The Vanity of American Exceptionalism

Charles Murray's latest book mixes American history with American flattery.


American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History, by Charles Murray, AEI Press, 59 pages, $3.95.

Is the United States unlike any other nation in history? This may seem to be a simple question open to a straightforward answer reached with the help of comparative history, political theory, economics, and sociology. But American exceptionalism is rarely the stuff of dispassionate academic discourse. It has become wedded to modern nationalism. Politicians and journalists, Republicans and Democrats alike, invoke it as a creedal affirmation endorsing a range of American domestic and foreign policy agendas.

Charles Murray, author most recently of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, enters the debate with American Exceptionalism, a modest booklet published by the American Enterprise Institute. The idea of exceptionalism, Murray argues, once enjoyed a broad consensus and helped unite Americans around what Lincoln called their "political religion." Astute European visitors, such as the celebrated Alexis de Tocqueville and the lesser-known Francis Grund, witnessed America's unprecedented achievements and through their books reinforced the young nation's powerful self-conception. But recently that faith in "exceptionalism has eroded," and Murray calls on its champions to defend it from its critics at home and abroad. A creed that was once nearly universally embraced has become a minority affirmation. Murray ends by asking his readers to decide if they are happy with what has happened to exceptionalism and to reflect seriously on their duty to America and their vision for the nation's future. His hope seems to be that a reclaimed exceptionalism is critical to national self-knowledge and right conduct.

Murray's version of exceptionalism is fairly simple. Seizing their moment and opportunity, he writes, the Founders laid out a blueprint for the American experiment, including republicanism, a chief executive elected for a limited term, a written constitution, and the transformation of "an ideology of individual liberty into a governing creed." The nation launched in 1789 flourished in the century ahead sustained by a number of blessings: America's geographic remoteness from Europe's turmoil; her abundance of land; her commitment to natural rights and individualism; her citizens' "industriousness, egalitarianism, [and] religiosity, and an amalgam of philanthropy and volunteerism" in their communities; and the nineteenth century's doctrines of economic and political liberalism, which Murray identifies as his own tradition and as "the founding ideology of the nation."

Murray leaves no doubt how radically new the novus ordo seclorum was in his judgment. He emphasizes the republic's break with the past, its "unprecedented" and "unparalleled" achievement. America in 1789 was "an experiment in governance unlike any in the history of the world," he writes, and the Founders "invented a new nation from scratch."

While there were no doubt features of America that managed this escape from history in ways Americans recognized, boasted about, and wished to preserve, Murray's preoccupation with innovation ignores more than a century of colonial America's prior experience in self-government and constitutionalism and its acknowledged debt to ancient, European, and most of all English political theory and practice. It is hard to recognize historical reality in Murray's depiction of America's past. America was not sui generis; it was a variation on themes reaching back thousands of years. The republic did not emerge de novo in the New World; it altered—to use the word the Declaration of Independence chose—an existing form of government while announcing the more general right of a people to abolish their government.

Murray complains at one point about "both liberals and conservatives quoting snippets of [the Founders'] writings" to endorse their own views. But Murray's own snippets are vulnerable to the same charge. He uses an 1825 letter from Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, for instance, to show that after 50 years of reflection Jefferson called the rights language of the Declaration "an expression of the American mind." If this is true, it comports nicely with Murray's claim that America transformed an ideology of natural rights into an enduring political creed. But Jefferson's letter never makes this connection. In fact, the full text of Jefferson's letter makes a hash out of Murray's insistence on an America made "from scratch." The "object of the Declaration of Independence," Jefferson told Lee, was "not to find new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject." He continued: "Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind." And he then cited "Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c." This letter may not prove a counter-argument against Murray's claims, but it certainly doesn't support them. Jefferson did mention "our rights," but the letter can hardly be appropriated for the idea of an America without precedent.

Reflecting on his visit to the Untied States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of his repeated encounters with Americans' fussy "national pride." "In their relations with foreigners," he sighed, "Americans seem irritated by the slightest criticism and appear greedy for praise. The flimsiest compliment pleases them and the most fulsome rarely manages to satisfy them; they plague you constantly to make you praise them and, if you show yourself reluctant, they praise themselves. Doubting their own worth, they could be said to need a constant illustration of it before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy, it is also restless and jealous."

