The concept of American exceptionalism has been hotly debated in connection with what kind of history “The Children” will be force fed in state schools.
My position : “the United States, by virtue of its origins and ideals,” was unique. But most Americans know nothing of the ideas that animated their country’s founding. In fact, they are more likely to hold ideas in opposition to the classical liberal philosophy of the founders, and hence wish to see the aggrandizement of the coercive state and the fulfillment of their own needs and desires through war and welfare.
Thus, I find myself in agreement with this one statement from Princeton’s Joyce Carol Oates:
“[T]ravel to any foreign country,” Oates wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in November 2007, “and the consensus is: The American idea has become a cruel joke, a blustery and bellicose bodybuilder luridly bulked up on steroids…deranged and myopic, dangerous.”
Andrew Roberts, on the other hand, is the Anglosphere’s “advertising agent,” whom some call a historian (most learned sources like the Times Literary Supplement question the value and veracity of his “scholarship”).
Roberts “has endorsed American exceptionalism in his own writings,” and thinks that to question it is to evince “psychiatric disorder,” or belong to liberal America (Rob Stove and I are rightists).
Yes, another learned source is our friend Australian historian Rob Stove, who detests Andrew Roberts (author of the best-selling Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945). Rob has called him a “Court Historian,” the Anglosphere’s greatest modern mythologist perfectly suited to sanitize the Bush presidency.”
In the eponymous essay Rob Stove writes that to Roberts,
“Not only must every good deed of British or American rule be lauded till the skies resound with it, but so must every deed that is morally ambiguous or downright repellent.”
“The Amritsar carnage of 1919, where British forces under Gen. Reginald Dyer slew 379 unarmed Indians? Absolutely justified, according to Roberts, who curiously deduces that but for Dyer, ‘many more than 379 people would have lost their lives.’ Hitting prostrate Germany with the Treaty of Versailles? Totally warranted: the only good Kraut is a dead Kraut. Herding Boer women and children into concentration camps, where 35,000 of them perished? Way to go: the only good Boer is a dead Boer. Interning Belfast Catholics, without anything so vulgar as a trial, for no other reason than that they were Belfast Catholics? Yep, the only good bog-trotter … well, finish the sentence yourself. FDR’s obeisance to Stalin? All the better to defeat America First ‘fascists.'”
Last week’s column, “In Defense Of Obama’s Apologizing,” coaxed out of the woodwork some “exceptionals.”
Wrote Mom [don’t you hate it when women call themselves “mom”? I see these self-identifiers everywhere, when out on my running excursions. They occasionally swing a kid while talking incessantly on the cell, and are always sedentary and overweight. Sorry for that detour]:
“I do not agree with you at all.…I give this administration a D in foreign policy and public relations…Listen, yes we have made some mistakes in our 300 years, but on the whole, this is the best country on the planet and we are an exceptional nation….This administration’s aim is to diminish our greatness and our status on the world stage…for a One World socialist government…When Obama said we have no borders, I nearly fell out of my chair…if we diminish our borders, we will not have a country….How did he allow Calderone to bash our country? You know why, because he doesn’t think of our country is special…So, I don’t give any points to him, I want my country back…I do not recognize my country anymore….so for you to give this admin. points … that is a no no. Sorry…”
In other words, even though she and I agree on immigration, I must never be fair to BHO when he is not wrong. Indeed, fairness and non-partisanship have gotten me nowhere.
Tangentially related is another letter received last week in irate response to “In Defense Of Obama’s Apologizing.” This time the “exceptional reader” informed me imperially that he was writing me off and would no longer be reading The Mercer Column because I FAILED TO ENDORSE HIS FAVORITE MASSACRE.
This particular reader was a relic from my years of writing against the Bush war of aggression in Iraq—you know, when all those “red-state fascists” kept trying to get me fired from WND.
I am red in the face for having so little acquaintance with R. J. Stove and am indebted to you Ms. Mercer for the Court Historian link. I had completely forgotten what a good time could be had lingering over a virtuoso evisceration.
And of even greater value than the entertaining evisceration is the lesson to historians and readers of history, the paragraph, beginning “Words cannot convey”. Continuing; “… he [the historian] must still survey enough of mankind to realize the sole universally obeyed moral law: there are no universally obeyed moral laws.” And it continues, brilliant to the end.
All in all, your best and my favorite post – hands down – so far.
