Happy Fourth of July!
As we Americans celebrate our country’s independence and history, it’s good to keep certain things in mind. Douglas Wilson at his blog has some wise words about American exceptionalism:
Advocates of the new global neo-conservatism have been pressing heavily on what they call American exceptionalism. There is a trick here, so I want everyone to follow closely. I agree that America’s founders were exceptional men, and they established our form of government on an exceptional document, unlike anything in the history of the world up to that point. So I do believe in a form of American exceptionalism.
But what was exceptional about it? Here is the trick. They knew that Americans were not in the slightest bit exceptional. That’s exceptional. A patriotic pride in your nation being the apex of whatever it is we are doing on this planet — a belief that “we” (whoever “we” might be) are somehow unique — is as ordinary as brown dirt.
Calling yourself exceptional isn’t. Recognizing that we are mortal men just like other mortal men, and that we are vulnerable to all the same temptations, is rare. Boasting in American achievements barely manages to clear that Ozymandian low bar — it is the kind of ordinary hubris nailed in a poem that was written before we defeated the Nazis, landed on the moon, built the space shuttle, and started selling iPhones that could serve as navigation systems for the space shuttle — and when we invite mighty observers to look on our works and despair, we are acting like pretty much everybody else in the history of the world.
Humbling words, especially for somebody like me. America may have accomplished many great things in this world, but it’s not because we are exceptional. And we are not destined to greater things just because we are Americans. Our treacherous path at the top of the world is just as dangerous as it has been for all nations who’ve risen and fallen in centuries past.