Saturday, February 8, 2014

American "Exceptionalism"

American “Exceptionalism”
P. Schultz
February 8, 2014

From the Big Island

Here is my response to an article posted on Facebook by a friend. The article link is below.

 So, let me get this straight. The United States is or was "exceptional" because it/we were a religious people, who spread or sought to spread freedom throughout the world, while having an essentially "classless" society domestically. And now because these phenomena no longer exist or no longer have the power they once had, we got Obama, whose administration is the result of these changes. Are we suppose to take this argument seriously?

(1) As a "religious people," we Americans managed to practice racial slavery, even using that religion to justify the enslavement of millions of blacks. As a "religious people" we managed to kill lots of native Americans while dispossessing them in the process. And we did this, apparently, because as Newt Gingrich said, we are the only nation who believed power comes from God. Now, to say nothing about the injustice of our slavery and our genocide, how is enslaving people and wiping out or ghettoing other peoples "exceptional?" Seems to me these phenomena have occurred throughout human history. Cf. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

(2) Spreading freedom throughout the world. Oh yes, this is undeniable. We did that in Iran [the Shah was a great lover of freedom], Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba [Batista], Chile, Korea, Vietnam, and supported freedom in Iraq when Saddam waged war against Iran, while today supporting the freedom loving Saudis. In other words, the US has supported dictators whenever it seemed necessary and beneficial. Beneficial for what? For "projecting" our power throughout the world, whether that increased the amount of freedom in the world or not. Again, though, leaving aside any assessment of the merits, the justice, the morality of such actions, there is nothing "exceptional" here at all. The US has behaved precisely as all other powerful nations have behaved throughout human history, Cf. Machiavelli, The Prince.

(3) A "classless" society. Oh yes, this too in undeniable, I mean if we ignore slavery, the treatment of native Americans. the treatment of women, the treatment of gays and lesbians. Of course, typically the focus is economic but even here it is impossible to deny that we have classes, unless of course one is unconcerned with the facts.

Finally, I love how people like Beinart and others, based on almost wholly imagined phenomena, create arguments that are the equivalent of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. [As Tom Robbins pointed out, it all depends on whether the angels are waltzing or jitterbugging!] There is, in my mind, nothing, absolutely nothing exceptional about the US and how it has acted both at home and abroad. It has had its good moments but it has also committed gross injustices, acts of astounding inhumanity, and just plain dumb ass "mistakes."

But then when people take to waving flags, creating delusions such as all soldiers are virtuous, pounding their chests and chanting, "USA, USA, USA!" what else should be expect? Let me say again, however, that even all of this flag waving, etc., is nothing exceptional. It is as common as the human race. Cf. Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Machiavelli's The Prince, George Orwell's 1984, and a lot of stuff by Nietzsche. And isn't it interesting that many of those who claim to take political philosophy seriously can see "exceptionalism" in what is only human, all too human?

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