Is American Exceptionalism Dead?

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(Punditcy.com) – Every nation throughout history has identified itself by some unifying quality – it could be been by a common religion, by a unique ethnic character, or by a shared history.  America happens to be an exception.  America was founded at a particular time in history, by a particular people, on the basis of particular set principles about man, liberty and constitutional government.  For the most part, they did not possess the unifying quality that had existed in the past.  So, do the ideals upon which America founded lend to exceptionalism?

The founding of America and the American Revolution were heavily influenced by what could be explained as “old ideas”.   In today’s modern and technologically advanced world,  the term “old fashioned” has, incorrectly I would say, adapted a negative connotation.  But the founders knew all too well that if they did not learn from history, it would most definitely repeat itself and their efforts to create  a lasting nation would be in vain as it would surely fall to the same ills as nations of the past.  One just needs to look at the federalist papers to understand that the founders were scholars in the study of world governments.   The debates that ensued during the constitutional convention were nothing less than a history lesson in failed governments of the past.

What the Founding Fathers created in the Constitution is the an incredible achievement and, for many reasons, the most magnificent government on the face of the earth.  How can I say that with such conviction?  Well, the reason is this…  the U.S. Constitution established a nation that was intended to preserve the American society and the American Spirit.  So, why is this this unique?  Well, the founders recognized that these were the foundations upon which the nation would need in order be preserved.  They knew that in times of great struggle, the American Spirit would bring us all together, and result in us being stronger and even more committed to the principles of liberty and justice for which we stand.

Despite what some would have us believe, the United States is the product of what would be considered Western civilization, shaped by Judeo-Christian a culture and the political liberties inherited from Great Britain. Yet, we say that our founding was revolutionary.  Not in the way of overthrowing one group of rulers for another, but in the fact that the Founding Fathers proposed a form of government that placed the political power not in the hands of government or a king, but in the hands of the people.  Revolutionary because no nation had ever done this.

America’s great experiment was established from the hypothesis that a people could govern themselves.  To establish such a place, certain assumptions had to be made, or to put it more succinctly… there were premises upon which the founders crafted their plan.

These core premises that guided the Founding Fathers were individual freedom (right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), freedom of government (all power belongs and comes from the people, constitutional limitations, etc..), freedom of economy (right to property, privilege of individual enterprise, etc..) and world freedom (universal belief that freedom should exist around the world).  Much could, and has been written about each one of these guiding premises, but the for the purposes of examining whether America should be considered exceptional one only needs to look at the uniqueness of what they set out to accomplish.

G.K . Chesterton once observed:

“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.”

This creed was ultimately set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  The colonists announced their separation from Great Britain in an incredible statement of inherit rights and limits on political authority.  They spoke of self-evident truths, truths that were of the “Laws of Nature and the Nature’s of God”, and gave justification to the liberty they all believed was granted to us, which was not to be infringed upon.  They expressed their belief that there was a universal standard that was permanent and unbending.  Another aspect that makes this unique and revolutionary is that these self-evident truths applied not just to Americans, but all people everywhere.

Edmund Burke once argued that, every individual is created as a unique, spiritual being with a soul and a conscience and is bound to a transcendent moral order established by Divine Providence and uncovered through observation and experience over the ages.  He observed,

“There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equality — the law of nature and of nations”

Of these self-evident, Natural Law truths that greatly influenced the formation of our political structure, equality played and important role.   The founders asserted that from the principle of equality, men could govern themselves according to common beliefs and the rule of law.  History has shown that political power was — and still is — often held by the strongest.   But if the belief is that all are equal and have the same rights, then no one is fit by nature to rule or be ruled.  This is exceptional when one takes into account that no nation in history has adopted such an assertion.

The Founders believed that the form of government they created was, is every way, preferable to the royal one they had renounced.  They considered it much more favorable to purity of morals, and better calculated to promote all our greatest interests.  Royal courts of Britain were viewed as reservoirs, from which insincerity, hypocrisy, dissimulation, pride, luxury, and extravagance overwhelm the body of the people.  What they proposed, a constitutional republic, was much more favorable to truth, sincerity, frugality, industry, and simplicity of manners.   Equality, the life and soul of America, cuts off all pretensions to preferential treatment, but those which arise from extraordinary merit.

The Founder’s understood that an  imperative existed to maintain equality, for in equality, mutual good is promoted.  The equality they aspired had a very specific meaning to the Founders, John Adams explained it this way,

“[A]ll are subject by nature to equal laws of morality, and in society have a right to equal laws for their government, yet no two men are perfectly equal in person, property, understanding, activity, and virtue, or ever can be made so by any power less than that which created them . . . all are subject by nature to equal laws of morality, and in society have a right to equal laws for their government.”

Like equality, the founders knew that if a nation that had a high set of moral standards and if a people lived by those high standards, then they could adequately govern themselves.  The Founders understood that this principle established religions liberty to be a fundamental right.   Because if a free people are to govern themselves, they must govern themselves morally.