On a return visit, Tocqueville would find 21st century Americans still seeking flattery from others and flattering themselves. This appetite for praise was not a credit to the American character in the 1830s. Nor is it now. Our preoccupation with being exceptional, with figuring out just how exceptional we are, and then constantly reminding ourselves and insisting to the world on the indubitable truth of that exceptionalism is not attractive. Like all vanity, it impedes self-knowledge. And it forgets its indebtedness to the past.

Charles Murray's version of American exceptionalism is more cautious than most and his claims fairly circumspect compared to others. But they are still part of an odd national pastime, one we might have expected Americans to have outgrown by now, much as adults learn somewhere along the way not to talk about themselves and their achievements. A modest America would work hard to protect and perpetuate its achievements, but it would talk about something else.

NEXT: Come See Matt Welch Debate Donald Devine About Libertarian-Conservative Fusionism Tomorrow Today at Cato!

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  1. Richard, you’re a great American! Thanks for reviewing this book by the Also Great American, Arthur Murray! Wait, no – Bill Murray!
    I mean Charles Murray! Whatever! They’re alllll Great Americans!

    As are you!

    Exceptionally yours, etc. etc. etc.

    Sean Hannity

  2. Patriotism is good; nationalism, not so much. Loyalty to the best interests of one’s own country is healthy, but nationalistic thinking too often strays close to supremacy and invites conflict. This conceptual misunderstanding of what really makes America historically “exceptional,” and its consequential misuse by people of influence who should know better, is what most often influences foreign perception of what the idea is supposed to mean.

    1. “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” – Mark Twain

      1. “In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.”
        Mark Twain

        A patriot is someone that will hang when caught,not some title bestowed on one that agrees with Hannity or O’Reilly.


          /Hannity, Sullivan

          1. WAR ON CHRISTMAS!!!

  3. That sounds nice and all. The problem is that we have a hundred years of Progressivism doing everything it can to tear down the American myth. That wouldn’t matter except that Progs have manage to link the US to freedom and capitalism. So they are tearing down the American myth as a way to tear down the freedom and capitalism. The American myth is important because it said that people who earn an honest living and who work hard and raise themselves from nothing are to be lauded. The progs hate that idea. They have done everything they can to destroy the idea that making money is a noble endeavor and replaced it with the horrible idea that government and or “public service” is the only thing noble in society.

    Libertarians may not like the idea of the US being exceptional. But it is a fight Progs have dragged them into. The fight over American exceptionalism is really the fight over capitalism and the private sector versus the government done by proxies.

    1. the progs seem to take it personally whenever a person is having fun, seems happy with life, is relatively successful economically, likes their job and even (gasp) their boss, and is, on the whole, satisfied with life. And they are more than willing to use govt to force their unhappiness on everyone else.

      Libertarians have learned the distinction between believing something and expecting their belief system to be codified. Proggies don’t; their DNA won’t allow it.

      1. If Libertarians want to get anywhere, they have got to win the culture war about work. Work and being productive and supporting yourself and providing a good or service that people want has to return to being the ideal way of living. Progs’ lives are totally defined by and revolve around politics. So for them, anything that is not political is to be denigrated to a status beneath politics. They have managed to make the community organizing, public service work into the ideal profession and private sector work into something to be treated with contempt.

        1. Serving the public is more noble than serving a CEO, but do you really think the truly distorted, exaggerated contempt is coming from liberals with respect to the private sector and not libertarians with respect to the public sector? Hating government is the entire point of being a libertarian. Liberals have no similar delusions or desires about squeezing out the private sector, are just interested in making sure capitalism is functioning in a way that is good for people. Otherwise, why is it good?

          1. Serving the public is more noble than serving a CEO

            derp – way to beg the question. Gonna have to red flag that one, Choney.

          2. Thank you for providing a perfect example of what I am talking about Tony. You are a progressive. So you cannot comprehend that anything is more important than politics.

            I am not going to try to persuade you. You are too far gone to ever understand. But I will just say that the people who are providing the power to keep your house warm, the car you drive, the phone you use, the food you eat and all of the other goods and services you use are doing you and the world at large much more good by providing those things than any public servant ever will. And I say this as a public servant. My father, by helping keep the phone system in operation, did more good for the country than I will ever do as a government employee. But since you only see the world through politics, you will never understand that.

