Saturday, July 21, 2012

American Exceptionalism de Tocqueville-Style

The Republicans can't ever stop pushing the meme of "American Exceptionalism". In the wrong way.

Then, there are some on the Left (or who purport to be on the Left), who can't stop talking about it either; they tout "American Exceptionalism" as a bad thing. I agree with them, inasfar as they're actually talking about the Right's interpretation of "American Exceptionalism," which is incorrect; and since, the Left takes umbrage with the Right's interpretation of it, they must, as well, be totally as clueless as the Right about what "American Exceptionalism" means.

In the wake of the horrific events which happened this week in Aurora, Colorado, Bill Maher has waded into the post-tragedy debate with a tweet which pokes at everyone's misconception of American Exceptionalism:-


Well, it certainly got Newsbuster's Noel Sheppard's knickers in a twist. (Really, Maher throws these soupcons out, and the Right lap it up. It's publicity for Maher, don't they realise?) Sheppard responded thus:-

One has to wonder how stoned Maher was when he wrote this nonsense.
So many of the things that make us exceptional these days are bad?
How can something exceptional be bad?
Most people define "exceptional" as excellent or superior. Can that be bad?
More importantly, a clearly disturbed young man massacred innocents for no reason, and Maher sees this as an opportunity to bash conservatives and the concept of American exceptionalism.
What should make people sadder than the comment itself is that there are so many folks around this great nation who agree with him, and that maybe such anti-American sentiments are part of the problem.
Well, actually, Noel, something "exceptional" can be bad, but that's beside the point. The point is that both sides  who enter into the "American Exceptionalism" debate, clearly don't understand what American Exceptionalism is as defined by the man who invented the term - a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville.

I can buy into the premise that most of the Right haven't read de Tocqueville, for various reasons - chief amongst them, being that he's French. So they read the writings of Ayn Rand, a Russian, instead. Go figure.

But, surely, people on the Left - and, in particular, Maher, who, purportedly, had a double major in English and History at no less than Cornell, must have read de Tocqueville's writings about America. I first read de Tocqueville in English in my podunk Southern high school in Virginia - where I was taught by various, Southern atheist and Republican intellectuals. Then I read him again at university, in French. That was also in the South.

de Tocqueville's idea of American Exceptionalism basically derives from his amazement that the United States was different from every other nation then extant in the world, in that it derived its origin from revolution. And instead of being a nation founded upon a common racial or ethnic demographic or upon a common religious background, the United States of America was a nation of immigrants from various demographics, who based their nation on the ideals of liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire.

Removed from our older and probably more socially repressive roots, the new country and its new democracy made it easier for people to advance in a way which was unthinkable in the world from whence de Tocqueville came. Hard to believe today, but the United States really was once the land of opportunity for so many who came to its shores.

That this historic phrase has been appropriated and spun into disrepute by people who neither understand its true meaning nor have read the phrase in its original context is something that one would expect from the likes of neocons and their mutations like the Tea Party and its doyennes such as Palin and Bachmann. But the Left shouldn't add fodder to the fire by pushing back against the Right's misappropriated interpretation just for the sake of an argument.

Instead, they should accentuate the positive and educate the benighted to its true and original meaning. It's simple, because the real meaning of American Exceptionalism is summed up in the three Latin words which appear on our currency: E pluribus unum ... Out of many, one.

Shame too few realise what that means.



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