism? As Catholics in America how should respond to those with the G.O.P. or the Tea Party who do?

    For example, let us consider a notion that many folks have promoted in our history (including Reagan) that the U.S.A. is a city upon a hill. This is actually a Calvinist idea based upon a faulty view of eschatology, specifically that of Postmillennialism.

    Are the Declaration of Independence and Constitution considered to be sacred documents? Is the classical liberalism which created them flawed in any way?

    Is American Triumphalism reasonable? When applied to foreign policy and international relations is it even prudent? Can we, or should we even desire to, impose our American model of democracy or culture on much of the rest of the world? Consider for example the very interesting conversation I had with Stephen Hand on exactly that topic.

    Going to bigger topic at hand though, Dr. Cavanaugh (and Stanley Hauerwas) is (are) asking some important questions and making some fundamental points regarding the role of the Church, specifically the People of God, and how we should interact with the state. Should we get an arms-width distance away from the state or do we become just another component of the government machine?

  • >Can we, or should we even desire to, impose our American model of democracy or culture on much of the rest of the world?
    Well, it *is* better than despots and military juntas…

  • Can we, or should we even desire to, impose our American model of democracy or culture on much of the rest of the world?

    As far as I am aware, the following places have been coerced in this regard:

    1. Cuba (1898-1902, 1906, 1909 – a consequence of the Spanish-American War)
    2. Puerto Rico (1898-the Present, ditto)
    3. The Philippines (1898-1942, 1945-46, ditto)
    4. The Dominican Republic (1916-24)
    5. Haiti (1916-34)
    6. Nicaragua (1925-34)
    7. Italy (1943-45, at war desired by the other party)
    8. Germany (1945-49, ditto)
    9. Austria (1945-55, ditto)
    10. Japan (1945-52, ditto)
    11. South VietNam (1965-73, at war against a Soviet asset)
    12. Grenada (1983-84, conquered to avert a feared hostage-taking)
    13. Panama (1989-90, conquered as part of a campaign against organized crime)
    14. Afghanistan (2001- conquered in response to an attack on American soil)
    15. Iraq (2003- a belligerent country conquered in lieu of following one of two other options of a disagreeable policy trilemma).

    These territories at this time comprehend about 10% of the population of the world outside the United States, not ‘much of the rest of the world’. Cases 7 through 10 were in consequence of an existential threat to the United States. Cases 11 through 14 were discretionary, but reasons of state were the primary motivators in each circumstance. Cases 1 through 6 are not exactly topical. In cases 7, 8, 9, 12, and 13, electoral institutions were not novelties and had been the norm for periods measured in decades).

  • Don’t forget France, Korea… and now Libya.

  • Of course the US shouldn’t impose democracy on the Holy See. Democracy is merely a means to an end.

  • Don’t forget France, Korea… and now Libya.

    What I forgot was the negotiated occupation of Haiti in 1994.

    Your other examples are invalid.

    1. France has been a constitutional state since 1860, interrupted only by two foreign military occupations (in 1870-71 and 1940-45). Once the German military was removed from French soil, France resumed its antecedent political life.

    2. Korea was a dependency of Japan which they had conquered in 1910 and of which they were stripped by the United States and Soviet Russia (along with all other territory outside the home islands) at the close of the Second World War. The United States did hold elections in south Korea in 1948 (I do not know what else you would expect us to have done), but political life in the Republic of Korea has followed its own dynamic since, without coercion from the United States. Prior to 1987, the political order in Korea was generally authoritarian, with some qualifications.

    3. No sort of political life has been imposed on Libya as yet.

  • Nobody was worshipping McCain or Palin in 2008.

    In the 2012 election cycle, America-hating, Obama-worshipping geniuses, a.k.a. clueless academics and the lying media will fabricate 24/7 to distract and misdirect voters from reality: the gangster Obama admin., Frank, Pelosi, Reid, et al have spent the prior five-plus (Dems took over Cong. in 2007) years tearing away at our country and wrecking our evil, unjust way of life. They tried to replacing it with . . .

    Re: Obama worship: “Adoration is the daughter of ignorance.” Franklin

  • “Are we Catholics first and Americans second or are we Americans first and Catholics second? Should not the name of this website be Catholic American? ”

    When I hear comments like this I think of Bl John Paul II. When one reads his comments about his beloved Poland, one sees no contradiction between and virtuous love of one’s country and one’s faith. In fact, when one reads his comments about Poland one is readily reminded of how many positively comment about America.

    That doesn’t mean that JP II was conflicted about whether he was Polish or Catholic first. I think such a dichotomy wouldn’t even have come up in his thought – just as one doesn’t separate being a spouse or parent from their Catholicism (i.e. I am a Catholic first and a parent second.) Being a spouse and parent is informed by one’s faith. But one’s faith is also informed by one’s realities of life. I am a better father and husband because of my Catholicism. But I am also a better Catholic because of my parenthood and marriage. Each enriches the other in living a unity, and not a dichotomy, of life.

    Just so, those positive aspects of my country, including truly great men – flawed as they may have been, informs my Catholicism as in turn my Catholicism informs my patriotism.

    The bottom line, I believe the question you pose comes from a flawed perspective of a truly lived Christian life.

  • So in other words, a Catholic can’t be authentically Catholic without being a truly patriotic American, and can’t be a truly patriotic American without being authentically Catholic.

    It’s NOT an “either / or” choice, but a “both / and” decision and action.

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