Why American Exceptionalism is Different from Other Countries Nationalisms
American Exceptionalism – Crowds are tearing down statues of American heroes. America and America’s past are under examination. People are protesting and rioting against the very idea of what America stands for.
The future of the country depends on what the Americans do next.
It depends on how the Americans answer some straightforward but not so simple questions: Who are we Americans? What does it mean to be American?
Meaning of American Founder
To answer all these questions, we have to start with the American founding. It gave America its ethos, its distinctive spirit, and culture.
The American ethos has a firm philosophical underpinning. It includes a set of philosophical ideas that American founders relied on to create the system of government we enjoy today.
The founders had a very different ideas of the moral order. He believed morality and government should be governed by the “law of nature and the Lord of nature.” Natural law is universal & thus morally binding on all humanity.
Since natural law was universal, going against it was against human nature. Nature’s purpose or “end state” was what the founders widely understood as happiness; to be truly happy, one must be good. Happiness was understood as living the virtuous life.
Washington, Adams & other founders repeatedly stated that freedom could not be enjoyed without virtue.
Without it, nothing will be gained except tyranny based on power and selfishness. Governments should be established to protect their people’s natural rights and freedoms.
This is where the idea of the limited government comes from. The Governments should be limited, and their powers should be constitutionally listed, as they are in the Constitution, to protect liberties and rights.
So the founders used checks and balances in government – to prevent tyranny.
The American idea of the equality before the law is also essential. They did not think of social equality as we often do today, where everyone is considered equal in income and social status.
The founders recognized that individuals had different talents and opportunities and wanted to ensure that, as far as possible, the law treated everyone equally. (American Exceptionalism)
What, then, is American exceptionalism?
This brings me to the idea of American exceptionalism, which, I believe, answers the question of what America’s national identity is and should remain.
It is based on America’s founding principles: natural law, liberty, limited government, individual rights, checks and balances of government, popular sovereignty, the civilized role of religion in society, and the vital role of civil society and civil institutions in grounding and mediating our Democracy and our freedom.
Americans believe these principles are faithful and valid for everyone, not just us.
But if the principles are universal, than how are Americans different? How are we extraordinary?
We believe that Americans are different because of our creed is both universal and extraordinary at the same time. We are the exceptional in the unique way we apply these universal principles.
No other country in the world has embodied the blend of classical philosophy, Christianity, and even Enlightenment ideas in as unique a way as America did in the founding of the Republic from 1776 to 1789.
It was an extraordinary (meaning unusual) mix of freedom, limited government, natural rights, and religious freedom that made the American establishment unique.
The US is the only country globally that derives its legitimacy from natural rights and natural law.
I don’t mean “extraordinary” in a traditional sense, but in a descriptive sense, that was different and unique. (American Exceptionalism)
Some doubt the importance of the American creed in defining America. To fit America into the larger narrative of nationalism, the celebration of the nation and nation-state as a general case, they reduce the creed to mere words, supposedly reflecting the patriotic history of the American government. Not strong enough to carry.
If the creed doesn’t matter to Americans, what is unique about America?
Is this our caste? Well, it doesn’t work because there is no such thing as a typical American ethnicity.
Even in the beginning, Americans were the mixture of English, Scots-Irish, Highland Scots, German, African, Native American, French, Dutch, and other ethnicities.
Is this a specific religion? We are a religious country, but we have freedom of religion, not an official religion. (American Exceptionalism)
Is this our culture? But how does one understand that American culture without the American creed and founding principles?
To understand what makes America unique, look at the immigrant experience. People from all over the world come to America and become Americans by learning English, buying land, and living the American cult and the American dream. By following our history.
Another benefit of the American exceptionalism is that it is self-healing. When we fail to live upto our ideals, as we did with slavery before the Civil War & during the Jim Crow era, Lincoln did his best to correct our flaws, nature”.
There is no American identity without an American creed. But the cult is more than a set of abstract ideas.
It is a shared cultural experience based on living outside the cult in space and historical time, in a specific place called America. (American Exceptionalism)
Is American Exceptionalism a Form of Nationalism?
The concept of “nationalism” emphasizes grounding American conservatism—with a capital N.