It does my heart good to read such kind words! Andrew Roberts is the gift that keeps on giving, so much so that I have to make a conscious effort to avoid pointing out his latest factual howlers. I shall content myself now with reflecting upon his belief – first voiced in 2008 and, so far as I know, unimpaired by reality ever since – that Warren Harding presided during the Great Depression:
I am a nationalist, and yet I think American exceptionalism is foolish. National pride is healthy, but one need not cast their country as the most glorious nation that everyone else envies. Such thinking leads to hubris and eventually, downfall. No, I think there’s another way, such as taking pride in your own culture, myths, heroes, and people, not because they are the best, but simply because they are yours and belong to you. There’s no need to belittle other nations or hold them in a comparison with your country being the universal standard.
Although the neocon (rightist) and socialistic (leftist) statists claim to revere the founders, they have actually replaced their vision of a small government whose purpose was to SECURE OUR RIGHTS with a one-world government – Right wing version: USA controls World – Left wing version: World controls USA. Both have grandiose delusions of American “grandeur” whereby American-led “coalitions” attack/liberate a bunch of designated bad-guys: Vietcong, Taliban, Al Queda, Iraqis, Burmese, Koreans, Hondurans, Israelis, and South Africans… – most of whom never attacked us and some of whom are not even “bad”.
Those defaming you, me, or Ron Paul of being “anti-American” since we do not revel in the concept of “American greatness” would have to also defame the founders. One of the best summaries of their judgment was from Secretary of State John Quincy Adams:
Adams: “(America) She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings… she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy…She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own…She might become the dictatress of the world.”
Nuclear weapons and Reaper drones are not the mark of America’s “greatness” – FREEDOM is.
In contrast to Myron Pauli’s reference to a J.Q. Adams quote, I offer two small excerpts from a speech by Hillary Clinton on May 27 at the Brookings Institution:
“Our approach is to build the diverse sources of American power at home and to shape the global system so that it is more conducive to meeting our overriding objectives: security, prosperity, the explanation and spread of our values, and a just and sustainable international order.”
“So in a world like this, American leadership isn’t needed less, it’s actually needed more. And the simple fact is that no significant global challenge can be met without us. ”
Full transcript and video:
“American exceptionalism”? I guessed I missed that memo. Is this to say that we must worship our own (British and American) Good Deeds as though we are morally superior? Not sure, but it might be worthwhile to list some examples of “exceptionalism” outside the “Anglosphere;” people neither American nor British who worked hard for causes like…saving Jews during WWII. First, there’s that troubling MS St. Louis incident, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis in which a non-Jewish German sea captain tried to find homes for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Not in my backyard! FDR’s government said. (Why FDR continues to be idolatrously worshiped by American Jews is beyond me.) And then, there are the heroic efforts made by Danish citizens during WWII to save Jews http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/denmark.html by smuggling them by sea to Sweden.
I don’t know where “American exceptionalism” comes from. I rather suspect it might be a code to describe current U. S. efforts in the Middle East, trying to “succeed” where the Brits failed. I won’t hold my breath, awaiting reports of our “success.”
Jack: If one has swallowed poison and there is no ipecac to induce vomiting, I guess that excerpt from Hillary will do perfectly well. Just comparing Adams with Clinton shows how this nation has bloated into a blundering meddlesome EMPIRE, the enemy of small government and individual freedom. Tragic – because, like Ilana, I like the idea classic liberalism of our founding ideals.
There’s a new book (FDR’s Deadly Secret, by Steven Lomazow and Eric Fettmann) which demonstrates that FDR – thanks to the ravages of a melanoma which turned into bowel and brain cancer – was far sicker even during the earlier part of his reign (including his aversion to having the St. Louis‘ Jewish refugees admitted to America) than any of his media flunkies and tame Soviet spies dared to admit. So he wasn’t just the “sick man of Yalta”, although he was that too.
Myron: Clinton, in her speech, exhibited a degree of hubris almost shocking. Here is the Oxford definition, which I believe suits the words of Dame Hillary:
excessive pride or self-confidence.
• (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.
Just want to pick on one thing, the writings of Rob Stove (who seems to be under the impression that history is a morality play, rather than an extended tragedy), what are those scare quotes doing around ‘fascists’? Lindbergh was an open sympathizer with Nazism, received a medal from Goering, and published venomously racist screeds. That’s not neutralism; that’s taking the other side in the nastiest way possible. In the same way, I might add, that our current ‘anti-War’ crop has more than a tinge of sympathy for the fascistic forces we face today.
Great article, great comments. I used some literary license and used Myron and Jack’s quotes (with a George W or H would agree to Clinton’s remarks) to send a ‘Memorial day e-mail to my mailing list. I doubt if it will change any minds, Republican concrete is solid stuff but maybe someone will start to question.
Re to your WND January 2003 article; that was really good. I am glad to see you knew in advance that that war was a mistake. I liked the way you used those idiots’ comments to show what their true ideology was.