Considering American Exceptionalism

Tuesday, February 8, AD 2011

There has been discussion in the public square lately about American Exceptionalism. The term is one of those which, it seems, causes visceral reactions in many people, either positive or negative. Some immediately declare that the United States is one of the greatest nations that has ever existed. Others insist either that the US is entirely un-exceptional (and its inhabitants delusional for thinking otherwise) or that it is exceptional only in that it has been an unusually bad influence upon the world.

One of the problems is that there are a couple of different meanings one can assign to the term “American exceptionalism”. Some use the term to mean that 19th century Protestant idea that the United States is uniquely selected by God as a new Israel to play some pivotal role in the world. This view strikes me as sufficiently wrong as to be uninteresting, so I won’t discuss it further. However, this does not necessarily leave us to conclude that the US is either unexceptional or evil.

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47 Responses to Considering American Exceptionalism

  • Bill Whittle’s video essays on YouTube discuss this, among other things, in describing the Tea Party movement.

    Among his assertions is that the U.S. is exceptional in having decided to ground its principles of governance in Natural Law and in the tragic vision of human fallibility rather than the utopian vision of human self-perfection. This resulted in the wisdom of constitutionally limiting the power and role of government, and also of dividing government authority among two legislative chambers, among three federal branches, and between the federal government and the states through federalism/subsidiarity.

    Whittle’s view, then, is that the U.S. is exceptional in these ways, but that any other country could easily join us in being “exceptional” by choosing the same path. “Exceptionalism” is not therefore a birthright or a racial statement about blood and soil. It is an assertion that some principles upon which a society might be governed are more moral than others; and that sadly it is rare — it is an exception — for a society to select the principles of Natural Law and constitutional governance, and reap the benefits thereof.

  • “and if some countries cannot claim to have had such widespread effects upon the world as a whole, they are spared blame as well as praise.”

    On the contrary, I hold Luxembourg responsible for most of the world’s ills! 🙂

  • All this is true, so far as it goes, but the following cannot be left to stand:

    “The City of God learned much from the City of Man.”

    This is, as I’m sure you know, an impossibility, seeing as the City of God (which is not identical to the Church) is structured around the love and worship of the Triune God and the City of Man is structured around the love and worship of the self.

  • Who can match English and Russian literature, Italian music, painting and sculpture, German science and philosophy, French style and fashion? If America is exceptional it is only because it has stood on the shoulders of European civilization, and other than jazz and baseball, is more a copycat than an innovator.

  • How about English cooking, Russian technology, Italian government, German jazz and French driving? 🙂 All cultures and peoples stand on the shoulders of their predecessors Joe. One of the unique things about America is the way in which so much derived from other peoples has been taken and transformed by America.

  • I’ll give you one of those, Don; in fact, all, but they are not important. In matters that truly count, America can boast of airplanes and computer chips and nuclear weapons, but not much else. In the essential spheres of art, architecture and culture, I’d contend, you can’t win the argument.

  • RC,

    Agreed to an extent, but one doesn’t want to take the approach of saying that because we can read the thoughts of Socrates and think the same thing, that therefore we are as insightful a philosopher as Socrates. Also, while I’d agree that American institutions and political philosophy are, to an extent, a part of it’s exceptionalism, there could be a country with very good political philosophy and civic institutions which was not a particularly exceptional actor in history.

    In the same sense, Athens and Rome were not necessarily unique or event the best in their institutions — yet their influence on world history far exceeded more modest states which may have exceeded them in those respects.

    WJ,

    the City of God (which is not identical to the Church) is structured around the love and worship of the Triune God and the City of Man is structured around the love and worship of the self.

    And yet we understand the Triune God, to a great extent, through the originally pagan philosophies which were learned from the Greeks and Romans. We worship in languages spread by Hellenistic and Roman culture. And the institutional Church, which is not identical to the City of God, yet certainly is not unrelated to it, is ruled by a descendant of Roman Law and Roman political institutions.

    Truth is worthy, even if it is found among pagans — and much truth was found in the Greek and Roman cultures emanating from Rome and Athens by the early Church.

  • Joe,

    I’ll give you one of those, Don; in fact, all, but they are not important. In matters that truly count, America can boast of airplanes and computer chips and nuclear weapons, but not much else. In the essential spheres of art, architecture and culture, I’d contend, you can’t win the argument.

    Well, first off, note that I listed a half dozen exceptional nations in history, not just one. I would not, for instance, claim that the US was more exceptional than Rome or the British Empire, though it possesses some virtues those lacked (and lacks some those possessed.)

    That said, the nations which have the greatest impact and influence are not necessarily those who excel in every field. The Brits and Romans were both considered pretty dull and stolid folks in their way, yet had far more lasting impacts on the world than their flashier contemporaries.

  • Yes, Yes, of course that’s all right. But none of that has anything to do with the “City of Man”–the civitas terrena. By definition, the civitas terrena (which, again, can’t be confused with any one polity) is the collection of individuals at all times and in all places devoted to the idolization of the self. You are conflating two issues here. The first issue, that Truth is one and is not limited to the Church (though of course the Church contains a fuller plenitutde of truth), is different from the second issue, which pertains to the radical separation between two ideal typical regimes, across which there is no bridge.

  • We are “poor banished children of Eve.” To our Holy Queen, Mary, we “send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” The best we can hope for is that “after this our exile” we may be found worthy (through grace, prayer, repentence, and Mary’s intercessions) of the “promises of Christ.”

    Look at other countries. Name one that possesses a more just political system led by the consent of the governed. Name one that gives its citizens the opportunity to rise from rags to president or millionaire. Name one that had the power and ever and always gave more than it took in its relations with all the rest of the world.

    Now, if Nate or MM can’t stomach evil, unjust America. They know what they can do. There are no walls or border police keeping them here.

    I wonder why ten of millions want to come to America.

    And, stop listening to comprehesively ignorant, intellectually incompetent lying, aged hippie college prof/VC-sympathizers that revise history to continue in their useful idiocy even into weed-sotted senility.

  • Name one that has a higher crime rate and commits more abortions.

  • As Chesterton said, America was unique in that it was founded on a creed, namely that all men were created equal.

    It was the first country in modern history, and one of the few ever, countries were an indigenous uprising resulted in a long standing democracy, instead of trading one tyrant for another.

    It is unique in the extraordinary potential for upward mobility. It really does not matter that much to whom you were born. As an example the airplane was invented in America, not by some idle rich duke of this or that, but by a couple of bicycle mechanics. Carnegie went from being an poor immigrant to being one of the richest men in the world.

