Thoughts On American Exceptionalism



Recently, in an op-ed for The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin disputed President Obama’s claim of American exceptionalism, warning of the danger of such a term. But is America exceptional? And if so, is this mindset dangerous?

America is most definitely exceptional. However, many feel uncomfortable hearing this statement, especially at a large university such as Michigan where political correctness and multiculturalism are widespread. If one looks in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, they would find that the definition of exceptional is “not usual; unusual or uncommon; unusually good; much better than average.” For some reason this term is considered offensive; professors and administrators whom adhere to political correctness would say the term American exceptionalism marginalizes those in the world who do not have the opportunity to take part in the American experience.

There should be no offense taken to such a statement as “American exceptionalism,” nor is there any marginalizing intentions in the phrase. It is an expression of our patriotic nature, a two-word description of the American goal, or the American dream. It both expresses America’s success globally and a hope for better perfection.


What “American Exceptioanlism” Doesn’t Mean

This description is not some claim that Americans are superior or exceptional because of blood or heredity. One can have the privilege of being born in America, or one can legally be given the opportunity to take part in the American way of life. In an essay by Dinesh D’Souza called “What’s Great About America,” he explains that “millions of people come from all over the world, and over time most of them come to think of themselves as Americans. Their experience suggests that becoming Americans is less a function of birth or blood and more a function of embracing a set of ideas and a way of life.”

Another false assumption associated with American exceptionalism is that since we are exceptional, we must go about meddling in the business of other countries. We as a country can be exceptional without the interventionist foreign policies that are associated with America. Although collectively we have the military strength to intervene, it is not our attempts to spread democracy or the ability to oust dictators that makes America exceptional.


So Why Is America So Exceptional?

America is exceptional because of our great experiment in liberty that was our nations founding. It is the vision and values of our founding fathers that have been translated into the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers that protect the rights of all, which makes them unique and exceptional. The institutions of our government that split up power between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, creating a system of checks and balances have been greatly successful and speak to America’s institutional exceptionalism.

Despite the imperfections of these institutions – exemplified in the government shutdown – the founding fathers foresaw such problems. They understood that men are imperfect and sinful creatures, and thus a perfectly virtuous and utopian system of government was not possible. Despite such flaws, the democratic-republic form of government America is idolized for is unlike all others in the world and therefore exceptional.

America is exceptional because of the potential that is at every citizen’s fingertips. In other words, America is exceptional because of the “American Dream.” America is known for its entrepreneurial spirit – from Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. It the potential for self-made success in pursuit of happiness that has caused immigrants from all generations, all over the world, to come to America. The ability to work one’s way up the ladder of success allowing for class mobility, made possible through America’s vast capitalistic economy is yet another reason America is exceptional.

Another reason America is exceptonal is our multicultural origins. The fact that people come here from all over the globe to take part in American life is in itself exceptional. This multiculturalism results in a culmination of diverse cultures, traditions, and peoples. America is a pluralistic culture – a true melting pot – where people can preserve the traditions they hold near and dear while still taking part in American traditions. This culmination is not just of diverse people, but also of diverse ideas, that make America a breeding ground for innovation, education, and technology.

Do not mistake this multiculturalism I speak of as the brand of multiculturalism that plagues university campuses. This “false” sense of multiculturalism found in universities such as Michigan is the kind that attempts to socially level different cultures for the sake of “not offending anyone.” It finds the term “American Exceptionalism” as denigrating to anyone outside of America and denounces it as politically incorrect. This “false” sense of multiculturalism is afraid that American exceptionalism and American traditions will suffocate and destroy all other cultural traditions beneath it.  This is not so.

Where else in the world can one have so much freedom to practice their own religions, preserve their traditions, and maintain their cultural identity? Where else do founding documents, values, and divisions of power protect people’s rights and liberties? Where else allows for such opportunities to succeed in the pursuit of happiness? These are all distinctly American. There is no other place on earth that allows for this type of freedom, potential, and opportunity. This is exactly what makes America exceptional.


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