            1. You’re the only one talking about politics. You are obsessively political, John.

              You’re making my point as well. I am not the one claiming it’s either/or. Both the private and public sectors contribute to human well-being. Libertarians just want to pretend that all the necessary things government does, such as make a private sector possible in the first place, are free.

              1. Tony, you cannot conceive of how the private sector does anything without it doing so with the help of and at the behest of government. To us, government is a necessary evil. To you, government is all there is.

                1. It may seem that way since I’m constantly arguing with libertarians, whose only thought in life is that government is bad.

                  1. Government isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s useless. Sometimes, it’s useful, but replaceable.

                    Private sectors can and have existed in the absence of governments. I know it’s really tempting to think that, without government, we’d all be riding around on motor cycles with viking helmets, swinging maces at each other, screaming, while we fight over precious tanks of juice, incapable of any peaceful organization between people. This is not the case.

                    1. we’d all be riding around on motor cycles with viking helmets, swinging maces at each other, screaming, while we fight over precious tanks of juice,

                      As if this doesn’t happen anyway. People even watch it for entertainment (Jackass, anyone?).

                    2. There has never been a human society of any size anywhere in history that lacked a government of some form. Any society that even approached real anarchy has been a total bloody disaster.

                    3. here has never been a human society of any size anywhere in history that lacked a government of some form.

                      There’s never been a society without rain, either. That doesn’t mean that the government made it rain.

                    4. Seems kind of pointless to daydream about getting rid of rain.

                    5. Reading for comprehension fail.

                    6. Or, just to drive the point home:

                      There has never been a human society of any size anywhere in history that lacked a government religion of some form.

                      Therefore, societies require religion, and religions are good. Stable, peaceful, organized societies require religion.

                      And we have rain under governments, so government makes it rain.

                  2. How about we don’t just assume new govt policy is good and that just because you say your policy will be good for workers, that it actually will be and that there will be no side-effects. And then we look at the data later to see if it really did have a good effect.

                    And most of us here are not anarchists.

          3. No, douchenozzle, serving a POLITICIAN or the STATE is NOT more noble than earning your keep by honest trade. And the fact that you look at employment as servitude shows what a bootlicking turd you are.

          4. From the A.M. Links:

            mnarayan| 9.19.13 @ 9:00AM |#

            Friendly reminder: Today is the first Troll Free Spursday of the season, so please don’t feed the trolls.

            1. Why don’t you just speak English: “Don’t talk to anyone who disagrees with you today.”

              1. Sad troll gets a sad when you don’t respond.

          5. “Serving the public is more noble than serving a CEO”

            I don’t want to serve either. My life belongs to me. If I “serve” a CEO is because in return he will pay me a wage to support myself.

        2. Start simple. Teach children that they should do a task for themselves whenever possible. Some people immediately ask for help for even the simplest tasks. In the long run, this encourages dependency.

    2. “The American myth is important because it said that people who earn an honest living and who work hard and raise themselves from nothing are to be lauded.”

      It’s only a myth though. It’s not true. According to studies, the USA drags behind other advanced in social mobility. All other nations studied, except of course the UK, have greater social mobility than the US.

      That was quite a surprise to me. Another surprise is that those decrying this situation seem to be entirely from the progressive camp. Check out the sources here if you care to check:

      I’d like to challenge you to find non-progressive academics, pundits etc who care enough about this discrepancy between myth and truth to write about it. Far from hating the idea of social mobility, the progressives, I think, are the only ones prepared to promote it.

      For the first Americans, making money was much much more than “a noble endeavour.” It was a sacred endeavour. Mustn’t forget that these characters were Calvinistic Puritans, and “public service” was indeed not their bag. They lived to service and glorify god.

      1. Lack of social mobility in the USA? My life has been nothing but social mobility.
        I’ve been flat broke several times. I’ve been homeless, and built a “cave” in the ground in the woods off a golf course and lived in it for 7 rather cold months. I’ve been a millionaire twice. I’ve been an employer, an employee, unemployed, and a middle-aged man doing what should be a teenager’s first job. I’ve shook hands and had conversations and made deals with a star actor and three Apollo astronauts. I’ve also shared my only food (a pack of hot dogs and a can of pork and beans) with a vagrant wino who could barely manage to beg for money on a median strip. He showed me how to heat it up with a stove made from a coffee can and a church key.