    America invented the AC electrical system, high speed steel, automobiles for the masses, TCP/IP, the personal computer, the radio, and the telephone. America, with aid from the British, did invent nuclear technology to end a war and then offered to hand it over to an international body–how many other countries in a similar position, with absolute asymmetrical power at the time, would have done that?

    As far as culture goes, Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses people liked living in. Mark Twain wrote books that people still read without them being a class assignment. America invented Jazz while Europe invented classical music–well Europe had a two or three hundred year head start on classical, and what has it done since then?

    Churchill joked that America always did the right thing, after it tried everything else first–well, how many other countries of similar size and relative power is or was even interested in the right thing? Damn it for not being perfect, but what other superpower or other country has even tried? The Greeks, the Romans, England of the 1800’s, there was no real concept of trying to do the “right thing”–it was build the biggest empire at any cost, because that was what powerful countries did. If a new country becomes the new superpower, how hard do you really think they will try to do the right thing?

  • “Name one that has a higher crime rate and commits more abortions.”

    Actually quite a few nations have a higher abortion rate than the US:

    http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/wrjp333pd.html

    There are also quite a few nations with higher crime rates, starting with the five featured below:

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/159175/top_5_most_dangerous_countries_in_the_pg3.html?cat=9

  • This “upward mobility” canard has got to be called out. Consider that:

    Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution, versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance.

    Children born to the middle quintile of parental family income ($42,000 to $54,300) had about the same chance of ending up in a lower quintile than their parents (39.5 percent) as they did of moving to a higher quintile (36.5 percent). Their chances ofattaining the top five percentiles of the income distribution were just 1.8 percent.

    Education, race, health and state of residence are four key channels by whicheconomic status is transmitted from parent to child.

    African American children who are born in the bottom quartile are nearly twice as likely to remain there as adults than are white children whose parents had identical incomes, and are four times less likely to attain the top quartile.

    The difference in mobility for blacks and whites persists even after controlling for a host of parental background factors, children’s education and health, as well as whether the household was female-headed or receiving public assistance.

    AND THE KICKER!

    By international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of
    intergenerational mobility: our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults. Intergenerational mobility in the United States is lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

    (From http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2006/04/b1579981.html)

  • Joe,

    Name one that has a higher crime rate and commits more abortions.

    What, name one country with a higher crime rate than the US and more abortions?

    Russia.

    In fact, despite having a population less than half that of the United States, their absolute number of abortions per year is about twice that of the US. More than half of pregnancies in Russia end in abortion.

    Not like being better than Russia in these two respects is anything to be particularly proud of. But ask an easy question and get an easy answer. 🙂

  • WJ,

    This is perhaps splitting hairs, but showing that inter-generational mobility doesn’t happen as much in the US as in other countries doesn’t necessarily prove that it’s not as possible or more possible here than elsewhere. It just shows it doesn’t happen as much.

    So for instance — it might be that there are societal forces which actually deny people born into low income families entry into opportunities that would result in their reaching the top 5% of incomes, or it might be that there just aren’t a whole lot of things to help you along the way and so despite a lack of barriers few people make it.

    That doesn’t make declining mobility something not to worry about, but it leaves open a wider range of possible problems.

  • Donald,

    The abortion rate in the US, per your link, is almost exactly the same as Canada and only slightly more than England and France. How can this be given that social welfare programs are supposed to eliminate abortion? Can it be possible that there are other reasons other than economic ones that people?

  • Darwin,

    I don’t understand that response. I suppose that I agree that it’s not a *necessary truth* that the fact of lower intergenerational mobility in the U.S. entails there being a lower “possibility” of intergenerational mobility in the U.S.

    But as I see it, the important thing is exactly what you state: intergenerational upward mobility “doesn’t happen as much” in the U.S. as in other (roughly comparable) countries. Who cares whether it’s hypothetically more “possible” that in happen in the U.S. if it doesn’t actually happen? (And I’d like to see the concrete explanation as to how upward mobility could be simultaneously (a) more likely to happen in the U.S. than in other countries and (b) not happen as much in the U.S. as in other countries.) But if you want to take this up later, that’s fine.

    I don’t mean to hijak the thread, but the myth of the actual existence of upward mobility in the U.S. dies hard, and needs to be corrected.

  • WJ: Now, I am a myth.

    Guys like me likley are rarer than before. Why is that?

    Try: confiscatory taxation; ruinous regulations; gluttony; state licensing for many crafts, e.g., dog groomer; sloth; promiscuity; single parent households; lust; public school brainwashing instead of education; hate rich people; wrath; envy; drugs; alcohol; etc.

    It is not America that keeps people dependent and desperate. It is the immoral, liberal progressive movement that controls the democrat party, the Senate, the WH, vox nobrains, and the lying liberal media.

    Joe Green:

    Solution to abortion and crime: DO NOT VOTE DEMOCRAT, BUILD MORE PRISONS.

  • WJ,

    What the heck, I’ll support a mild thread hijak. As it happens, it’s a topic I’ve been meaning to write about soon, I just haven’t had a chance to sit down with the links I’ve collected on the topic and do some thoughtful analysis. So accept this with the understanding it’s rather off-the-cuff.

    First off, let’s just define a few terms. Looking at the report you link to, they say that children born to low-income families have only a 1% chance of ending up in the top 5%. They define “low income” as being in the bottom 20%. If you’re are in the bottom quintile in the US, your household income is less than $20k. To be in the top 5%, your household income has to be above $166k.

    Now, I think our question primary is: If you work hard and have exceptional ability, is it possible for someone born into a family making less than $20k per year to grow up to make more than $166k per year.

    A related question is: How often does this actually happen?

    I think we can easily think of a number of things which might keep someone from being able to “make it big” even if they worked hard. For instance, suppose we had a rigid class/caste system, and people simply refused to hire you for high paying work if your father hadn’t had similarly high paying work. Or suppose that high earnings were heavily dependent upon education, but colleges simply refused to accept non-rich students. Or imagine you had a society in which the only rich people were big land owners, and these landed estates were hereditary. All of these, would arguably represent cases where it simply isn’t possible for people to advance even if they work hard.

    Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument that there are few barriers to entry into the richest 5% in the US, and that anyone with exceptional ability and a willingness to work very hard is able to make it into the top 5%. Does this necessarily mean that we would see lots of people doing this?

    Well, not necessarily. It might be that we’d see very few people making that jump because not many people were willing to work that hard. Perhaps that seems unlikely, but let’s imagine (and again, I’m going strictly theoretically here) that the US has had so much opportunity for so long that most people willing to work hard did pretty well as long as four generations ago. These people may not be in the top 5% by any stretch, but maybe they’re nearly all at least in the top 60%, not the bottom 40%. This might mean that for those born into the bottom 20%, they do not receive any cultural encouragement from their parents to work hard, study, etc.

