12 September 2011

Making A Virtue Of Decline

"American exceptionalism is, among other things, the result of a difficult rigor: the use of individual initiative as the engine of development within a society that strives to ensure individual freedom through the rule of law. Over time a society like this will become great. This is how—despite all our flagrant shortcomings and self-betrayals—America evolved into an exceptional nation." ~ Shelby Steele

A number of Civil War & History bloggers, academics, and "me too, me too" types have jumped on the "enemy of American Exceptionalism" bandwagon. Why? It's chic, hip, cool, sophisticated. You know, it's rad man. It's also the current ruling political philosophy in that cesspool we call Washington D.C. It gets you better gigs, it makes one look better (so they think) in the eyes of the world (like I care),  and it also gets you noticed - an important thing for the insecure and self-absorbed (most politicians). And, of course, its also misguided and embarrassingly non-thinking.

But anti-American Exceptionalism is in all reality little more than the regurgitated and warmed over (like vomit) "anti-establishment" mindset of the '60's. It's lipstick on the pig. Think of it as the "sanitized" version of "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western culture's got to go!"

Many members of the mob to which I refer, embrace a school of thought that Shelby Steele recently wrote about in the Wall Street Journal. As Steele points out, many opponents of AE seem to be suffering from some type of guilt over America's unique greatness and, while facts make it impossible for these folks to actually deny America's greatness, enemies of AE believe America's greatness is due, not to the Blessings of God nor a superior national virtue, culture, and form of government - all which have historically promoted individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and a standard of living envied by the world - but, rather, we are great due to our history of oppression - in other words, we cheated to attain our greatness. Steele gets inside the minds of the anti-AE crowd:

". . . America's exceptional status in the world follows from a bargain with the devil—an indulgence in militarism, racism, sexism, corporate greed, and environmental disregard as the means to a broad economic, military, and even cultural supremacy in the world. And therefore America's greatness is as much the fruit of evil as of a devotion to freedom." (Emphasis mine.)

This shallow, simpleton attitude is consistent among leftists and moderns who, while decrying the "cult of the Founding Fathers" are, themselves, entrapped in the "cult of self". They believe they are superior to any generation to come before them, i.e. "we are the ones we've been waiting for." (How's that for being detached from reality?) It is this narcissistic, self-aggrandizing attitude which is the bane of modern American culture. We see it everywhere: the typical modern - self-absorbed, self-congratulating, conceited; yet unappreciative of the sacrifices, sweat equity, and accomplishments of those who've gone before them - unless it serves their own selfish purposes. This attitude is why these folks roll their eyes and sneer at "heritage history" - they think its demeaning (they're insecure). These mosquito-like critics come off as petulant, spoiled, ungrateful, bratty little children who need their butts spanked. Most of those who criticize the Founders (and those who draw inspiration from them) in this vein, could not hold a candle to their accomplishments. 

These small men sit in ergonomic chairs at their cushioned keyboards in air-conditioned offices with every modern convenience at their beck and call and critique a generation of men who were truly well-educated and well-read; self-made giants who were, in every sense of the concept, renaissance men. Men who could farm, write brilliant treatises on government, history, and philosophy, lead men into battle, track a deer for miles, kill it with a black powder rifle, field dress it, and carry it home for their evening meal. Men who carved a nation out of a raw wilderness and founded the greatest republic in the history of the world. Men who risked their personal fortunes, liberty, and lives so that they could pass on a great republic to future generations. In comparison, most of their soft, flabby, lazy, critics would starve to death if Wal-Mart closed for a week. They can't think, write or speak without a computer or a teleprompter. They can't build an argument, much less a nation. Their writing often consists of cutting and pasting words from the templates of their ruling class masters; hoping someone will notice and invite them to some stuffy academic AE bash-fest seminar where the greatest challenge of the day will be to stay awake.

Steele includes this line in his piece which cuts like a knife in dissecting what so many academics and their groupies believe:

"So in liberal quarters today—where historical shames are made to define the present—these values are seen as little more than the cynical remnants of a bygone era."

That is a brilliant line. "Historical shames are made to define the present" - presentism used in a morality play to demean American heroes and America's founding principles; in order, of course, to elevate one's self (more insecurity). Do you not see that mindset, that bent, in so many academic blogs related to American history? And "remnants of a bygone era" - ah yes, out with the old, in with the new! We're so much hipper today, don't you know? These intellectual fads are like Botox for the brain - and just as phony. These pseudo-intellectuals inject these silly, faddish notions into their minds in hopes it will make them appear smarter, hipper, and "sound younger" than the "cynical remnants of a bygone era." Every time I hear this anti-AE claptrap, I get this picture in my mind of a 60 year-old, pubescent, pot-bellied, playboy wanna-be trolling the local mall trying to impress a woman young enough to be his daughter. Give it up. The more "hip and modern" they attempt to appear, the more ridiculous they look and sound. Neither the anti-AE crowd nor the mall troller are very convincing.