        1. “My life has been nothing but social mobility.”

          You sound more like a German or a Dane.

        2. The study is about something they call “intergenerational mobility.” Your personal experience over a life time are not the focus of the study. Rather it would be whether your children live significantly different lives than yourself. Granted, your case is a tricky one, and may not reflect the statistical profiles worked up by those responsible for the study.

      2. But of course it’s easier to move between income tiers when they’re all clustered together. It might even make it appear to be progress. On the other hand, for all of the whining about inequality the middle class has actually done OK in the US:


        And “progressives” don’t want social mobility. They want the government to give everyone they like a do-over. Wait, they don’t even really want that. They want the government to redistribute wealth to the good(tm) people from the bad(tm) people to make everything “fair.”

        1. Don’t you find these results paradoxical? Societies with greater equality also have greater social mobility. I really wouldn’t have expected that.

          Let’s not bother discussing your views of what progressives want. Don’t want to sound dismissive, but I really don’t find it interesting or enlightening.

          As for the middle class, I don’t see how they have much to boast about. While I was a lad, my father put in a 40 hour week and was able to raise a family. That was perfectly normal. These days that is exceptional. Typically mothers work at least one job and all workers are more likely to work more than 40 hours. My father didn’t have the option of buying a smart phone, or 100 channel 24 hour cable, so yes he was impoverished compared to the dads of today. But I think your time is the most valuable asset, and the more time spent in the work place selling your labour to others, the less better off you are.

      3. I suspect that social mobility in the US has gone down as the percent of government spending has gone up. If you are not connected, you have fewer opportunities to rise. And the myriad small fees and forms that small businesses have to deal with ensure that fewer will make it big. But the big corporations are better able to cope and many of them get in bed with the various levels of govt. So increased govt. regulation, taxation, etc. increases the gap between rich and poor and decreases social mobility. As does welfare.

        And finally, the US used to be more exceptional, but many European countries have adopted our policies, rights, etc. over the last 200 years and we have been adopting theirs. So they have come up while we continue to sink.

        1. I think you are correct, broadly speaking. Do you think declining social mobility is a problem? I issued a challenge to cite any non progressive politician or pundit bemoaning the decline in social mobility. So far nobody has dared to take the bait.

  4. Meh. I kind of think both you and Murray are batting around the wrong distinction here. Yes, pretty much all the ideas of American self-government are borrowed from history or European political theory. But, I think there is a distinction that neither of you address. America built its national identity on those ideas. In that regard, I think it is unique. The English have their traditions, the French their language, the Italians their culture. But, I think it would be strange to talk of a political action or a political philosophy as being un-English or un-French or un-Italian in the same way it would be natural to talk about certain political behaviors or ideologies as un-American.

    1. The Un-American Actiities Commission will look into this and render an opinion.

      Thank you for your valuable input, Citizen.

      1. Heh. I knew someone would bring that up. But, look at modern views of the HUAC. Largely, they are seen today as downright un-American. Libertarians are among the more active in the phenomenon I’m talking about. More than either team, libertarians go to lengths to connect their philosophy with the founding fathers.

        1. I dunno about “teams”, Kemosabe, nor to what “they” connect “their” philosophy. Not on any of them, myself.

          I’m a free agent, and CAN be bought, however, in case anyone’s looking to pick up a slightly used outside linebacker.

          1. I can pretty well guarantee that you’ll only find passing reference to the Founders when you start listening to Team Red or Team Blue (okay on their side, you’ll hear a lot about how they were a bunch of slave-owning rich guys).

            And no, the Teams wouldn’t really be all that interested in you. As a former libertarian, you might be too inclined to spout out the truth.

            1. I did not realize I was a former libertarian. I will ponder how to incorporate this information into my view of myself.

              But I keeeed! All hard-time-giving aside, I understand what you’re saying. Fuck especially TEAM RED/BLUE – self-identified libertarians (excepting Maher, Beck et al) I have a little more time for. Me – I don’t self identify – too limiting!

              1. “I did not realize I was a former libertarian.”

                Well, if you sold out to one of the teams you would be.

