14 May 2016

Perception vs. Reality: American Exceptionalism


I just read an interview conducted by the Library of America with Professor Gordon Wood. It's worth reading. This question/response jumped out at me:
LOA: It has become a commonplace in American politics today to call the United States an exceptional nation. Would Adams have agreed?
Wood: Jefferson believed that the United States was a chosen nation with a special responsibility to spread democracy around the world. More than any other figure in our history Jefferson is responsible for the idea of American exceptionalism. Adams could not have disagreed more. Deeply versed in history, he said over and over that America had no special providence, no special role in history, that Americans were no different from other peoples, that the United States was just as susceptible to viciousness and corruption as any other nation. In this regard, at least, Jefferson’s vision has clearly won the day.
While I agree with the good professor that, in regards to American Exceptionalism, "Jefferson's vision has clearly won the day", I would also note that it's quite obvious that Adams was certainly correct in pointing out that, in Wood's words, "the United States was just as susceptible to viciousness and corruption as any other nation." Read the news lately?

So I do not believe that Jefferson's and Adams's positions are mutually exclusive. I'd also be quick to point out that it's not quite as "commonplace", even in politics (particularly among leftists)
"to call the United States an exceptional nation", unless, of course, one believes the U.S. is "exceptional" because of its (ostensibly) "history of oppression." That perspective also serves a particular agenda and many in academia provide the faux intellectual cover for that agenda.

You can read the interview here.

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