Since many of these folks are apparently ashamed of their own history, they relieve their group-imposed guilt by bashing the Founding Fathers - disassociation (more insecurity). What a cheap, lazy, self-centered way to interpret history. Of course, it is always easier to bring a superior down to your level than strive to reach one which is your superior. It is easier, in Steele's words, to "make a virtue of decline" than it is to be exceptional.

Steele's piece is both broader and more focused than what I've touched on. I would recommend readers take the time to read the article here.


Brock Townsend said...

Excellent and posted.

Jubilo said...

Dear Old Dom.,
You deserve a Victor Davis Hansen award for this post! Well written!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Brock. Thanks Jubilo - I was not aware of such a reward, but I'll be honored to accept. Does it come with cash? ;o)

Michael Aubrecht said...

I hesitate to comment, but will offer this up as I think you are responding to my post and may be over-analyzing my motives. This is about accepting historical honesty and humility, not instigating some anti-establishment movement (at least where I’m coming from). American exceptionalism is a belief that contains a complicated and often contradictory set of assumptions. My personal issue with the concept is the preconceived notion that America is “better than everyone else” or considered to be “superior” to the rest of the world.

You say quote: “while facts make it impossible for these folks to actually deny America's greatness,” No one that I am aware of is saying that America is not great. We are saying that America is not THE greatest, as NO nation on earth can boast such a claim. It is an absurd notion. As a Christian, I also reject the notion that God blessed us over all other countries.

Statistically we are anything but exceptional…Currently, we are rated 39th in the quality of our health care, not even in the top 15 in regards to education, drifting out of the top 5 in engineering, waaaayyyy down the list in regards to alternative fuel use and development of environmental-friendly technologies. In order to compete in today’s global market we must see ourselves and acknowledge our place in respect to the rest of the world. Simply boasting to be exceptional and longing for the “good old days” while holding on to the old adage that everyone else wants to be us is ridiculous.

That is why I believe that proponents of American exceptionalism have this antiquated view of the world. Many are so conceited that they think it is actually possible to return to the country’s theoretical origins even though it’s been hundreds of years and the whole world has changed around us.

In the excellent book “Purpose Driven Life,” Rev. Rick Warren’s opening sentence goes something like “It’s not all about me.” Proponents of American exceptionalism need to learn that “it’s not all about the USA”. We are part of a bigger puzzle now and more dependent on other countries than we have ever been. We may very well have been exceptional at the time of our origins, but everything and everyone has changed all around us. You appear to reject change.

I maintain a belief in exceptional people who are capable of doing exceptional things, but to maintain the blanket statement that American exceptionalism still exists in 2011 is na├»ve and is a stumbling block to progress. Our great grandfather’s country as you like to recall is gone forever and it will never-ever be like that again. The sooner folks accept that, the stronger we’ll be as a country because we will no longer rest on our laurels, believing in conceited myths about ourselves.

Being anti-American exceptionalism isn’t about being anti-American. It’s about accepting who we are and acknowledging what we need to be. You seem to always want to “go back”…The fact is that like it or not, we MUST move forward. I don’t think that’s too radical or out of step with American ideology. We’ve been changing since we declared our independence. Some for better and some for worse.

(I received a long email comment on my recent post from a well known person in the Tea Party who surprisingly agreed with much of my post while offering some great counterpoints to the parts he rejected. I plan to post his perspective in an upcoming post for some balance to this discussion.)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I think you are responding to my post and may be over-analyzing my motives."

That is a reasonable assumption due to the timing. But actually, I wrote the first draft to this post shortly after reading Steele's piece in the WSJ and a few days before yours went up.

You and I are, fundamentally, so far apart on this topic that it is a waste of time to discuss further. We've already tried. I settled the whole issue in my mind a long time ago. I'm convinced and comfortable with my position.

I will only add that in order to move forward, one often must look back. I reject change when it is simply for the "sake" of change or when it is not positive - as is the case in recent years. I don't worship change. Principles are timeless Michael and not subject to every ridiculous and silly fad that come down the pike.

13thBama said...


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

13B - the cat gets it.

Thomas said...

"Brevity is the soul of wit."...some English dude from waaaayyyy back when the buffalo roamed.