              2. Oh, and you may not self-identify as a libertarian. But, they know your type.

    2. That is a good point. The idea that America is different and that our tradition of freedom, individualism and small government, as opposed to any bond of blood or soil, is what makes us American is one of the best cultural weapons libertarians have. But it seems like Libertarians are so browbeat by liberals they refuse to embrace it.

      Yeah America is exceptional in that along with Canada and Australia, we have never had a dictator and always had a democratic government. That is a big deal.

      1. Agree that it’s a big deal as you note. Good point.

        1. PS – “…never had a dictatorship yet, although we’re working to get one just as soon as Our Betters can get it done.”

          1. Oh yes. The progs and the Beltway establishment of both parties are working hard to end that.

      2. Is there nothing that isn’t liberals’ fault?

        1. Yes Tony, progs hate the idea that America is exceptional becuase of its tradition of government. Progs and their liberal enablers are fascists. Of course they hate the American system. Where is the volk? Where is the blood? The soil? They are the retarded intellectual children of Marx and are thus crude materialists. So the idea of nonmaterial ideas bonding together a nation makes no sense to them.

          1. Well as the only actual liberal here at the moment, let me take this opportunity to say you’re full of shit. I don’t hate the American system, I’m just not so blindly nationalistic that I think it can’t be improved upon, and liberals are the only ones with coherent ideas about how to do that.

            You are seriously going the pound your chest about the great American spirit and then say the only great progress it needs to achieve is cutting government debt? Bleat away about who has the biggest boner over “nonmaterial ideas,” at least I’m not advocating ruining whatever’s left of America’s positive heritage so a few billionaires can get another tax cut.

            1. yeah Tony, I think not going bankrupt is a good start towards renewing America.

              And again, think about what you just said. You never mentioned a single thing about America. Everything you said related to the government. This is what I am talking about. When I say America I mean the country and the people in it and all of the interesting and wonderful things they do. When you say America, you mean the government. You can’t conceive of the idea that any problem could ever be solved without the government solving it or the country could ever get better without the government decreeing that it be so.

              This is what I am talking about when I call you a totalitarian. It is not that you desire to create some Orwellian state. It is that you have no concept of the nation outside of government.

              1. If the country can get better without public policy changes, then what is it waiting for?

                I only defend the role of government so much because I’m debating people whose sole philosophical concern is how government is evil. You want to talk about anthropology instead? Fine with me.

                It remains the case that you want to do exactly nothing to maintain or promote the well-being, let alone any exceptionalism, of the American people. You just want to talk about it.

                1. If the country can get better without public policy changes, then what is it waiting for?

                  It isn’t. It gets better all of the time. And thanks again for confirming what I am talking about. I am not saying you should change your views Tony. But you should be more honest with yourself about what those views are. You are a totalitarians Tony.

                  1. I assure you that unlike libertarians, I am not in favor of totalitarianism; I am pretty open about my support for democracy, which libertarians hold in contempt, mostly because it doesn’t give them their way on everything.

                2. “If the country can get better without public policy changes, then what is it waiting for?”

                  It does. All the time, you witless bootlicker. It’s just a matter that you fail to note anything that doesn’t involve getting someone to stick a gun in someone’s face as a meaningful improvement.

                3. If the country can get better without public policy changes, then what is it waiting for?

                  I don’t want to get into a protracted debate here, but the country has been getting better without, and at times in spite of, public policy changes. Just look at the way that technology has improved people’s lives in the last decade alone.

                  Also, a lot of the problems that need solving are the result of bad public policy and can’t be fixed until those policies change.

                  I personally think that government can and does do useful and necessary things, but the biggest source of progress in the last few centuries has been private enterprise.

                  1. It isn’t. It gets better all of the time.

                    It does. All the time, you witless bootlicker.

                    the country has been getting better without, and at times in spite of, public policy changes.

                    Ah, synchronicity. Lovely.

                4. If the country can get better without public policy changes, then what is it waiting for?

                  You are too impatient, which leads to bad decisions that are difficult to undo if they don’t pan out.

            2. I don’t think you are much of a liberal except in a few policy areas. In many ways you are a conservative. There are millions of govt. policies that you want to keep because we have had them for 2 years or 70 years. That’s the definition of a conservative.