These principles that make up the core premises of America also include the idea that everyone has the right to the fruits of their own labor.  Freedom of economy,  unimpeded by the government.  This fundamental right to acquire, possess, and sell property is the cornerstone of opportunity and is the most practical means by which a free people can pursue human happiness.  This right to property, side-by-side with the free enterprise system that stems from it, is a source of prosperity and is the foundation of economic liberty.  American’s right to property is not unique, but the Founders recognized that it was the guardian of all other rights and that depriving people of their property (taxes, eminent domain, etc..), does in fact, deprive them of their liberty.  For without the right to private property, there can be no liberty.

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Because the people have rights and hold the power, the government has only the power that the people delegate to it.  These powers are specific and are specified by the fundamental law called the Constitution.   This document outlines a structure of government that provides for three branches of government.  One to make the laws, one to interpret the laws and one to execute the laws.  When the lines between which branch does what get blurred, then the power that belongs with the people, established by the rule of law, is no longer valid.  We are seeing this today as each branch tests the limits of power residing within itself.  This has been the result of years of small changes that have slowly re-normalized the lines.  As a result, Americans have lost freedom, Americans have lost liberty and Americans have relinquished some of their power.  If Americans are to regain that power, then these lines that were drawn at our founding, need to be re-established back to where they were originally drawn and agreed upon.  Fortunately our Founding Fathers recognized that this could happen as more and more power was concentrated in a single branch or the branches decided to usurp other branches in an attempt to gain power for themselves.  The fact that the people can, through elections or Constitutional amendments, restore the power back to the people is of itself quite exceptional.

Many Americans still believe that they do hold the true political power, or at least that they are supposed to.  There is a power struggle that exists between our elected federal officials (and those who influence them) and the people that will eventually come to conclusion.  Either America will totally subjugate its political power to the federal government and end “American Exceptionalism”, or it will reclaim its rightful place as the deciders of their own destiny.  It is inevitable that it goes one way or another, history shows that when government retains the power over the people, tyranny will eventually ensue.   The strife and  division we are currently seeing in our country is a result of this struggle for power, and will eventually have to be resolved.

The struggle that I believe has and will become an important aspect  in retaining our history of American Exceptionalism is the controversy over idea that our foundation is rooted firmly in Natural Law.  There are many today that argue that man can just know moral order and unalienable rights from his own reasoning, unaided by God.  Our Founders did not hold this view and a belief that man can determine what is moral and just by himself is fraught with dangers.  Mark Levin captured well in his book Liberty and Tyranny these dangers.  He stated, “This position would, it seems, lead man to arbitrarily create his own morality and rights — right and wrong, just and unjust, good and bad, would be relative concepts susceptible to circumstantial applications.  Moreover, by what justification would “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” be “unalienable Rights” if there is not Natural Law, since reason alone cannot make them inviolable?”   He went on to say “The abandonment of Natural Law is the adoption of tyranny in one form or another, because there is no humane or benevolent alternative to Natural Law.”  If we cannot agree to a common set of morals upon which we will all function, our nation will continue to be divided and uniting as a sovereign people to restore the rightful control of our political power as our Founders designed, the power will most assuredly shift away from the people.

Ronald Reagan said in 1964, and is still true today:

“It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers.  James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”   This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.  This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

So, to answer the question, America is quite exceptional.  Not exceptional in an arrogant way, but in the fact that at no other time in history has a free people been in control of  their government.  No other time in history has liberty and freedom been the cornerstone of a nation.  When one looks at the greatness of America, the list is long.  We not an arrogant country, we are a proud country.  We love what America stands for and we continue believe that our best days are still ahead.

I believe that exceptionalism will win the day.  America is the beacon freedom.  We have generations who have not had to sacrifice to maintain the American Dream, it has just been handed to them.  But, as more and more freedoms are removed from the people and the realization that liberties have been sacrificed, the people will revolt — it’s just a matter of how many freedoms must be infringed to catalyze the people to action.   The citizens of the United States of America believe in freedom, they believe in liberty and they will soon reestablish the  power that has been usurped by the monstrosity that is our federal government.   Stand strong American Exceptionalism is not dead.

I believe that America is a great nation.. and truly exceptional.  Exceptional not because we are better than any other nation and not in a superior way, but because the premise of our nation was founded on the idea of relying on God as the ultimate authority, not mans reason alone.  The founders understood that man was fallible and when man was grated ultimate authority it never turned out good for the people.  No other nation has been founded on the principle that the peoples’ rights are granted by God.  That is what I believe makes us exceptional.  Despite the fact that many politicians and leaders have forgotten our sacred commitment to that ideal and that the media has truly distorted the concept of exceptionalism for what they believe to be a political advantage.  Alex de Tocqueville once wrote of America, “America is not good because it is great, America is great because it is good.”  We will again be, as President Reagan put it, a “Shining City on a Hill” – an example of God’s grace and a force for good.  Not because we are superior, not cause we are more special or even that we are more blessed, but only because we are blessed.

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