Demise of Freedom's Conversation
By Staff News & Analysis - February 10, 2014

The End of American Exceptionalism … From the moment Barack Obama appeared on the national stage, conservatives have been searching for the best way to describe the danger he poses to America's traditional way of life. Secularism? Check. Socialism? Sure. A tendency to apologize for America's greatness overseas? That, too. But how to tie them all together? … Newt Gingrich published A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters, in which he warned that "our government has strayed alarmingly" from the principles that made America special … When conservatives say American exceptionalism is imperiled, they're onto something. In fundamental ways, America is becoming less exceptional. – National Review

Dominant Social Theme: The wonderful things about the US are going away …

Free-Market Analysis: Oh, this is a funny article, making the case that US exceptionalism is subsiding.

What makes the article funny is the way exceptionalism is described. The exceptionalism that exists in the US was defined by President Barack Obama when he answered a question about his beliefs during a 2009 press conference.

He said, "We have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional."

Of course, Obama says much that sounds good but unfortunately applies little of it to his governing philosophy. Nonetheless, this is similar to a Wikipedia definition of "American Exceptionalism," as follows:

American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is "qualitatively different" from other states. In this view, U.S. exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called "the first new nation" and developing a uniquely American ideology, "Americanism", based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire. This ideology itself is often referred to as "American exceptionalism."

The phrase may have first emerged via Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote his great work Democracy in America after touring the US. It was Tocqueville who observed that the US was moving in a different direction than the corrupt dynasties of Europe.

Now, it is true that Tocqueville believed that intervention was a right and even a necessity of great states but it is just as obvious that this was not his main preoccupation. He wrote, "Liberty is my foremost passion." It was surely "liberty" that Tocqueville had in mind when he wrote about "exceptionalism."

But that is not the conclusion of the National Review, apparently. Here's more:


To understand what's threatening American exceptionalism, one must first understand what its contemporary champions mean by the term. American exceptionalism does not simply mean that America is different from other countries. (After all, every country is different from every other one.) It means that America departs from the established way of doing things, that it's an exception to the global rule.

… As America and Europe have changed over time, so have the attributes that exceptionalists claim distinguish us from them. But for the contemporary Right, there are basically three: our belief in organized religion; our belief that America has a special mission to spread freedom in the world; and our belief that we are a classless society where, through limited government and free enterprise, anyone can get ahead. Unfortunately for conservatives, each of these beliefs is declining fast.

THE RISE OF ANTICLERICALISM For centuries, observers have seen America as an exception to the European assumption that modernity brings secularism. "There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America," de Tocqueville wrote … The people most responsible for America's declining religious exceptionalism are the conservatives who have made organized Christianity and right-wing politics inseparable in the minds of so many of America's young.

NONINTERVENTIONISM If the champions of American exceptionalism see religion as one key dividing line between the new and old worlds, they see America's special mission overseas as another. "I believe," declared Romney in 2011, that "we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world … that of a great champion of human dignity and human freedom." study in 2011, millennials were a whopping 40 points less likely than people 75 and older to call America "the greatest country in the world." Young Americans, in fact, are no more "civilizationally self-confident" than their European counterparts … If any president bears responsibility for the public's souring on the idea that the United States can play by its own rules on the world stage, it is Bush, assisted by many of the same conservative politicians and pundits who now bemoan American exceptionalism's demise.

CLASS-CONSCIOUSNESS American exceptionalism's third, and most fundamental, contemporary meaning is about neither religion nor foreign policy. It's about mobility. Starting in the 19th century, foreign observers began noting that white Americans were less likely than Europeans to be prisoners of their birth … When it comes to declining faith in the American Dream of upward mobility, as with declining faith in organized religion and declining faith in America's special mission in the world, conservatives have helped foment the very backlash against American exceptionalism that they decry.

We can see from the above that the National Review's idea of US exceptionalism and its historical definition are not the same. The historical definition of US exceptionalism is based on Tocqueville's overriding concern with "liberty" and with the fruits of liberty that include free markets, individualism and laissez faire.

But this article seems to redefine Tocqueville's American "exceptionalism" as something close to corporatism and then bemoans its demise. Even the third leg of "exceptionalism" is presented in a modern context, though US founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson were anti-corporate: They would have found the corporatism of today – and the striving to reach the corporate apex – to be a horrifying development.

This article shows us once again how language is perverted – and surely the forces of globalism support this sort of impulse. The modern Western media, for instance, uses the word "inflation" to encapsulate "price inflation." And (classical) liberalism used to mean "laissez faire" but today means "progressivism." This is a kind of brainwashing, conducted by both right and left … which are united in supporting various iterations of internationalism.

Just the other day we wrote, in "Conservatism Is Not Freedom," about how there is an effort underway to replace the word "libertarian" with "conservative" – though the two are not the same. In this National Review article, written by an author who works for a famous think tank and publishes in the most famous "conservative" magazine in the US, we can see the laborious effort to redefine Tocqueville's exceptionalism.

After Thoughts

The overriding impulse seems to be to confuse people about the vocabulary of freedom. When there are no words to describe the concept, talking about it becomes difficult.

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