    If this is the case, we might find that few people make it from the bottom 20% to the top 5% simply because very few people from the bottom 20% actually work hard enough to achieve that much success. According to this theory, they could have if they had tried, but they’re not encouraged to (perhaps they’re even encouraged not to) and so they don’t try and they don’t make it.

    (By similar token, it’s highly unlikely that any of my kids will be professional baseball players. I’ve never played baseball, I don’t watch baseball, I don’t discuss baseball with them, and I don’t play baseball with them. So although it’s theoretically possible that one of them has the ability to be a pro baseball player, it’s unlikely that he’d achieve it anyway since he never would have received any encouragement. Not because anyone’s stopping him, but because no one is encouraging him.)

    In this regard, it might be that countries which have had a great deal of opportunity for a long time would actually show less mobility now, if ability and work habits are highly heritable.

    Imagine if a country has had a locked-down keptrocracy for a long time, and suddenly it gets an open economy. There would have been all sorts of people who worked incredibly hard and had all sorts of ability who had been kept down by the system for a long time who suddenly had the ability to excel and leaped forward. You’d see a lot of income mobility.

    However, if there’s been this much opportunity for a long time, and if ability and habits are highly heritable, it’s possible that after a while you’re see fairly little mobility for the simple reason that most people in the bottom 20% were just there because they weren’t trying very hard and didn’t want to try hard.

    I don’t know if I’d assert that this is definitely what’s happening. I suspect that there’s a mix of some people being hit with lack of opportunities and a lot of people also being already sorted. But it does strike me as interesting that the least mobile countries as the US and UK — two countries which have had highly mobile economies for a long time.

  • A good post on the subject by Thomas Sowell:

    http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell060805.asp

    This country is just as socially mobile as it ever was, but it helps if a few simple rules are followed, which I have gleaned from 28 years at the bar:

    1. Graduate from high school.

    2. Have kids in wedlock.

    3. Actually show up when hired to perform a job.

    4. Try your best not to look like a ganster or a whore on the job.

    5. Realize that having a surly attitude and mumbling tends to displease bosses and customers.

    6. Master basic literacy and math.

    7. Don’t become an alcoholic or a druggie.

    8. Be ready to move to be employed.

    9. Save as much of your pay as you can and invest it.

    10. Go to church on a regular basis and pay attention.

  • 1. Graduate from high school. (…and ‘Welcome to Wal-Mart’)

    2. Have kids in wedlock. (…so you can get a tax deduction)

    3. Actually show up when hired to perform a job. (…if you can find one)

    4. Try your best not to look like a ganster or a whore on the job. (…unless you’re Christina Aguilera or Lady Gaga)

    5. Realize that having a surly attitude and mumbling tends to displease bosses and customers. (…after all, why be like them?)

    6. Master basic literacy and math. (…so you can read the want ads)

    7. Don’t become an alcoholic or a druggie. (…but a little wine and Viagra never hurt anyone)

    8. Be ready to move to be employed. (…see No. 3)

    9. Save as much of your pay as you can and invest it. (…so you can be conned by Bernie Madoff & and the rest of the Wall St. crooks)

    10. Go to church on a regular basis and pay attention. (…so you don’t miss the Bingo announcement)

  • Well Joe, all I can say in response to your cyncism, is that in my practice the people who obey those ten rules tend to be doing pretty well, and those who do not are doing pretty poorly. Or, as Kipling put it so long ago:

    “AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
    I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
    Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

    We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
    That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
    But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
    So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

    We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
    Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
    But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
    That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

    With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
    They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
    They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
    So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

    When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
    They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
    But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
    And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
    That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

  • just tweaking you, Don. Don’t take me seriously. I’m just a jaded misanthrope obviously and mean no harm. If everyone on here wants to think they are ‘exceptional,’ that’s fine…I used to be a Christian and I read “…there is neither Greek, nor Jew, male nor female…etc” but people everyone, no matter where they live and what they believe, think they’re better than the other guy.

    It’s human nature unfortunately. We’re such a sad pathetic species.

  • “We’re such a sad pathetic species.”

    Yes Joe, except when we’re not.

  • To quote Mark Twain:

    Such is the human race, often it seems a pity that Noah… didn’t miss the boat.

  • Hi Darwin,

    Well, I don’t mean to be crass, but it seems to me you’re answer boils down to: “basically they’re lazy and dumb.” I don’t think this fits the data very well at all, but I suppose it’s an answer.

    I think the data supports the opposite conclusion, namely, that the “for the sake of the argument” conditions you construct at the beginning of your response don’t hold: that there are, in fact, a higher amount of barriers at work in the post 1970s states than just after the war, and that these do impede talent and hardworking workers from moving up, and that these barriers are getting harder, not easier, to overcome. (Although for minorities this general statement might not be true.)

    I should state that I’m not a command economy kind of guy, but I do think it’s a cause for concern whenever you have the inequality conditions that presently exist in America, as it undermines any sense of a common good and creates factions of interest that are dangerous to the republic. I don’t think either the Democrats or the Republicans are interested in this problem, as they both benefit from the condition itself.

  • You wrote “people everyone, no matter where they live and what they believe, think they’re better than the other guy.”

    However often this is true, the exact opposite must be said of a Christian. There are a lot of examples of humble greatness and all of them begin with the humble acknowledgment that our hero knows that he has earned no good thing and deserves far worse than he has received.

    I am sorry that you perceive that you “used to be a Christian.” Fortunately for all of us, rejecting that label does not change the reality of His love.

    Flawed though we are, there is a force for good, it is overwhelming, and it is the undeniable truth of and reason for our existence. His existence is the only rational answer to our nagging fears but his law is as hard to follow as the tracks of a mouse in blowing sand. We run and hide as Adam but His voice breaks through all of our deceits.

    I wish you well, brother.

  • C-Veg…Like the Prodigan Son, I’m off the reservation, hoping the Hound of Heaven comes and gets me. For now, though, I think He is rounding up others.

  • Doesn’t sound like you are terribly far from home though. We’ll leave the lights on.

  • Sheesh….Prodigal…typo…Just to clarify: Like the character in The Brothers Karamazov, “I love humanity, but I can’t stand people.”

    Can someone explain to me how God wants us to love one another when we are so unlovable?

  • “Well, I don’t mean to be crass, but it seems to me you’re answer boils down to: “basically they’re lazy and dumb.” I don’t think this fits the data very well at all, but I suppose it’s an answer.”

    Some people are WJ. They come in all classes too, except that what is simply disgusting in someone who is rich tends to be a complete disaster for someone who is poor.

