American Exceptionalism Is Humility, Not Arrogance!
The influence of this work is from David Barton’s American Heritage Series: The Ideas That Birthed a Nation episode and ”We Hold These Truths” edited by Ray Notgrass.
American Exceptionalism is the theory that the United States of America occupies a special niche among the nations of the world in terms of its unifying national credo, historical evolution, political and religious institutions, and its being built by immigrants. The roots of the belief are attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, who claimed, in his work, Democracy in America, that the United States held a special place among nations, because it was the first modern democracy.
But let’s carry this to today’s world and see if that belief hold’s true. Or is America merely an arrogant flash in the pan? We should start with the vocabulary:
What is exceptionalism?
Exceptionalism comes from the word exception which is rooted in the Latin word exceptionem, or in better etymology, exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis; "the exception proves the rule in cases not excepted;" The context of American Exceptionalism means that all other nations are not unique from each other. In Tocqueville’s time it was even truer. But even in today’s time The United States of America is still very much unique (at least for now).
The stability provided by the U.S. Constitution is most exceptional and politically stable when compared to other nations of the world today.
France, 10 years younger than the U.S., is governing with their FIFTEENTH Constitution.
Brazil has had SEVEN constitutions since 1822.
Russia has had FOUR constitutions since 1918.
Poland has had SIX constitutions since 1921.
Afghanistan has had FIVE constitutions since 1923.
America has had only two governing documents since its independence and only ONE constitution since its ratification in 1788. Our Constitution has been a solid rock of a governing document to withstand and make possible what no other nation in the history of the world has been able to do. If you pay attention to the membership of the United Nations, you will notice that the number of nations rises and falls each year. That is a distinction that promulgates American Exceptionalism when compared to the political instability of the rest of the world.
What is America’s unifying National Credo?
Credo is Latin for “I believe.” The English derivative is the word creed. Etymologically, this means a statement of belief. So, what is our national credo? Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address states it best. The United States of America is a nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". In this view, America is indistinguishably connected with liberty and equality. Yes, the struggle to live up to this credo has been hard fought and fraught with selfishness and even hatred. However, the thought processes from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have consistently espoused the self evident truth that all men are created equally.
Has American government had a Historical Evolution?
Evolution comes from the Latin term evolutionem which translates into “an opening of what was rolled up.” Evolution’s meaning even came to be known as a growth into maturity. But had our nation grown into maturity, governmentally speaking, by the time of “Democracy in America?” Or are we, as some will attest, never going to reach that maturity? The fact that our Constitution has endured for over 230 years, seems to promote the former above the latter.
Has American government had a Historical Evolution?
Evolution comes from the Latin term evolutionem which translates into “an opening of what was rolled up.” Evolution’s meaning even came to be known as a growth into maturity. But had our nation grown into maturity, governmentally speaking, by the time of “Democracy in America?” Or are we, as some will attest, never going to reach that maturity? That fact that our Constitution has endured for over 230 years, seems to promote the former above the latter.
When independence was declared in 1776, the Continental Congress struggled to create a form of government that would endure. The first national document of government was the Articles of Confederation. This was about as close to anarchy as a nation could have while still having a ruling government. It didn’t work and was replaced by the current Constitution of articles we know today.
Historically, America has politically, geographically, religiously and socially has collectively grown into a maturity that no other nation has been through. Politically is covered above. Geographically, from a small strip of land on the east coast, across a continent to lands separated by great distances, this nation has done nothing but physically grow in size. Religiously, America, with a foundation in Judeo-Christian principles has grown to so embrace the freedom of religion without physical conflict to include religions and faiths never known of thought of by the Founders. Yet they knew back then, the importance of that particular freedom. Socially, we have had our greatest growth. From the hard fought abolition of slavery, to the suffrage of women, minorities and young adults, to the struggle to ensure civil rights, America has long since come of age.
What is unique about America’s political and religious institutions?
No etymology here as there is no need to define the departments of government nor places of worship and philanthropy. Politically, this is where we are the most immature. Our Founders strived to create a government that had just enough power to fulfill the claims of the Constitution’s Preamble. Yet continually and consistently, American government has grown to where it has such an involvement in individuals’ lives, it has made the constitution about itself rather than “[w]e the people.” This is leading the nation into potential socialism and toward communism. The fact is that socialism/communism has been tried at least 44 times in the history of the world and has FAILED EVERY SINGLE TIME!!! A mature government is one that involves and adheres to the consent and importance of the governed. That includes the states as well as the people. Hopefully, the voters of this nation will realize how close they are to not being able to vote anymore.
America’s religious facets are the most unique in the world. This nation is full such a myriad of diverse beliefs and faiths that peacefully coexist and, in some cases, even work with each other to better the lives of many Americans. The influence that religion has had on ethics and morality in America has exponentially affected the society enough that laws are changed or created to match. Under our Constitution, America (not the government proper) has promoted the belief in religion (or the practice of not believing) that influences and affects the rest of the world more than any other entity (except God Almighty Himself).
Are immigrants the architects of America?
The land that is now America had no inhabitants until nomadic people – immigrants – from Asia migrated to the American continents so many years about. Over the generations, from the Inca in South America to the Mississippians in North America, the building of the western hemisphere started with immigrants. This tradition continued with European immigrants who brought their culture to build a free nation based on the Laws of “Nature’s God.” Even after the nation was founded, Immigrants (free and forced) from the rest of the world had a part in building this nation. Being a child of the Mayflower may hold social importance to some, but is has been immigrants and their descendants who have been the most influential pioneers in industry, agriculture and innovation. The peacefully coexisting ‘melting pot” of immigrants in this great country is the most unique and diverse in the world. Why? Because, as explained by Ronald Reagan in 1985 speaking of our forefathers who were immigrants or descendants of immigrants, “The idea of freedom impelled them; it intoxicated them. And it is freedom that impels us still.”
Does America reach the claim of American Exceptionalism? Yes! But again, as proud of that as we can be, we should absolutely be humbled by it. The one consistent proclamation among the Founding Fathers is that American Exceptionalism is exceptionalism credited to God Almighty and should bring Him honor and glory.
And yet so many denounce American Exceptionalism as “self-serving and jingoistic” arrogance. However, our founding fathers knew and believed that their governance was something of humility rather than pride. This is mainly due to the founders’ acknowledgement of God as their Providence in government. And even though Tocqueville calls America a modern democracy, that word just doesn’t apply, even if he used it in a positive way.
When our political leaders apologize for America and proclaim arrogance, the damage they do isn’t just to our nation, but to the worldly perception of where that exceptionalism comes from. It is time again to see “morning in America again!"
It’s time to be Americans again! It’s time to lead the world again! It’s time to be that “shining city on a hill” again! It’s time! It’s time! It’s time!
During this election season, search your convictions as an American and vote accordingly. Cast your vote behind someone who will serve, yes SERVE, his or her constituents rather than continue to promote the current trend of governing without serving. Forget political party. Forget seniority. Forget ethnicity. REMEMBER AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM!!!
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!" - Psalm 33:12