Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is America Exceptional?--Part 1

As a matter of introducing this topic, let me just state that I am astonished, given the tone of recent political discourse, one has to expend intellectual energy in establishing the fact that the United States is, indeed, an Exceptional Nation. It is not an exercise in jingoism to believe in the exceptional nature of America, because virtually all the defining characteristics about America can accurately be described as exceptional. However, powerful forces inside and outside of America have produced a great deal of rhetoric to diminish America's legacy and current standing in the world. I intend to catalog in great detail over several posts that the United States of America is manifestly an exceptional nation. Indeed, the experience of America describes the term--The Exceptional Nation. This post deals with America's exceptional birth, later posts will speak of the Constitution and American History and will respond to some of the most prevalent critiques of Americans and their activities throughout its history.


Dictionary.com has two separate definitions for 'exceptional': (1) outstanding: having or showing intelligence or ability well above average; and (2) unusual: not conforming to a general rule or pattern. My definition, as it pertains to America, merges these two definitions-- America is unique because of the superlative quality in a multitude of its attributes.

America's founding, however, is best described by definition number 2 above. Virtually every modern nation-state cannot precisely pinpoint its origins. The overwhelming majority of nations evolved over hundreds and thousands of years. Many emerged from a collection of feudal states and fiefdoms and never-ending hostilities with adjacent powers over property and plunder. Most nations' ethos was the product of fortifications successfully defended along what became that nation's border, and the esprit de corps that the soldiers and citizens created through these successful efforts. As a result of these efforts, these citizens created a national identity that was often fortified by a distinct language, religion, and culture. The uniqueness of these distinct 'national' attributes grew into an ethnicity and served as points of distinction of one nation's citizens from another.

This experience of emerging nation-hood is anathema to the birth of America. America was born on the day an idea was placed on parchment and agreed upon by the representatives duly elected to by their countrymen. The United States of America was and is an idea born on July 4, 1776. America is a concept about the universality of man and his existential nature, and how that nature drives his governance and not the other way around, as was the prevailing practice of the time. Since these 'American' concepts, as defined in the Declaration of Independence, were asserted to apply to all men, they were devoid of ethnicity and religion and culture. Therefore, the citizens of these United States are the unbound authors of their own existence; as close as any nation has come to creating a pure meritocracy. America has welcomed men from all nations, religions, cultures, and ethnicities, because the Founders framed the Declaration as a universal assertion that applied to all men. Yes, Americans have always struggled in their abilities to accommodate new citizens from unfamiliar cultures, religions and ethnicities, but Americans of every generation have always had the benefit of looking back to that wonderful prose from 1776 and then from 1787--the north star of our nation that has always allowed us to navigate our way to the correct course of governance.

America is exceptional because of this. Because anyone can become an American and will be accepted and acknowledged as being an American. You can become a citizen of France, but never be considered French; you can become a citizen of Japan, but never be considered Japanese; you can become a citizen of Mexico, but never be considered Mexican. America is unique, nay exceptional, in that you can become a citizen of America and then be universally acknowledged as being an American.

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