A Brief Note on American Exceptionalism

Many of you will recall from the general election a backwater blog by the name of “TexasDarlin,” a wretched hive of PUMAs and birthers. Thankfully, TexasDarlin herself has gone into semi-retirement, but don’t get excited yet: a crack team of Human Events rejects still manages to breathe the spark of life back into the old husk every other day or so. Late last month we were treated to a screed beginning with the following line, one that merits response:

One of the central tenets of the far-Left is a rejection of American exceptionalism.

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States, blessed by gifted founders who formulated a revolutionary system of government, enshrined in documents to which our leaders swear to defend, is the greatest force for good in the world. It’s the story we tell ourselves as a people, and there’s a lot of truth to it.

No, and no. American exceptionalism is the idea that the American people, and the American polity, are unique – in short, that they are “exceptional” – and that this uniqueness requires America to be a moral leader for democracy, and indeed humanity. It is as much the idea that American ought to be superior, as it is the idea that America is superior. The concepts are not severable: one cannot be understood without the other. For example, America’s uniqueness is not a justification for poor policy. When America fails to lead well, that we are “exceptional” is no answer, and no justification for that failure. Our unique place in the world charges us with the duty and the burden to lead well, and magnifies rather than acquits our failures. Unflinching support for our government, and the ignorance it engenders (“America: love it or leave it!”), is the antithesis of this duty.

Properly understood, then, by questioning our government and our actions in the world at large, the left does not reject as much as enforce America’s exceptionalism and its related commitment to be a “city on a hill,” an example for the world to follow. Don’t ever mistake vigilant stewardship for a dearth of patriotism. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite.

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4 comments

  1. Good point, and I have tried to state this to other people but never as well as you do.

  2. I haven’t said this in quite some time but damn good post Ames. Let’s see more of this kind of stuff.

  3. […] covered this before. Kristol’s conception of American exceptionalism — the notion, shared by many of […]

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