    In any case I don’t think that is what Darwin is saying. What really can hamper upward mobility is single parent families, or no families and endless foster parents, a lousy education, no work ethic, involvement with drugs and alcohol, and having kids out of wedlock. With a black illegitimacy rate of 70%, a hispanic illegitimacy rate of 47% and exploding white illegitimacy rates
    http://pasadenasubrosa.typepad.com/pasadena_sub_rosa/2009/05/white-illegitimacy-rates-skyrocketing.html

    the slowing of social mobility is not really surprising.

  • “Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution, versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance.”

    Who cares?

  • “Can someone explain to me how God wants us to love one another when we are so unlovable?”

    By attempting to love each other as God loves us. Tough to do, but not quite as tough as dying on a cross. A sense of humor also helps.

  • Don, I’m still working on liking people including me. It ain’t easy.

  • Can someone explain to me how God wants us to love one another when we are so unlovable?

    Well, among other things, it’s perhaps worth while to keep in mind that loving in the Christian sense means wanting the best for someone. It’s not necessarily the same was wanting to hang out with someone all the time because they’re just so darn swell.

    In this sense, living and loving someone is not necessarily the same thing. Indeed, wanting the best for someone is often easier than liking him.

  • “Just to clarify: Like the character in The Brothers Karamazov, “I love humanity, but I can’t stand people.’”

    Maybe you should comment at Vox Nova. 🙂

    “Can someone explain to me how God wants us to love one another when we are so unlovable?”

    I guess I look at my son and think about how unlovable he is sometimes. Then he is away for a night and I miss him terribly. Then I realize he is really lovable even if sometimes he is unlovable – or maybe its just that he seems unlovable. And then I realize I adopted him even when he is unlovable at times – or at least seems that way. Just as God makes us his adopted children even when we seem unlovable.

  • “Don, I’m still working on liking people including me. It ain’t easy.”

    Like and love are too separate things. The Good Samaritan showed that he loved his neighbor by helping him. That did not mean that he wanted to be best buddies with him and sing camp fire songs late into the evening. I always felt awkward speaking to my father after my mother died, because he tended not to be very communicative, a skill my mother had in spades. I often felt that the calls were a duty and were glad when they ended. However that did not mean that I did not love my father. Of course now that he is dead also, how much I wish I could have one of those conversations again.

    Harder to love people who do monstrous things. I really can’t say that I love the murderer in one of my cases who shot to death his two little kids, but I do not think that God expects the impossible out of us.

  • Then again, Don, the Greeks had about 5 definitions of “love”. It’s a word that’s tossed around loosely these days and usually distorted. How far we are from “agape”, eh?

    Perhaps God did not command us to do the “impossible,” but sometimes it seems that way. I wish I could pray like St. Theresa, “Lord, let me suffer or Lord, let me die.”

  • WJ,

    Well, I don’t mean to be crass, but it seems to me you’re answer boils down to: “basically they’re lazy and dumb.” I don’t think this fits the data very well at all, but I suppose it’s an answer.

    Well, not necessarily. I don’t think one need necessarily be either dumb or lazy to make less than 166k one’s whole life. (Heck, I still make well under 166k, and it’s possible I’ll never get there — and I like to think of myself as somewhat other than dumb and lazy.)

    I guess the thing is, I read your hypothesis:

    there are, in fact, a higher amount of barriers at work in the post 1970s states than just after the war, and that these do impede talent and hardworking workers from moving up, and that these barriers are getting harder, not easier, to overcome.

    and aside from the atrocious state of our education system, I’m not clear what exactly it is that would have made it significantly harder to go “rags to riches” over the last 50 years, aside from that there’s already been a lot of sorting.

    Now, I would lay a fair amount of reduction in actual income mobility on the doorstep of our public schools, and I think that’s something which everyone right and left (except perhaps the teachers unions) would agree should be seriously improved. But that wouldn’t be so much an indication that people who work hard can’t get ahead, but rather that our schools often don’t encourage people to work hard and don’t give them the proper tools to do so.

    I will try to get a post on this topic up before much longer so we can discuss at greater length.

  • Okay, Darwin. Thanks. By the way Donald, the statistics I cited adjusted for the conditions you mentioned.

  • “Well, not necessarily. I don’t think one need necessarily be either dumb or lazy to make less than 166k one’s whole life.”

    The whole 166 k business, and a division of the population based on annual earnings, is a bit tricky. 166k up in many parts of Chicago and the suburbs would merely be getting by, especially if that is the sole household income. Go 70 miles southwest to Dwight, Illinois and a person is doing quite nicely on 166 k a year.

    “By the way Donald, the statistics I cited adjusted for the conditions you mentioned.”

    I’ll take your word for that WJ, and I mean that sincerely, but that would take some pretty tricky statistical adjustment to compensate for those factors, especially since France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway, and Denmark have pretty homogenous populations compared to the US. A better comparison would be say between Minnesota and Sweden or Montana and Finland.

  • There is one exceptional American:

    KUNDUZ, Afghanistan – A 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldier with 1st Brigade Combat Team received the Silver Star Medal – the nation’s third highest award for valor in combat – during a ceremony Jan. 26 at Forward Operating Base Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan.

    First Lt. David Provencher, an infantry platoon leader with 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, is credited with saving the lives of three wounded Soldiers and refusing to leave two others who were mortally wounded.

    Greet them ever with grateful hearts.

  • As one who was not born in this land and blessed to come of legal age as a citizen of this country, thanks be to God in the South, I can tell you that it is exceptional. I have the ability to go live just about anywhere on Earth and yet, I don’t leave. Why? In what other country can one accuse his own of committing atrocities that his country did not and disdain her for not being exceptional and yet still live and engage in debate? The answer is none before the USA. All other free places in this world are free because of the exceptional work done here.

    Do I accuse the USA for not being perfect? Absolutely. Is there great evil in the USA? Without doubt. Do our government, public and private institutions, etc. do great evil in the world? No doubt about it.

    So what?

    America is made up of sinners and Divine ideas filtered by sinners. In this regard we are not exceptional and if this is the fault one has against the USA then one has to destroy the whole world.

    What we do, what we believe and what we stand for on balance is the greatest force for good this world has ever seen, taken from a purely natural perspective. America is not the Catholic Church and frankly the Founder of the Church is perfect, but our Holy Church is made up sinners and prone to screwing things up just was well as anyone or any other institution – save for the negative protection of the Holy Spirit and guarantee by our Founder that the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Heck who needs hell anyway, we do a good enough job of trying to tear down our own Church and we can’t succeed at that awful endeavor. America has no supernatural guarantee and yet we get it right more often than not and when we don’t, we keep trying.

