|Anno Domini: Exceptionalism: Our national mission statement|
|March 17, 2011 Jerry Purvis|
First of all, I’d like to wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s Day. Once a day to commemorate one of the Church’s great saints, it has changed into a day primarily for drinking a lot, wearing something green, or drinking a lot of something green.
So however you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, make it a good one.
Before I get too far off in the weeds, I’ll get back to what I was going to write about – something completely different.
The concept of “American exceptionalism” always made sense to me, as it did for most Americans until just a few decades ago. No, it doesn’t mean we’re better than everyone else. It does mean that America is the exception to the rule. For our Founders, exceptionalism meant that America had special duties, not special privileges.
At the close of World War I, a Methodist bishop explained American exceptionalism this way: “We want universal humanity to share the freedom we enjoy – a freedom which we believe to be God-given and the birthright of every human being.”
Prior to America, countries were usually founded by military coup or by some tin-pot dictator or by the divine right of kings. Ours was a radical notion – the individual was in control. Any government was by the consent of the governed.
The individual, not the king or the collective, was so important because of our Founders. Contrary to what is taught in most schools today, these were religious men. Their values and worldview were grounded in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. And in those Scriptures, they found self-evident truths, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The modern secularist doesn’t believe there’s anything special about this nation, that American exceptionalism is only just a romantic notion of patriotism. On more than one occasion, our president, when talking about his definition of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, left out the words “by their Creator.” Without that key phrase, all the rest is just an academic exercise – a futile one.
It was from that viewpoint when our president in 2009 told a reporter in France: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
That reminded me of a scene from the movie “The Incredibles,” where the mom says, “Everyone is special.” The son replied, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”
The character Dodo put it this way in “Alice in Wonderland” – “Everyone has won and all must have prizes.”
This is the voice of the Progressive movement, started in the early 1900s. It rejects American exceptionalism. It demands we progress beyond the tired, old concepts set forth by our Founders in the Constitution.
Why? Well, those documents are annoying roadblocks on the way toward their vision of an unlimited government lording it over the “little people” like so many subjects.
Part of what I do is keeping track of various news and blog sites, looking for trends. A lot of the left-leaning ones think American exceptionalism is a lunatic notion, an artifact of extreme right-wing jingoism, xenophobia and ignorance.
So while Progressives do acknowledge American exceptionalism, they see it as an impediment to us becoming like socialized Europe.
But America comes from entirely different roots. From the first settlers, we had no class system as Europe did. We also had an open frontier and people had political and economic liberty. The result was optimism about the future – a belief that with their own hard work, people could accomplish most anything.
We did just that. The first colonists brought with them basically the same technology that had been used for centuries, even millennia, prior, from ax and hoe to stick plow (Cyrus McCormick would come later). And in about 400 years, we’ve created the highest standard of living and the greatest advances in technology the world has ever seen. For a much more in-depth discussion of this, I’ll recommend the excellent book “The 5,000 Year Leap.”
How did all of this happen? It isn’t our people or our geography that sets America apart. The answer is in the Declaration of Independence: “We are all endowed by our Creator …” And when our Founders acknowledged that our freedom comes from God, it freed the individual to accomplish great things.
That kind of greatness doesn’t come from someone promising to take care of us at poverty levels in exchange for votes. That just creates dependency and makes it impossible for ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.
Those who don’t want to accomplish great things are usually the first to recite a long litany of outrages our nation has perpetrated on others. Yes, people have committed all manner of travesties on their fellow man, precisely because mankind if flawed. My theologian friends would call it “sin nature.”
But the shortcomings of people don’t invalidate the underpinnings of American exceptionalism. They only underscore how far we’ve missed the target.
In both principle and practice, America has always been about the individual, not the ever-growing, all-encompassing nanny state called government that’s been inflicted on us. It’s about entrepreneurship, the ability to dream large and work the dream into reality. It rejects the “I’m entitled” mentality that only brings dependence.
To capture that spirit again, we need principled leaders who can verbalize the dream. People like that are hard to find, but it’s a necessity we find them. They will play a large role in restoring the original vision of this nation – set down by men with names like Madison, Adams and Jefferson – our original right-wing extremists.