Tuesday, October 13, 2009

American Unexceptionalism 

Neal Gabler's op-ed in the Boston Globe, entitled "One nation, under illusion," makes the case against American Exceptionalism:
"The point of all this isn’t that America doesn’t have a lot to be proud of. It does. The point is that just about every country has a lot to be proud of, and America has no more right to assume it is the greatest nation in the world than does France, Switzerland, China, or Russia.

None of this would make much difference if the self-congratulation was just harmless bragging. But there are consequences. A country that believes it is the greatest in the world is also less likely to be constrained by that world. One could argue that the Iraq war was a direct result of a sense of national infallibility. So was our willingness to torture, our reluctance to admit our mistakes in Afghanistan, our culpability in the global recession, and our foot-dragging on global warming. Such a nation is also less likely to introspect or to strive for true greatness because it believes its greatness has already arrived."
Of course, read the whole thing, and wade through some of the comments.

Gabler has made the perfect the enemy of the great and the good, to paraphrase Voltaire. Because the U.S. and its leaders make mistakes, the country cannot be great, or at least no greater than any other significant country. We think we are great, and that overconfidence leads to more mistakes.

I am a believer in the foundational notion of American Exceptionalism, in the sense that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution represented the first codification of Enlightenment concepts and principles regarding the relationship between the individual and government, and provided a blueprint that has apparently resulted in some success over the last two centuries. Other countries have used that blueprint during that time, adapted for their particular cultures. That being said, for its first hundred years, America was not a particularly "great" country in terms of its relative power on the world stage -- that was an era dominated by the old European system of alliances, which came to a convincing end during WWI.

At the conclusion of WWII, the U.S. had no choice but to assume the mantle of greatness, if for no other reason than it was the last man standing. Our geography had largely shielded us from direct attack, and our industrial base was fully geared up. The U.S. funded much of the rebuilding of Western Europe and Japan, and was unquestionably the engine of economic growth in the post-war world. That was over six decades ago, and much has changed, as it should.

But if Gabler truly believes that the "Iraq war was a direct result of a sense of national infallibility," I can only infer that: a) he opposed it, and b) he missed much of the discourse in the run up to the war. Then again, I am not completely sure what he means by that statement, but since it is followed by an accusation of not being sufficiently introspective, he might have chosen to ignore the debates that took place, both in Congress and in the town square, since it undercuts his argument and his basic thesis. Heck, there were even debates about initiating military operations in Afghanistan eight years ago. Introspect that.

In one sense, Gabler's honesty as a transnational progressive is refreshing-- why can't America just be another country, and Americans realize that? -- and it is especially ironic that he harps on President Carter's quote ("government as good as the American people") as furthering the illusion he abhors.


By Anonymous tyree, at Wed Oct 14, 01:04:00 AM:

He wrote, "...and our foot-dragging on global warming."

Even before the recession, the United States lowered it's carbon emissions by more than almost all of the Kobe signers. To people like Gabler that is a failure because we didn't do more, even though we were number one in reductions, and a significant number of signers actually increased CO2 production. In the Star Trek of Gabler's universe the Enterprize will be called the "Global Warming Shame" and it will travel through the stars Commanded by Captain Murtha, who will retreat whenever challenged.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Oct 14, 02:12:00 AM:

Here's a clue for Gabler, if he can wrap his 2-digit IQ around it:

If America isn't the most powerful country in the world, that means someone else is. And it ain't gonna be Canada or Sweden or Switzerland or Costa Rica.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Oct 14, 07:17:00 AM:

The Boston Globe circulation is dropping at the rate of about 26% per year.

Anybody on their Op-ed staff care to do an analysis of that?  

By Anonymous tyree, at Wed Oct 14, 08:28:00 AM:

So true Gary.
Does he really believe with all of his heart that Russian dominance would be preferable to American?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 14, 10:36:00 AM:

Gabler's column and the Stratfor column by George Friedman make an interesting pairing.

What Friedman illuminates, Gabler amply demonstrates, as a sympathizer to the trans-national European world view.

He wants his comfort, economic security, predictable tomorrows and all the rest. He wants his blanky (or a Snuggy, who knows?).

Having seen Gabler on TV over the years doing movie reviews and other pop culture criticisms, I already know him to be a rabbit-chested Nancy-boy, so this is no surprise.

As others have already said, consider the alternatives to the world if the US becomes "just another country....like Switzerland". Coming soon to country just like ours, real soon.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 14, 11:13:00 AM:

In case any of you have not read this yet, here is Bill Whittle's take on American exceptionalism. I find it sad that more Americans cannot see what is so profoundly obvious about our country. Following is the address of Whittle's essay. Sorry, I don't know how to make this an active link.


Hangtown Bob  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 14, 12:52:00 PM:

Does he really believe with all of his heart that Russian dominance would be preferable to American?

Preferable or not, China's winning. It has the money and the brains. Its engineers alone are doing laps around ours.  