    America is exceptional and for those that don’t think so and want to blame her for all evil, I am not taking about beneficial self criticism, I am talking about disdain. Please go and trade places with some poor soul born in some one of the numerous hell holes in the rest of the world. The amazing thing is that this country is filled with Americans, born here and naturalized, and yet there are so many unAmericans here too, many born here. The nice thing is there are Americans all over the world and we should be actively trading the traitors who live amongst us with the foreigner who desires to be American – not merely live in American, but to actually be American, many already are. The world will be better for it.

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In Defense of American Exceptionalism

Friday, June 11, AD 2010

“Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”         Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862

As a liberal democracy, is the United States different in any appreciable way from other liberal democracies in the western tradition, and if so, does the thought of its founders explain this?

 That is the question posed yesterday by commenter and Vox Nova blogger Morning’s Minion.   Commenter Art Deco took up the challenge:

I do not think you are going to find a nexus of social phenomena that is explained by a single cause. To the extent that intellectual genealogies influence people’s conceptions of what their interests and ideals are, the thought of that corps of politicians is important. To the extent that the social evolution of the United States has been shaped by political institutions which were informed by the thought of these men, their thought is important.

Any society has its signature elements. I am not sure why it escapes you what ours are, in the political realm and outside it. We can defer for a moment the more interesting discussion of the country’s social history and historical geography and just look at aspects of the latter-day political order, as you insist.

1. The political parties have tended to manifest conflict between subcultures rather than between social strata.

2. The political parties are haphazard and decentralized in comparison with their European counterparts (France excepted).

3. Formal political institutions are likewise, with many accumulated barnacles.

4. We maintain a common law system, which is not indebted to the Code Napoleon.

5. Our constitution antedates all but a few in Europe by a century and the forms delineated therein derive from institutions of colonial government more than 150 older than that; there has been intramural political violence in the United States but also absolute continuity of local institutions for more than 400 years and continuity of continental institutions for in excess of 200 years.

6. Because our institutions are comparatively antique and because they were delineated by a single statute, aspects of political practice in Britain were retained here while being abandoned there and elsewhere. Notable is the absence of parliamentary government, something quite unusual among the fifty or so most durable constitutional systems. (I believe the United States and Costa Rica are the only examples).

7. Both in politics and society, trade and industrial unions are much weaker here, comprehending just 9% of the private sector workforce. Unions in America are now lobbies for the interests of public employees.

8. The multiplication of the functions of the state and corporatist institutions and practices have been much more restrained here. Public enterprise has tended to be limited to natural monopolies owned and operated by provincial and local governments; the federal government operates a postal service, some hydroelectric stations, and maintains a large inventory of land, but that is it.

9. The political intelligence and moral sentiments of our elected officials (not our judges) remain more resonant with that of the general public than is the case elsewhere. I think it was Oriana Fallaci who once complained that if you ask a British legislator what the intellectual influences on him were, he might offer Marx or Burke; his American counterpart would name his own father. There is a reason we have capital punishment in this country and they do not in Canada, and that reason is not differences in public sentiment.

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30 Responses to In Defense of American Exceptionalism

  • I am not American (US American that is), so when I read “American exceptionalism” I think of “Russian messianism” or any other kind of messianism.
    There is only one people chosen by God, and its destiny is not power and lording it over the world.
    Elise B.

  • I find that believing oneself, or one’s nation, to be “exceptional” (ie, “better”) arrogant and dangerous in the extreme.

    America is not exceptional, she is simply America. Whatever truths her political traditions contain ought to be understood as a humble contribution toward the human struggle for liberty. That should be enough for history.

    Frankly, any nation that declares their goodness to the world is giving the first piece of evidence to the contrary. Pride before the fall, as the saying goes.

  • “Pride before the fall, as the saying goes.”

    Actually Anthony nations often fall when their people become convinced that there is nothing special about their country and there is no reason to fight for it. France 1940 is a prime example of this mindset. The proud British were rallied by Churchill to live “their finest hour”.

  • Good points, Anthony.

  • I would disagree with your point, Don.

    When nations stop believing IN THEMSELVES, they decline and fall. It is a separate question whether or not the principles to which a nation adheres is worthy of being preserved.

    Our political class has time and time again betrayed the political/human truths that made the United States different from her international neighbors. If she turns her back on what liberty is left in the Constitution then perhaps decline and fall is the best option, like a business that has long been in denial of its insolvency. I would weep more for the loss of America’s soul, Don, than I would for the loss of her body.

    I prefer the humble America. That’s were the greatness is. It is distinctly not to be found in military might, but in the might of everyday individuals who risk their lives, labor and savings in the hope of bettering themselves, their families and their friends. America is not great because she has taken up the hobby of proclaiming how great she is to any nation that dare set out to live another way. I would rather try day in and day out to live greatly as an example, rather than tell everyone how great I am.

    Look deeper to the history of Britain for clues to America’s future, Don. The British threw their weight around and believed themselves to be God’s gift to the advancement of human civilization. For a brief time, they were. But, the second they took that blessing for granted, overextended themselves and bullied or manipulated other nations, not even Winston Churchill’s grand speeches could prevent him from presiding over Britannia’s decline from global empire to American debtor.

    You’ll forgive me if I find your example a weak counter argument.

  • Tell me Anthony, which of our wars would you have agreed to fight in? I know your condemnation of the Civil War. Would even the Revolution have caused you to risk your skin in defense of America?

    When people will not fight for their nation Anthony slavery will be their lot unless they are rescued by braver and better people than themselves. Without a Churchill Britain would have been doomed to have been a province of the greater Reich. Fortunately most Americans do not believe that the world is the pacifist dreamland that most pacifists seem to inhabit until History rudely shakes them awake.

    “I prefer the humble America. That’s were the greatness is.” I could not disagree more Anthony. Humility is a common quality possessed by much of humanity including serfs and slaves. A humility that will not fight can be as dangerous as a pride that is always seeking conflict. In any case such humility is not what sets America apart from other nations of the Earth. It is rather the attachment of Americans to freedom and liberty, as set forth by the Founding Fathers, and a willingness to fight to preserve them, at home and abroad, that distinguishes this country.

  • It is tragic. Large portions of America have degenerated to unexceptional.

    These include the Demagogue party, liberals, clueless professors, RINO’s, feminists, expanding populations of caitiff serfs who believe it’s the govermnment’s duty to provide for them, all the so-caled “red states”, etc.

    Point of information: Churchill actually led Britain (unlike the community agitator poseur in the WH) to victory (unconditional surrender) over Nazi Germnany, Italy, and Japan in a two ocean war. The Bridiots immediately threw him out and the rest is history.

