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20131027 The Exceptional America



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This small book is written in 2011 and it seems to be a response to the famous statement by president Obama when answering to question about American exceptionalism. He pretty much stated that America is as exceptional to Americans as Belgium is exceptional to citizens of Belgium. I guess this piece of ignorance should be engraved somewhere next to Obama’s statement that he visited all 57 states of USA.

Actually American status as an exceptional country is pretty much generally accepted worldwide view whether it is accepted with positive connotation as country of freedom and prosperity, or with negative connotation as country of greedy capitalists and self-destructive, unreasonably hard working, money crazy, and madly religious primitives.

This nice book provides a response by presenting pretty clear picture of what American exceptionalism is, and how it come to be. First of all America is exceptional in its geographical settings – it represents a big chunk of the continent separated by oceans from big and powerful at the time countries of Europe which provided for America’s peaceful existence for significant part of its history, meaning no big military, no big war, no mass conscription, and no regular destruction. The size of country provided for abundant land open for settlement for the first century and a half, giving opportunity for any European with guts and drive to settle on his own farm without being robbed by lords, kings, and such.

These settlers created their own ideology, which while being articulated pretty well in founding documents, nevertheless was deeply engraved in minds and hearts of majority of Americans well before these documents were written. The key to this ideology is the simple notion that “all men are created equal” and while acting in their own self-interest through market and without violence, except for self-defense, they more often then not create the best outcome for everybody involved.

Charles Murray identifies 4 key American traits that make this country: Industriousness, Egalitarianism, Religiosity, and Community life based on Voluntarism and Philanthropy.
He provides a very nice picture representing how typical American behavior patterns grow out of these traits, for example Industriousness linked to self-reliance, hard work, and getting ahead. Religiosity linked to social activism, utopian aspirations, and inner self-government. Egalitarianism made aristocracy non-starter, supported mutual respects and equality of dignity, and produced special American phenomenon when the vast majority of individuals identify themselves as middle class even if some of them are rich and others are poor. The last trait is one of the main reasons why socialism and communism ideas did not created mass political movement in America as it happened in Europe.

Murray also analyses current state of American exceptionalism and finds significant deterioration of all these specific American traits. His diagnosis is this:” America still has exceptional aspects, but we are no longer the unique outlier that amused, amazed, and bemused the rest of the world from its founding through the first half of the twentieth century”.

I think that something is missing in this diagnosis. This something is the fact that the whole world moved quite dramatically in the direction of American ideology, even if in America itself this ideology is under attack. This movement removed formal aristocracy just about everywhere in the world. It created democracies elsewhere even if lots of them are far from perfect. It moved the vast majority of the world to market system living state planning in dust. In short as world moved close to America, it became less exceptional.

I also think that America is far from done. I believe that resurgence of American culture is coming and it is coming on the scale that nobody can even imagine right now so the current temporary degradation will be considered for what it is – the small bump on the way to world wide triumph of freedom, self-reliance, and egalitarianism.

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