Archive for the ‘American Exceptionalism’ Category

Happy 4th!

Happy Independence Day!

I’m about to head on down to the 4th on Broadway celebration, which is always a good time. Maybe I’ll run into some of my readers there.

Briefly, I want to talk about my idea of American patriotism. I believe that our strength as Americans comes from diversity: not just diversity among our physical appearances or cultural norms, but among our ideas. This strength is more-or-less unique in the world (it’s catching on, though!), and it represents the only facet of so-called “American Exceptionalism” that I can support.

American patriotism is more than fireworks and flagpins. American patriotism involves celebrating both our differences and our things-in-common.

Be safe and have a happy 4th!

American Exceptionalism

What a provocative term.

I couldn’t help but notice it touted at that other political blog hosted at

It’s also a term with a long history — as usual, Wikipedia is a good place to start. We’ve come a long way from de Tocqueville.

In its current meaning, American Exceptionalism is the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy, which basically goes like this: “We are the only superpower in the world. We have God on our side. We can do whatever we want.”

I’ve also heard American Exceptionalism referred to as the unipolar worldview (as opposed to the multipolar worldview), which is a term that makes more sense to me because it suggests the history of where we got this crazy notion that we can go it alone in the world. The Cold War worldview was that of two superpowers facing off across the Atlantic and in smaller, hotter proxy conflicts around the world. When the other superpower collapsed, what else could the world be except a unipolar world where the USA is the sole surviving superpower?

So neat, so simple, so wrongheaded.

Firstly, with so many nations in the nuclear club with us, I don’t think our military strength is a guarantee that we will come out on top in a conflict with another first-world nation. And even if we are dominant militarily, how long before someone catches up, and do we have the moral authority to act unilaterally in the meantime?

Secondly, it makes us arrogant, which makes us foolish. I am convinced that the neoconservative think tanks that brought us such wisdom as “we can wrap up Iraq within a year,” and, “we will be greeted as liberators,” were operating from the comfortable overconfidence of American Exceptionalism, or the unipolar model.

Thirdly, it makes us blind to innovation elsewhere in the world. The Bush years will be remembered for falling behind the world in every kind of good statistic, in policy based on science, and in providing a high quality of life. We are all too eager to export some aspects of our culture and commerce, but we need to remember that it is our melting pot of cultures and ideas from around the world that makes America great.

I hope that the Obama administration helps us become a nation that is a partner in the world, not a bully in the world. Signs are already positive: Obama’s first interview as President is with a middle east TV network, and his special envoy George Mitchell is on his way to the middle east as well. Peace in that region will be difficult, but at least the Obama Administration is off to an energetic and meaningful start.

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