Is American Exceptionalism Dead?

Crossposted at The Rockefeller Republican

“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”-Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political thinker and historian of the 19th century best known for his Democracy in America, felt that the United States held a special place among nations. He said this over 150 years ago when the nation was only 50 years old. This idea gradually took hold and came to be know as American Exceptionalism. This is currently defined as the theory that the United States occupies a special niche among developed nations in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, strong democratic and religious institutions and unique origins. However, recent events have lead me to question whether the concept still resonates in the 21st century. If it does not then perhaps it is time to repair some faults.

“No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and what is not yet done is only what he has not yet attempted to do.” – Tocqueville

What exactly is our nation credo as we enter this new era in American history? What truths do we hold to be central to who we are as Americans. Once upon a time those truths were of Emersonian self reliance, frontier-style entrepreneurialism , and fierce independence. Do these still hold true in a time when we are conforming to societal norms as presented by banal TV sitcoms, regularly looking to the government for not just a hand-up but a hand-out, and seem to be bowing more and more to pressures from the international community when it comes to our foreign policy?

“Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?”
– Tocqueville

We are still of course the world’s pre-eminent democracy, however, our religious character, which stood as the foundation of our society, has been called into question. Just last week the American Religious Identification Survey came out with data that showed since 1990, the percentage of Americans claiming no religion has nearly doubled, growing to 15% last year. America was not founded as a country of any particular religion, however, we have always held that basic religious principles were what held our democracy together. If we go the way of most of the European continent and become essentially areligious will our democracy hold?

Over at The American, Charles Murray has a nice piece on how America must decide exactly what it wants to be in the 21st century.

“The advent of the Obama administration brings this question before thenation: Do we want the United States to be like Europe? President Obama and his leading intellectual heroes are the American equivalent of Europe’s social democrats. There’s nothing sinister about that. They share an intellectually respectable view that Europe’s regulatory and social welfare systems are more progressive than America’s and advocate reforms that would make the American system more like the European system. It is the elites who are increasingly separated from the America over which they have so much influence. That is not the America that Tocqueville saw. It is not an America that can remain America.”

What we are faced with today is more than a financial crisis, more than a depressed economy, even more than a bloated federal government. We are faced with a cultural crisis, and if we do not act soon we could see the America of our fathers and grandfathers disappear within our generation.
“When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.”– Tocqueville