    Some seem to want to be unexceptional. They’re pretty good at it.

  • I’d be happy to answer that question, Don.

    I would gladly have served in the American Revolution and supported the Texas Revolution. I would have reluctantly served in World War II, but without any delusion about the folly that lead up to the war and horrors of its execution. I would not have supported WWI, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and our numerous interventions in the Middle Eastern/Arab/Persian world. Obviously that doesn’t cover all our conflicts, but you get the gist. As a general rule: my sympathies in war typically rest with people who want to be left alone and responsible for their own lives.

    You mistake for pacifism my belief that more can be accomplished in peace than in war. You mistake my openness to inaction as indifference to the conflicts around the world. And you make the mistake of seeing isolationism where there is a wariness of the dangerous consequences forcible intervention always produces.

    War, Don, is an admission of human failure and a sad one at that. It is a total breakdown of civilized behavior that destroys innocent lives. War is destructive at all levels of society except for the benefit of a few politicians and their contractors.

    Now would you do me the favor and answer my own question: is there an American war that you would have risked your skin to oppose? Because, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you LOVE war.

    I’m going to give you more credit than that statement, not because you’re American but because you’re Catholic. You, like me, worship the Prince of Peace, not the God of War.

    I won’t argue the the finer points of British history with you, accept to leave you with this: Britain’s reduced place in the world today speaks for itself. Britain made many mistakes in the 20th century that put her where she is today, and they weren’t all made by Neville Chamberlain.

    With regards to humility: here I thought it was related to the virtue of temperance! We do want a virtuous society, don’t we? Humility recognizes our personal faults. America is not a perfect place with perfect people, and humility reminds us of that. Perhaps if our government were more humble, it would be more reluctant tell people, American citizens included, what to do in nearly every aspect of human life.

    It is precisely the lack of humility that allows us to rationalize the most horrible of things. Without humility, I can make myself the center of the universe. The same applies to nations.

    Humility is not, however, weakness. Humility does not mean being a pushover or the object of bullying. Humility does not mean accepting tyranny. The very fact that you identify humility as being the qualities of serfs and slaves says more about your understanding than it does of humility itself. Would you have been more comfortable had I used the word “modest”?

    What are we to make of the humility of Jesus or of the saints? Or of those who take up the monastic life? It is in humility and temperance that we find the STRENGTH to take up our cross, stick to our metaphorical guns and LIVE the truth.

    Hey, I could be wrong. But I don’t think its embarrassing to say that I’d rather work for a world that solves its problems with diplomacy, trade and PATIENCE over war, destruction and violence.

  • The Mexican War Anthony as I’ve pointed out on this blog before. I rather agree with U.S. Grant about that conflict. The War of 1812 too, at least the portion that was just a land grab for Canada.

    As for War being an admission of human failure, you are correct. It shares that quality with much of what humanity must endure in this Fallen World. I need no lessons on the horrors of War, nor on the fact that there are fates for individuals and nations that are far worse than War.

    The British Empire was in economic decline from about the 1880s. Wise Brits were already beginning in the 19th Century to enact policies for the devolution of the Empire into independent Dominions. Those same Dominions: Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and others, were a great aid to Great Britain preserving her freedom in the 20th Century. Churchill, with the notable exception of India, was a key advocate of this policy, although, child of the Victorian period, he was understandably saddened to see the Empire passing away before his eyes.

    Humility has its place as does pride. Both those qualities should be embraced in moderation. Neither of those qualities, by themselves, make an individual or a nation exceptional.

    Diplomacy has its uses. However as long as there are groups in this world like the Taliban, who this week hung a 7 year old boy as a spy, Diplomacy also obviously has its limitations.

  • If you need no lessons on the horrors of war, then you should also be in no need of lessons on the virtues of peace and why many go great lengths to preserve it. Yet, here we are, disagreeing.

    Hopefully I’ve at least illuminated for you my thinking on the subject and given you some pause before you run into the headwinds of “exceptionalism.”

  • Look deeper to the history of Britain for clues to America’s future, Don. The British threw their weight around and believed themselves to be God’s gift to the advancement of human civilization. For a brief time, they were. But, the second they took that blessing for granted, overextended themselves and bullied or manipulated other nations, not even Winston Churchill’s grand speeches could prevent him from presiding over Britannia’s decline from global empire to American debtor.

    The United States has not invested much in the acquisition of overseas dependencies. We had a set of some significance from 1898 to 1946, but 90% of the population thereof was in the Philippines; the Philippines was not conceived of as a permanent possession of the United States and was granted independence more than 60 years ago. As of about 1922, the set of territories Britain held in north Africa and the set France held were each more populous than the whole portfolio of overseas territories held by the United States. Please note that the productive capacity of the United States exceeded that of the French and the British metropole by a factor of 3. There is overextension and there is overextension.

  • Our political class has time and time again betrayed the political/human truths that made the United States different from her international neighbors. If she turns her back on what liberty is left in the Constitution

    The country is likely as libertarian as it has ever been in the civic and political realm. The deficit we suffer is that of parochial self-government.

  • Kevin and I both loved the videos of the Tea Party speech and of Chamberlain’s speech before battle.

    Kevin and I responded to this post here: http://teresamerica.blogspot.com/2010/06/thoughts-on-american-exceptionalism.html

  • And a superb response it it is Teresa!

  • Thank You, Donald. You inspired Kevin and I to write the response. Thank you for startng the debate/conversation in defending American exceptionalism in your post. God Bless!

  • Anthony,

    As a general rule: my sympathies in war typically rest with people who want to be left alone and responsible for their own lives.

    So your sympathies would have been with the South Koreans, South Vietnamese, and Kosovars, yet you wouldn’t have lifted a finger for them?

  • There is a chapter in C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” devoted to love of non-human entitities such as animals, nature, and love of country. It’s too lengthy to quote in detail, but the gist of it is, it’s OK, in fact good and heroic, to fight for your country simply because it is YOUR country, and not necessarily because it is the “best” or most moral or enlightened country on earth.

    In fact Lewis did not approve of the idea that every war had to be a “holy war” over some abstract principle, because holy wars inevitably turn into wars of annihilation — the enemy has to be destroyed, not just sent packing.

    Does patriotism demand that one hold as an article of faith that the United States of America is objectively superior to all other nations at all times in economic or military power, education, morality, etc?

    One can accept or believe that the USA isn’t always the “best” at everything or that she may not always be a superpower, and still love her… after all, you can still love your child dearly, to the point of being willing to lay down your life for them, and accept the fact that he or she isn’t going to be #1 at everything they attempt. To you, she’s the best child one could possibly have simply because she’s yours, and you need no other reason than that.

