What is Special about Americans?
Semantics and its applied subdiscipline, “spinning,” the craft of recasting a statement to changing its meaning is in popular political use today. We use “exceptionalism” to set us (Americans) apart and above other societies in the world.
Lest my posts appear slanted (everyone has a point of view) I include a small article by Gary Hart, a previously viable centrist candidate for the US presidency who has some interesting things to say in his blog.
What that is and what it means deserves to be explored further. One of the first investigation of our exceptionalism is do create a list of elements that contribute to this exceptionalism. some of these parameters are:
Life expectancy, Infant mortality, Economic security, Environmental performance, Political stability, Political freedom, Gender equality and others. I’ve taken the data from Wikipedia because it’s a reasonably reliable source. A more scholarly footnoted and annotated list would still have it’s detractors because, as Mark Twain said: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
The truth is that american exceptionalism is measurable. As long as we are not in the top five among the nations of the world, our exceptionalism is but an empty wish . – carlos
Gary Hart’s Blog, http://www.mattersofprinciple.com/?p=596
From time to time Americans discuss our “exceptionalism”. Aside from annoying our friends and allies, and confusing everyone else, there is nothing destructive in this discussion. It all depends on what we mean when we think of being exceptional.
Some think it means being better than others, both as people and as a nation. The obvious danger in this is that it leads us to believe our actions, even wrong ones, are justified by this exceptionalism.
But the definition of “exceptional” is instructive. In addition to meaning remarkable or exceptionally good, it also means abnormal, odd, anomalous, peculiar, aberrant, and deviant. So, care should be taken when tossing a word like “exceptional” around.
Though not an “America right or wrong” exceptionalist, it seems to me we are different. But our difference from others should make us humble not proud or arrogant. Because our difference rests in our founding principles, ideals, and beliefs. They are embodied in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. These principles spring from deep religious beliefs, from enlightenment ideals, and from centuries of progressive civilization. They arise from the very reasons our nation was created in the first place.
These principles are universal, catholic (universal), and undying. They are the ultimate in human aspirations. But, the reason for us to be humble is that we do not always live up to them. The people of the world judge us always by the degree to which we live and embody these principles and ideals on a daily basis in dealing with each other and with them.
We are considered exceptional and admirable when we live according to our very highest principles. We are considered hypocrites when we do not.
Our Founders knew very well what they were doing. They created a nation whose ideals and aspirations were unique in world history. They hoped those who followed would behave accordingly. They knew that if we, their heirs, did not, we would be just like every other society and nation in history–without exception.