Friday, August 2, 2019

American Exceptionalism

In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection.... All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of Superintending Providence in our favor...have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?.... God Governs in the affairs of men [Daniel 4:17]. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice [Matthew 10:29], is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?  Benjamin Franklin, Continental Congress
American Exceptionalism is a real thing, but a lot of people are confused what it means. It is not a chauvenistic America is #1 (like cheering for a sports team). That is fine, you can do that. Other countries do that too. That is not exceptional, it is just basic human nature.   

It is not great acheivements Americans have done as a people (Apollo missions, WWII, etc.). Those are important things and events (and the individuals involved with these acheivements deserve the real credit), but they are the results of American Exceptionalism, not the cause of it. 

America is a very wealthy country, so are Singapore and Switzerland (as examples). While American Exceptionalism certainly plays a role in success of people here, that success is not in itself American Exceptionalism.  

It is also not that Americans are an exceptional people. Americans come from all over the world. While there is certainly exceptionally talented and hard working people in America, we are human beings (flawed and imperfect) just like people everywhere.  

American Exceptionalism is the system in place that allows the individuals who live here to acheive their own potential and pursue their own dreams. It is the founding government system embodied by the Declaration of Independence (which set forth basic principles) and the Constitution. A lot of it is the Anglo jurisprudence property rights tradition we got from Great Britain, but it goes well beyond that. The fundamental basic is the individual (and protection of individual property rights and liberty), then the family, then the community, and state. The federal government, while responsible for defense and protection of the nation, is subservient to the people. 

It was never perfect. Initially many did not share the benefits of this system. Over time it has expanded to include those who were excluded.

The big threat to American Exceptionalism now is the collective vs. the individual. Other threats exist too, such as the failure to educate people, moral decline, out of control spendding, a Brahamin political caste that is not accountable to the people, and expansion of the federal govnerment--but ultimately it is the collective vs. the individual that remains the existensial threat. It is individual liberty that is the bed rock of American Exceptionalism.  

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