Posts Tagged ‘American exceptionalism’

I considered holding off posting this until September 11th but decided that it was equally apropos for July 4th. It may be a bit idealistic, but I hope you will find it as affirming and inspiring as I do.

If the immediate horror of 9/11 has dissipated, the attack nevertheless served as a profound reminder that buildings, however symbolic they might be, are nothing more than concrete and steel. The precious human lives they contained testified, by their loss, that what remains are ideas. Intending to shatter the ‘materialism’ of the United States, Osama bin Laden’s terrorists merely reminded the world of the supremacy of the intangible over the physical, of the spiritual over the temporal. Focusing Americans’ thoughts once again on freedom — and its enemies — terrorists united a nation seriously divided by an election and elevated a president under fire to a position of historical greatness.

Scene from Sept. 11, 2001

Scene from Sept. 11, 2001

The fatal flaw of bin Laden — like Hitler, Stalin, and even the nearsighted Spaniards of five hundred years ago — was that they fixed their gaze on the physical manifestations of the wealth of the West, failing to understand that wealth is a mere by-product of other, more important qualities: initiative, inventiveness, hope, optimism, and above all, faith. The people who had set foot in Virginia and Massachusetts almost three centuries ago often arrived poor, usually alone, and certainly without lofty titles or royal honors. After they plowed the fields and founded their enterprises, it was not the farms alone that made Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia flourish, nor trade alone that breathed life into the Boston of John Adams. Mere plantations did not produce George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, nor did a legal system spawn Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. American determination and drive, vision and commitment came not from acquisition of material things — though the freedom to acquire things was a prerequisite. Rather, greatness came from an all-consuming sense that this was, after all, the ‘city on a hill,’ the ‘last, best hope for mankind.’ The United States was, and is, a fountain of hope, and a beacon of liberty.

American democracy flowed from the pursuit of opportunity, governed by respect for the law. American industry burst forth from the brains of Carnegie and Weyerhaeuser, Vanderbilt and Gates, most often coming from those owning the least in material goods. And American strength came from the self-assurance — lacking in every other nation in the world by the twenty-first century (or what Bush called liberty’s century) — that this nation uniquely had a charge to keep, a standard to uphold, and a mission to fulfill. In the end, the rest of the world will probably both grimly acknowledge and grudgingly admit that, to paraphrase the song, God has ‘shed His grace on thee.’ Knowing perfection is unattainable, Americans have not ceased in its pursuit. Realizing that war is unavoidable, Americans have never relented in their quest for peace and justice. But understanding that faith was indispensable, Americans have, more than any other place on earth, placed it at the center of the Republic. The American character, and the American dream, could never be disentangled, and ultimately the latter would go only as far as the former would take it.

—  Conclusion to A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004), by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen

Statue of Liberty with fireworks

Statue of Liberty with fireworks

To my fellow Americans, Have a Safe and Blessed Independence Day Weekend!!

“[D]reams of perfecting human society always runs smack into human nature.”

— Thomas Lifson, editor and publisher at American Thinker

When I hear people from other countries bad-mouthing the U.S., it bugs me. Don’t they see that we’re the good guys? Can’t they see what a great society we have here? But, what really bothers me is when Americans bad-mouth America. These people actually live here, yet, to hear some of them talk, you’d think we were the equivalent of Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Why is that? Why do these people only see evil and corruption and all the imperfections?

In a debate with Gore Vidal and Richard Higgs about why America is hated, Hoover Institution scholar and author Dinesh D’Souza was asked by the moderator why he thought that very bright, literate, and well-spoken people such as Vidal and Higgs could feel so profoundly “alienated” from the United States as it exists now.

Dinesh D'Souza

A very youthful-looking Dinesh D'Souza

D’Souza’s response:

One reason they are alienated is that they are Americans. And, by this I mean it is a peculiarity of America to generate within the country a kind of anti-Americanism that I don’t see other countries generating. And I’ve asked myself why that is. I think one reason is that I’m comparing America to other countries. I’m using an historical or comparative standard. Americans tend to use a Utopian standard. They tend to judge America by a standard that no other country could survive, and therefore they smearingly say, ‘Well, Americans are only pursuing their self-interests. They’re only after oil. They’re only after resources.’ But we expect everybody else to pursue their self-interests. So, the very fact… I mean, if the Chinese or the Arabs killed 10,000 of their own people, what is the world reaction? Most people sigh and then they go back to eating their breakfast. And why? Because people kind of expect the Chinese and the Arabs to do that. But, if America in the middle of a war accidentally kills 200 people — bombs a school or hospital — it’s a worldwide outrage, there are protests, there’s an investigation, people are halled before the Hill.

What does this mean? This, to me, testifies to the moral superiority of America, because it is judged by its own residents (and by others) by a standard that no other country could meet.”

I think D’Souza is definitely onto something here. (Although, I might have qualified that it is more often those Americans on the political “center-Left” who tend to use a Utopian standard. The farther Left, the more irrational the expectations. But, I digress….) Despite all the good the U.S. has done and continues to do — e.g., provide its citizens unmatched freedoms and opportunities; fight fascism and remove brutal dictators; donate billions of dollars’ worth of food, medicine, construction materials & labor, and other aid (from both the government and private citizens & organizations); forgive debts of poor nations; etc. –, it is never sufficient for those looking for perfection and constantly suspicious of our nobler motives.

Of course (and D’Souza has said as much elsewhere), this is not to say we should ignore the shortcomings of the U.S., both present and historical. President Obama certainly likes to apologize to the world for America whenever he travels, just as he continuously pointed out America’s shameful imperfections — or, at least, what he perceives them to be — while on the campaign trail. (Which he still seems to be on, come to think of it.) But, whereas the Left tend to harp on the negative and accuse and self-flagellate and dwell in the past, the Right tend to acknowledge — that is, when it can be agreed that injustice has been done — and press forward, striving to do better. (Ironic that the Left likes to be called “Progressive”, huh? Who are they trying to convince?)

Alright, I’ll stop before I get off on a tangent. (F.y.i., I am planning a multi-parter on American exceptionalism in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that….)

Now, maybe my “right-wing bias” is showing, and I am generalizing, but that’s how I see it. Anyone agree? Disagree? Half ‘n half? Is D’Souza off his rocker? Am I? (No comments from my relatives, thank you very much.)