By Anonymous Hugh, at Wed Oct 14, 06:39:00 PM:

As this is the comments section, allow me to state categorically, that,in my opinion,many of our "public" and "private" schooled citizens ( esp. a plethora of "boomers"-my crowd ) are schockingly(& obviously)ahistoric.This educat. deficit is the result of a majority who have never travelled from our geo-blessed/fecund continental boundaries and so, have not acquired the "tools" to gainsay their bien pensant indoctrination- which used to be obviated by hard work(real world experience) or global ramblings.Is it true that only 40% pre-Islamofreak 9/11 outrages- possessed a passport??I would go on but, consider this...we presume to be a world power and yet, fewer than half of our citizens "know" the world? Just where is Antanarivo, Joe(Biden)?Would "The I-Won"know anything about "thePearl", if funky,bluestocking Mz.Dunn had stayed in Kansas? Just sayin'...we're in a world of hurt...and, we've doubled-down with this last election.Need to plant some "presidential timber", in our New Forest, folks.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 14, 06:51:00 PM:

The doctrine of American Exceptionalism is the intellectual fiat currency of our political system. If you believe the doctrine is valuable, then America is an idea that is worth something. By contrast, if, like Gabler and much of the American left including our President, you don't believe in the doctrine, then the ideas and ideals behind America aren't worth much. I think this explains much of Obamas performance to date.

As for me, in the absence of a belief in American Exceptionalism, I can see no compelling reason America to exist. The American people share no common heritage or tribal affiliation. The only thing that binds us together as a nation is the set of ideals which, not coincidentally, happen to form the core tenants of Exceptionalism.

On a practical level, the other factor that holds our country together is our monetary system, which Obama, the Treasury and the Fed are doing a handy job of destroying. If Obama blows both the intellectual and the monetary rationale for America to exist, I think all bets are off.

Oh, and Chinese engineers are not doing laps around US engineers. Yes, China has lots of skilled engineers, but so do numerous other countries, including the U.S.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Oct 14, 08:46:00 PM:

"This educat. deficit is the result of a majority who have never travelled from our geo-blessed/fecund continental boundaries and so, have not acquired the "tools" to gainsay their bien pensant indoctrination- which used to be obviated by hard work(real world experience) or global ramblings.Is it true that only 40% pre-Islamofreak 9/11 outrages- possessed a passport??I would go on but, consider this...we presume to be a world power and yet, fewer than half of our citizens "know" the world?"

First, I find it ironic and amusing that a rant about an education deficit would be written in such a style.

Second, possession of a passport and foreign travel are utterly irrelevant to most kinds of education.

Lastly, we do not 'presume' to be a world power. We are a world power. Period. There is no denying it. Our flag is the most recognized in the entire world, and the activities of our government make first page news everywhere. A strangely large part of our political discourse is not what to do about enemy powers, but whether utterly destroying them is a good idea or not. Obviously, 'only' having 40% of our population travel abroad isn't that big of an impediment.

Plus, I have a stock answer for the 'I can't believe so many Americans only speak one language and don't have passports; what barbarians!' crowd.

If I walk east from La Rochelle, France, for 1600 miles, (2574.95 km) how many languages do I encounter? From La Rochelle to Sevastapol one crosses France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. That's 9 countries and about 10 languages.

From my last duty station in the US Army to my point of discharge was 1600 miles; 1 country, and 1 language. And that language just happens to be the standard language of trade for most of the world.

Why the hell would most Americans need multiple languages or a passport? Especially since many simple jaunts abroad can be made without either?  

By Anonymous tyree, at Thu Oct 15, 02:24:00 AM:

Pre- 9-11 we could travel to Mexico or Canada without a passport. I once drove 1700 miles and only passed through four states of the USA and part of Canada, without a passport. We drove through plains, forests, mountains and cities from the size of Los Angeles to one in Washington with a population of 17. As far as different cultures are concerned, we have Japanese, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese and American just within our family, so we know more than most about how to get along and communicate with different nationalities. When you grasp the size of the United States it becomes apparent why only 170 million of us have passports.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Oct 15, 02:48:00 AM:

I make no apologies for America, or more broadly, the West. No other society promotes as much freedom and consequently has the greatest diversity, tolerance, wealth, and achievement.

Where did religious freedom come from? In what country is there the greatest religious freedom? In what region of the world is the greatest diversity of religions?

Which societies developed the moral case against slavery?

Where did political freedom come from? In what countries is there freedom of speech?

In what countries are you free to leave any time you want to?

In what societies did women's equality occur first?

Where is there the most economic freedom?

Where is sexual freedom the most tolerated? Where are gays imprisoned?

For all of these answers, the West by far outpaces any other region of the world in terms of promoting freedome. The US may not have been first in several of these freedoms and in the case of slavery took far too long to correct, but it ultimately produced these freedoms. What freedoms comes from the Arab world? What have the Chinese done to promote these ideas? What freedoms did the communists formulate? To put our society on moral equivalence with other regions of world displays willful denial of the facts and logic.

American exceptionalism is about how we are the exception to the world of tyrrany and controlling governments. Americans may not be exceptional people, but our society certainly is.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Oct 17, 11:12:00 PM:

"...the consent of the governed."

For that one idea, put into practice, the world should be grateful to us even if we were otherwise as horrible as they imagine. Representative democracy has proved so congenial to the lands that our European critics live in that they have adopted it as a their own form of government, supplanting the hereditary nobility they favored.

I take the internet name "Assistant Village Idiot" for this very reason, to point out the screamingly obvious facts that any fool should see but many clever men do not.  

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