        2. I blame Bush, if that helps.

        3. Tony:
          Is there nothing that isn’t liberals’ fault?

          Libertarians just want to pretend that all the necessary things government does, such as make a private sector possible in the first place, are free.

          You can’t have it both ways, Tony. If your government is responsible for everything that we need in order to have a private sector (i.e., safety, security, stability, whatever), and, thus, directly or indirectly takes credit for everything good and wonderful in the world, then, haven’t you set it up to be responsible for every failure?

          If I owe it to the government that I am safe, then, when someone is murdered, is it not the government’s fault that they failed that person? How can a murder be responsible if someone is murdered, but the government is responsible if someone is safe and secure?

          If you want to give the government credit for everything wonderful, then you should give it responsibility for every failure. Otherwise, you’re being inconsistent.

          1. I’m not giving it credit for everything wonderful. I’m giving it its due credit, in contrast to all of you who think it’s only responsible for bad things, except when you need it.

            1. I’m giving it its due credit, in contrast to all of you who think it’s only responsible for bad things, except when you need it.

              Like, the roadz.

        4. Stop using the noble term “liberal” in an incorrect fashion. The correct term is progressive or statist.

      3. What about United Kingdom since Cromwell (before the birth of the US) and Switzerland… ?

      4. Once the executive has authority to prosecute war (Libya), borrow and spend money, unilaterally determine whether legislation is constitutional (DADT), imprison or murder opponents without trial (drone murders and Guantanamo), spy on the activities of all without warrant (NSA), unilaterally usurp contracts (GM/Chrysler) and grant waivers to favored parties (ObamaCare) at will and without reference to legislative or judicial authorities, the US has a dictator.

        He may be elected, but he’s still a dictator.

    3. Ideology per se is pretty much unAmerican.

  5. American exceptionalism is rooted in individualism. And that is what we are losing.

    1. Excellent point. I think there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, but it’s something we have to live up to, not a state of our inherent nature.

      1. Also, it should be left to others to comment on whether America is exceptional.

        Personally, I think when Americans yap about American Exceptionalism it sounds kind of like this guy:

        Stuart Smalley

        1. American exceptionalism is, even more fundamentally than individualism, rooted in the concept of SELF-ESTEEM.

          But if you have no self-esteem, and believe that those who do are fools, then you will cook up snarky rationalizations to help you avoid that unpleasant truth.

  6. America is pretty exceptional in our contempt for the metric system.

    1. +1 foot!

    2. Well, the metric system IS bullshit. The only reason it’s more “rational” is that we use a base ten counting system and the only reason we happen to have ten fingers. The more logical choice for a counting system would almost certainly be base twelve, as three is a very commonly recurring number in reality (much more so than five). Oddly, the English system tends toward twelve much more often.

      1. Yeah no. We do use a base ten system for whatever reasons. And what makes the metric system vastly superior to the English measurements is, metric:English::decimals:Roman numerals.

      2. It would be one thing if the English system actually used base 12, but it doesn’t. Just look at distance:

        1000mils to the inch
        12″ to the foot
        3 feet to the yard
        5280ft/1760yd to the mile.

        Now outside of work I still think in inches and feet and miles and pounds, but you have to admit that’s just fucked up.

        1. But, look at your references. With the exception of mils, we consistently get both threes and twos. The base twelve is to accommodate the preponderance of threes in nature.

          If you are going to upend society to implement a more “rational” measurement system, you’d be better off implementing a more “rational” counting system and working from there.

  7. Damned typing! “and the only reason we” should read “and the only reason for that is that we”

  8. America is exceptional.
    Lincoln modestly said it was the last, best hope of earth.
    Everybody knows it, so they better do what we say.
    And, if you don’t agree, then you’d better wise up. Else, in the timeless words of Toby Keith, we’ll put a boot in you ass, it’s the American way.

      1. That’s Obama’s updated version of the Toby Keith song.

  9. I’ve never seen before American exceptionalism as meaning only things particularly good about the country. Previously I’d seen it in the context of all differences with the rest of the world?good, bad, indifferent, arguable, interesting & uninteresting. Progressives in recent years flaunted American exceptionalism as a complaint when the rest of the world was more to their liking; they did not deny American exceptionalism, and to a large degree they probably exaggerated it.