    If “American exceptionalism” means belief in the unique principles upon which the nation was founded, I’m all for it. If “exceptionalism” means an absolute conviction that America is or must be objectively superior to all other nations in every aspect of earthly life, however, I’m not so sure about that.

  • Of course, it goes without saying that one always strives to make America, or whatever country one is a citizen of, the best country they can be — you don’t just lie down and accept defeat (a la the French in 1940). I’m just saying we don’t always have to believe we are objectively “better” than the rest of the world in all things at all times.

  • “If “American exceptionalism” means belief in the unique principles upon which the nation was founded, I’m all for it. If “exceptionalism” means an absolute conviction that America is or must be objectively superior to all other nations in every aspect of earthly life, however, I’m not so sure about that.”

    My position is the former Elaine, along with the playing out of those principles in American national life which make America unique in many ways among the nations of the Earth.

  • America is not great because she has taken up the hobby of proclaiming how great she is to any nation that dare set out to live another way.

    Which nation did you have in mind?

  • You’re presuming a lot in that statement.

    I sympathize with lots of people… but why does “lifting a finger” always really mean dropping a bomb? I said nothing of the sort that would discourage the kind of aid that relieves women, children and non-combatants; particularly coming from the private sector, non-profits and charities. Like I said above, inaction (of the military sort) does not mean indifference. But inevitably, what is really asked for is help waging war in these situations.

    There used to be a time when neutrality was considered a prudent and morally sound move that contained conflicts and preserved society. Now we live in an age wear every threat is sold to the public as another potential Third Reich. We’ve tipped the scales in favor of a policy of escalation. Our preferred tool is now the hammer instead of the scalpel.

    This policy attitude doesn’t seem to go for only war, it goes for every aspect of human life. Want to end war? Make more war! Want to end the recession? Make more money! Want to end AIDS infections? Make more condoms! The point I’m trying to make is simple: that for some reason we believe that we can resolve problems by increasing the very elements that encourage the problem in the first place. It’s the equivalent in my mind to winning an argument simply by yelling the loudest.

    You’re also presuming that I’m capable of fully understanding the conflict I would be militarily intervening in, OR that somehow my intervention would result in the “good guys” taking over. Or, that my intervention would actually end the conflict and promote peace.

    Instead there’s a decent argument to made that intervention prevents the two warring sides from reaching a peace catered to their culture, situation, etc. WWI and the Korean War are two conflicts that immediately spring to mind in which U.S. intervention simply kicked the can down the road, rather than forcing the peoples involved to find a resolution.

    Another assumption: that we’ve properly identified a set of values that are to be evenly applied across all nations and across all peoples. This idea that we’re supposed to identify the parties that are “fighting for freedom” in the world and come to their aid is positively bizarre. Whose to say we’ve found the secret to liberty and prosperity, and that if only the rest of the world realized this they too would be great like us?

    We were very fortunate to have our revolution when we did and under circumstances that afforded victory. I do not argue that we should not encourage others to do the same in a spirit of friendship. I do, however, make a sharp distinction between diplomatic, charitable and intellectual encouragement, and violent intervention. We need to recognize that as the “superpower” (for now) our policies can have severe unintended consequences, most especially for the innocent and average Americans. This is how we’ve ended up paying for the defense of western Europe and stuck on the Korean peninsula for over half a century.

    I’m not sure what disturbs me more: that there is so much evil and injustice around the world as is described here, or that we’ve appointed ourselves as the righteous “exceptional” ones to make it all better. For every fascist, socialist, tyrannical regime we’ve set out to defeat, we’ve responded with our OWN forms of fascism, socialism and tyranny. At what point are we as monstrous as the monsters we’re trying to slay?

  • All of them I suppose, Art.

  • Anthony, do you have a particular set of historical incidents in mind, or do you not? Let’s hear to what you are objecting, and why you adjudge it a common enough pattern to be the subject of a non-specific critique.

  • Well, in all honesty your original response to my comment is a little confusing. I’m going to assume that your question is meant to imply that you cannot find a situation in which we have done what I described.

    To continue my “non-specific” critique, I would say that I draw a parallel between the behavior of an individual and that of a community/nation. It would be arrogant and immoral of me to place myself into your personal affairs and dictate by force to you how you should go about living your life. The same would apply to any instance where we’ve tried to dictate the foreign, domestic or economic policies of another nation.

    But, let me attempt to be more specific if only to illustrate the kinds of situations that cause me concern. Have we not essentially paid Pakistan to be our “friend” in order to look the other way while we drop bombs inside their territory? Did we not try numerous times to sculpt pre-war Iraqi policy by supporting harsh sanctions upon the people? Have we not deposed dictators, or duly-elected leaders of foreign nations in parts of Central Asia, Asia and Central/South America in order to ensure friendlier relationships tipped in our favor over what might be the will of the domestic population? Have we not in parts of the world replaced domestic defenses with our own forces, essentially making foreign nations protectorates of the United States? Have we not manipulated our currencies and encouraged the manipulation of foreign currencies in order to maintain the social and economic status quo, indirectly punishing savers, entrepreneurs, and responsible individuals the world over?

    All of these scenarios are massive moral hazards in my book, that are justified with the underlying “exceptionalism” that says: when you do bad, it’s bad. When we do bad, its necessary.

    Now, I do not express my dissent from the “exceptionalist” idea in order to cease criticism of foreign governments. Far from it. When we see evil in the world, we should be quick to point it out and do what is within sane and moral means to encourage change. But to say we are “exceptional” seems to say that we are beyond criticism, that we are “chosen” to right all wrongs, most especially by force, that we have an obligation to spread our conception of freedom to whomever regardless of whether or not they want to listen.

    I am fine with acknowledging that the founding values of the U.S. contain truths that the world can benefit from. There’s plenty at the top of page I agree with. However, I refuse to cloak it in this word “exceptional,” which strikes me as truly meant to deflect any criticism of our behavior.

    One last note: my statement tried to point out that America’s greatness is not found in her proclamation of greatness, which is how I interpret the exceptionalist idea. That does not mean I don’t believe she is great or that she could be great. Pep talk does not mean you’ve won the game, or that you deserve to win.

  • To continue my “non-specific” critique, I would say that I draw a parallel between the behavior of an individual and that of a community/nation.

    Rather poor idea to do this without due consideration of whether the analogy is apt. Police, agents of a collectivity, arrest people routinely. Try this yourself in New York and you might find yourself indicted for 2d degree Kidnapping.

