13 September 2013

What Is American Exceptionalism?

Now that former KGB thug Vladimir Putin has officially joined the ranks of the "enemies of American Exceptionalism", I thought it would be a good time to revisit what AE means to me and many others. It does not mean a love of government, or a neocon/progressive vision  America acting as the global policeman and forcing our will and values on other nations (we can't), or that we are better in every way (though in many we are) than the rest of the world. 

So, the best way for me to state my position is to simply feature an essay I posted before. This will, at least to some degree, offer some clarity to my own views and what I think of some of AE's enemies:

"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.


Brother Juniper said...

I have always understood American Exceptionalism differently: "exception" as in "exception to the rule" meaning that America was founded to be the opposite of Europe in many respects and that the usual rules don't apply is discussing what America is and how we view our freedoms.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes, that is part of it. The founding documents, though drawing some inspiration from European thinkers, were certainly the exception in regards to where or, rather from "Whom", we receive our rights - God, not government. We're on the same page.