    There are ways every country is an outlier. Whether the USA is more so for a nation of its size, I’m not sure, but it seems to be the case; you’d expect more variation among tiny countries. I see several socio-political oddities about the USA, which frequently are pointed out by others. “Left” analysts point out that the independent labor movement in the USA is not hard “left” the way it usually is elsewhere. Election laws in the USA are odd for a democracy for their state establishment of political parties. The USA was unusual in having had broadcasting and wired telecom pioneered by the private sector, and in being unusually resistant to socializ’n of medicine. Long lack of state established churches is another unusual feature.

  10. American exceptionalism? Yeah, we’re very exceptional. Exceptionally ordinary. Just another ordinary people trading essential liberties for free trinkets and false promises of security. Just another ordinary people barely making a peep as our government increasingly rides rough shod over us.

    Exceptional, indeed.

  11. America has never been exceptional enough to get all puffy about. Prior to the Civil Rights movement we were a nation of Racist! And after the New Deal, what was left of individual liberty and Federalism was insufficient to wave flags over. The Eisenhower years were the closet we got to “We’re no. 1” without being dbags at the same time.

    1. Elizabeth Warren, is that you?

  12. I think America was, and probably still is “exceptional”….but the flame on that torch is guttering right now. How long it lasts is beyond my ken.

    I sure hope this place, moreso this people (both the pluribus and the unum) can get back what they have lost, and keep what we have gained.

  13. It appears the Egyptian people have become quite exceptional. They simply won’t tolerate the blind allegiance to fascists that democracies so often require.

  14. This probably won’t make me popular, but I thought Rush Limbaugh did a good job of defining American exceptionalism. It’s a little long winded, and not without typical Rush hyperbole, but I think he makes some good points.

    The vast majority of the people of this world since the beginning of time have never known the kind of liberty and freedom that’s taken for granted every day in this country. […] For the first time in human history, a government and country was founded on the belief that leaders serve the population. This country was the first in history, the EXCEPTION […]. The exception to the rule is what American exceptionalism is. […] We are created with the natural yearning to be free, and it is other men and leaders throughout human history who have suppressed that and imprisoned people for seeking it. The US is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the US becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. Nothing like it had ever happened.

    Read the whole transcript.

  15. liberals hate american exceptionalism because its success was created by anglosaxon hetero christian men (group identity) and its ideas lead to equality and decentralizing power away from elites, away from communities, into the hands of each individual (ideological).

    its not enough to merely destroy America, it must be tarnished, as an image. this is why liberals infiltrate constitutional republics and try to move towards communism. sure, they could go to a communist nation and try to salvage it but whats the point? they already know they could do that, i mean who hasnt infiltrated a totalitarian states power structure and solved the inherent flaws of communism? its much better to take a functional society and turn it into something its not. its just funner.

    the fact the society freely allows you in is all the more delicious when you start compelling the citizens to obey your code. it clearly proves the superiority of fascism.

  16. “The man who loves other countries as much as his own,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “stands on a level with the man who loves other women as much as he loves his own wife.” And it is a poor husband indeed who neglects to praise his wife and to profess openly his love for her.

    Prior to the founders’ generation, nations were united only by linguistic and ethnic ties; the United States, in contrast, was founded on a set of ideas — albeit ideas borrowed from Montesquieu and others.

    Americans should take legitimate pride in the country’s aspirations towards liberty, freedom and equality, even though those ideals have been imperfectly achieved. For a thrilling account of the enduring significance of American ideals, I recommend Justice John Paul Steven’s dissent in Texas v. Johnson. Justice Stevens, who was the last member of the U.S. Supreme Court to have served in the armed forces, dissented in that case from the majority’s conclusion that flag burning is a protected form of speech: “The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force in motivating leaders like Patrick Henry, Susan B. Anthony and Abraham Lincoln …. If those ideas are worth fighting for … it cannot true that the flag that symbolizes their power is not worthy of protection ….”
    But no one will fight for ideas that he only modestly loves, as Richard Gamble urges.

  17. Missed a word in my quote from Justice Stevens’ dissent in Texas v. Johnson above: “it cannot BE true….”

  18. my roomate’s mom makes on the internet. She has been out of a job for six months but last month her paycheck was just working on the internet for a few hours. browse this site……


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