What Makes America Exceptional?

There is not enough space to spell out all of what makes America exceptional compared to other countries of the world, however it is worth identifying a few traits that contribute to our uniqueness as a country. A negative, more cynical view of American exceptionalism has become a popular trend among millennials and many on the Left, often a result of liberal college professors revising our nation’s history and spreading their cynicism to young and passionate minds. It is important therefore, to first differentiate what American exceptionalism is and what it is not.

American exceptionalism has taken on the image of a narcissistic, chest-beating bravado, where it’s citizen arrogantly pronounce themselves greater than everyone else. Some have interpreted “exceptional” to mean “wonderful”, hence leading people to associate exceptionalism with whichever trait they think wonderful about America.[1] Both fall short of the true meaning of American exceptionalism. It’s important to recognize that American exceptionalism is not a concept that Americans developed on their own. According to Charles Murray, “American exceptionalism is a concept that was shared by observers throughout the Western World, not just Americans.”[2] At the time of our nation’s founding, the ideas of a government getting its governing power from the consent of the governed was unfathomable and remarkable. This style of government was something that had never been done before and was truly unique. The rest of the world watched as Americans developed an ideology of individual liberty into a governing creed.[3] In simplicity, American exceptionalism refers to the uniqueness of America. Unique for uniqueness’ sake has not made our country great, rather it is our core values that have excelled America into greatness, such values just so happen to have been uniquely applied to a governing philosophy that continues to this day. According to Newt Gingrich, “The fundamental ideas of American exceptionalism are found in the Declaration of Independence.”[4]

The idea that humanity “is endowed by its Creator with certain unalienable rights” is the basis for American Liberty. It is what separates us from the Old World that was ruled by absolute monarchs. The order of authority throughout the nations of history was government over the individual. Government would allocate whichever ‘rights’ and ‘dignities’ it sought fit for its citizens to possess. By recognizing that God is sovereign over the universe, man as His creation must obey an order of justice that God has instituted. God, then the individual, then government- set America apart, an exception from all nations that came before it.[5]

Gingrich explains, “That if our rights are given by a Divine Creator, then there is a divine plan for humanity; and that since all men are created equal before God, they should be legally and politically protected as well.” Equality and liberty for all is an American value, one which is borrowed from Scripture which says that all men are made in the image of God. (Gen 1:26) Equality does not mean moral licentiousness. It does not mean a man has a right to pretend to be a woman under the guise and excuse of equality, nor that Americans possess a special right to redefine sacred institutions; such as the marriage covenant. Equality as image bearers of God refers to equal treatment under the rule of law, protection from government interference relating to political views and the liberty of the individual to live free of government coercion. Gingrich argues that America is the only nation on earth to fight a civil war over the nature of equality. No other nation on earth has ever fought for the simple, self-evident truth that all men are created equal.[6]

There are many other things can be said about the uniqueness of America. If we are to gain back some of the ground we have lost in the cultural battle, the fundamental ideas that made our country great and exceptional need to be revisited and understood, that they may be articulated in the market place of ideas. The Left does all they can to make our country look more like Europe, we need to do our part in order that our country remains exceptional.

[1] Murray, Charles. American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C.

[2] Ibid. pp 5

[3] Ibid. pp 3

[4] Gingrich, Newt. A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters. Regnery Publishing, Inc.

[5] Ibid. pp 22

[6] Ibid. pp 23

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