This implies that as a “nation,” America is like any other nation. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about America because, in this way of thinking, America derives its legitimacy not from the people or its form of government but from the fact that it is a mere nation like any other.
The whole point of the American exceptionalism is to give moral and political legitimacy to the idea of ”America First”—without all the gruesome historical baggage of the concept while maintaining the moral legitimacy of the uniqueness that nationalists hope to claim.
The problem is that adopting the mantra of nationalism will undermine America’s claim to be a great nation. This will make us a country like no other.
But more importantly, it will undermine our claim to belong to a nation based on universal principles—one true not only of Americans but of all of human beings.
American exceptionalism is built on our founding principles, not on cultural & ethnic differences. Americans recognize their diverse ethnic and cultural origins but come together as Americans.
Nationalism is often defined by a single cultural or ethnic context, regardless of the form of government. On the other hand, the democratic nation-state bases its legitimacy and sovereignty on democratic governance, and in the American experience, on a government that reflects the principles of natural law.
The American establishment was based on natural law, not the idea of a nation-state.
It is not even language, ethnicity, or ideology that makes us great and good. This is our creed and how we have woven it into our culture, lifestyle, and form of government. (American Exceptionalism)
Two-front war on America
As powerful as this idea of the America is, it is under threat from two different directions—the Progressive Left and some circles of the New Right.
The Left has been waging war against America for decades. It is a well-known allegation that America is deeply tainted by racism & that our founding fathers were slave-owning hypocrites.
Our written Constitution is outdated & needs to be “alive,” meaning its text and original intent can be ignored and deliberately overthrown.
Natural rights have been replaced by group rights of gender and other identity groups. Leftists are culturally Marxist and socialist in their economics. (American Exceptionalism)
Here are the philosophical thoughts behind this war on America
(1) Natural law is a myth – there are no definite truths (relativism);
(2) Rights are not dictated by natural law but are invented and changed over time, defined as the search for new forms of personal expression based on appetites, desires, and preferences;
(3) History is progressive, always moving towards some undefined goal of ever greater personal emancipation (historicism); And finally,
(4) Personal liberty is a revolutionary undertaking, utterly devoid of personal responsibility and the foundation of virtue, and always focused on individual pleasures, needs, desires, and experiences.
Meanwhile, on the right, there is a movement questioning and even rejecting the notion of the American establishment. (American Exceptionalism)
And some of its ideas—notably the outright rejection of freedom and the doctrine of independence—are finding their way into the “new nationalism” of conservatism.
Robert Reilly has referred to this as the “poison pill” thesis of the American founder. The American establishment was doomed from the start as the founders imported the poison pill of liberalism (freedom) into our founding documents and our mindset under the nefarious influence of John Locke.
Over time, this core idea of liberty morphed into the progressive liberalism it is today. The evil philosophers Locke and his ilk are from the Enlightenment.
But history is all wrong. The founders borrowed from the Locke’s ideas of rights. They had the little or no interest in the doctrines of his Enlightenment that haunt some conservatives today.
The New Right is reading to its particular interpretation of the Locke back in history and mistakenly applying it to founders like Madison and Jefferson.
It’s worse than just horrible history – creating something that didn’t happen.
This is a mistake made by all historical revisionists. Reading the current ideology back into history & pretending true meaning is only what we think it is now. (American Exceptionalism)
Atheistic philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse were widely influential in the American Academy for the past 60 years – far more so than Locke – and it is from their influence that we can see the Left’s strange pursuit of individual emancipation as an I can see social group goal.
All the bad ideas of the modern era are in play here—relativism, historicism, and bad faith.
I can’t imagine a conservative American cause without a patriotic cause for independence. This would be the dismissal of one of the central ideas of the American Revolution.
Without independence, the country would lose its foundation and eventually drift into authoritarianism. (American Exceptionalism)
Today’s radical individualism and libertarianism derive not from its inception but the extreme essence of cultural Marxism and identity politics.
If we turn to our foundations, we will lose the principles and beliefs needed to defeat radical progressivism.
That’s why these debates matter. They are about American identity. They are about American independence. They are at the every heart of what it means to be an American.
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