    Have we not essentially paid Pakistan to be our “friend” in order to look the other way while we drop bombs inside their territory?

    We have dealings with the Pakistani government for reasons of state. Of what relevance is that to the following expressed sentiment: “America is not great because she has taken up the hobby of proclaiming how great she is to any nation that dare set out to live another way.”? However they dare to live or not, the enemy is taking refuge on their territory and making deals with communal groups on their territory. Our dealings with Pakistan do not incorporate coercion of Pakistan and reflect an alignment of interests between the American government and the Pakistani government. What’s your beef?

    Did we not try numerous times to sculpt pre-war Iraqi policy by supporting harsh sanctions upon the people?

    Any country that has some degree of international engagement attempts to ‘sculpt’ the policies of other governments in ways they see as beneficial. The only way to avoid this is to have no international engagement (call it the Burma solution), to be unable to exert any influence (call it the Iceland solution), or to not care if any of your oxen are gored (call that the California stoner solution).

    You had three choices with Iraq. Take the sanctions off, leave the sanctions on, or eject the government. If the Iraqi government wished to be left in peace it might just have conducted itself in a manner that did not invite the attention of the United States and every other government on its borders.

    Have we not deposed dictators, or duly-elected leaders of foreign nations in parts of Central Asia, Asia and Central/South America in order to ensure friendlier relationships tipped in our favor over what might be the will of the domestic population?

    To the best of my knowledge, the only constitutional head of government ejected from office by the United States government using either military force or clandestine services was Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, in 1954. There are a couple of other cases which might make it under the envelope, but I would give you an argument. There are all kinds of claims about the tentacles of the Central Intelligence Agency, but these should be taken with a grain of salt.

    As for autocrats ejected from office by the American military or by clandestine services, I think you would find two examples from 1916 (one in the Dominican Republic and one in Haiti), Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran (in 1953), a coalition government in Laos (1958), Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam (1963), the Coard-Austin claque in Grenada (1983), the Noriega syndicate in Panama (1989/90), Raoul Cedras & c in Haiti (1994), the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (2001), and the Baath regime in Iraq (2003).

    There you have eleven cases over the last century, with reasons of state the primary driver in all but two or three cases. Mohammed Mossadegh and Jacobo Arbenz did have a considerable and mobilized popular base. Not so the rest of them, as can be seen from the subsequent political evolution of the territories in question.

    Have we not in parts of the world replaced domestic defenses with our own forces, essentially making foreign nations protectorates of the United States?

    Cuba and Panama were, under treaty provisions, very like protectorate of the United States. The provisions in question were abrogated in 1935, so your complaint is not topical.

    I do not recall that the NATO Treaty was anything but consensual. If you recall, the French government withdrew from NATO’s unified military command in 1967 without incident. There were, again, reasons of state for the erection of the NATO, CENTO, and SEATO alliances. International politics and hostile foreign powers do not simply vanish because it pains Ron Paul to acknowledge them.

    American military forces abroad (Afganistan and Iraq aside) have been on a downward trajectory for about forty years now. There are now about 57,000 American troops in Germany and 35,000 in Japan. Since both countries have in excess of 250,000 men at arms, I do not think you can say we have assumed responsibility for their defense at this time. There is no other country in the world (bar Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait) which houses more than 10,000 American troops. There are about 2,000 in various loci in Latin America and the Caribbean, 5,000 in Tropical Africa, &c.

    Have we not manipulated our currencies and encouraged the manipulation of foreign currencies in order to maintain the social and economic status quo, indirectly punishing savers, entrepreneurs, and responsible individuals the world over?

    We had a system of fixed exchange rates up to 1973 and then allowed an unmanipulated floating currency since that time. You might be able to find an example of the U.S. government engaging in forex trading to punish some foreign government. Then again, you might not. Unexpected inflation harms savers and bad tax policy does so, but the former cannot be effected in any foreign country that does not use the U.S. dollar as legal tender and the latter is limited to our shores. So, no.

    But to say we are “exceptional” seems to say that we are beyond criticism,

    Ummm, to whom?

  • “Ummm, to whom?”

    You tell me. Please define for me what “exceptionalism” and an “exceptionalist” is? Is it a patriot? Is it a person who “believes” in liberty? Or just American liberty? Is it a person who believes the “American experiment” is one gifted to the American people from God? Or, what?

    I’d like to know what it is and why I should get the vapors over such an idea.
    Thats sort of the entire reason I’ve been posting my criticisms and concerns.

    Its Saturday and I don’t have the energy to respond to the rest of your post, which was really why I kept it broad.

    I will respond, however, to your comments on money: its rather naive in my view, to think that our currency is unmanipulated. Well, perhaps you’re right, because it always seems to be manipulated in a downward trajectory! It’s money created out of thin air. It’s inflation. Inflation being defined as the printing or expansion of the money supply, not the rising of prices, which is the effect of inflation. So, I would also disagree with your portrayal of the instances of inflation as being “unexpected.” No, its not unexpected. Its the inevitable result of new money spreading throughout the economy in the months and years after its creation. Or, when dollars return to American shores from foreign holders.

  • I sympathize with lots of people… but why does “lifting a finger” always really mean dropping a bomb?

    Because you can’t push back an invading army with Spam.

    WWI and the Korean War are two conflicts that immediately spring to mind in which U.S. intervention simply kicked the can down the road, rather than forcing the peoples involved to find a resolution.

    They weren’t ideal resolutions but they weren’t useless resolutions either. US intervention in Korea prevented a unified Korea under communist rule. You think that would’ve been better?

    Another assumption: that we’ve properly identified a set of values that are to be evenly applied across all nations and across all peoples. This idea that we’re supposed to identify the parties that are “fighting for freedom” in the world and come to their aid is positively bizarre. Whose to say we’ve found the secret to liberty and prosperity, and that if only the rest of the world realized this they too would be great like us?

    They don’t have to be “great,” just not engage in genocide. Is that really up for debate?

    No doubt war and its unintended consequences suck. And I share most of your laundry list of concerns. But sometimes the alternative is worse still. Pacifism is a respectable position but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that intervention never improves conditions.

  • “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

  • Very good article.
    What makes us exceptional, unique and unlike the other nations of the world, both past and present, is an idea. An idea of liberty that binds us together as Americans. The further we move away from this idea, the further away we move from what it means to be American. The Founders bequeathed to us and made us stewards of a simple and elegant formula. A way for a self-governing and self-reliant people to pursue happiness on earth. For the Founders, it was their vision, their dream. And to be American today is to have the great privilege to actually live this beautiful dream as a reality. Now, why on earth would we ever want to change that?

    To read more, click here:

    http://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/to-be-american/