In Part 1 of this three part series I laid out my own case for American Exceptionalism based on some exceptional ideas and events in American history. In part 2 I will examine some history and potential consequences should America lose her freedom, and thus her exceptionalism. In part 3 of this series I will examine some of the ideas, people and events that are commonly used to argue against the idea of American Exceptionalism.
As I write this essay, there are only 22 countries around the world where people live in freedom under a democratic form of government older than 50 years. Further, and quite astonishingly, less than 5% of all of the people who ever lived on this earth have lived in freedom, and the majority of those 5% have lived in the United States in the past 200+ years since its founding. In other words, liberty is not the norm. Ronald Reagan has pointed out that”Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Reagan also likened the United States as a “Shining city on a hill…” which stood as a beacon of strength, liberty and opportunity to generations of freedom seeking people from around the world, my father and my mothers parents among them.
I have just finished reading a remarkable book, The Miracle of Freedom 7 Tipping Points the Saved the World (by Chris and Ted Stewart). Reading this book caused me to dig a bit deeper into the topic of American Exceptionalism, the probable consequences of losing it, and also (in part 3) those events in our history that mitigate against the claim of American Exceptionalism . Believe me, you do not want to live where there is no freedom, and if America loses its exceptionalism, it will be because it has lost its freedom.
People living without freedom invariably live a very miserable life. The authors cited above paint some very gruesome pictures of such a life: the story of slaves laboring 18 hours a day, 7 days a week building a burial tomb for an Egyptian Pharaoh; the story of large numbers of children being herded in front of the armies of Genghis Khan as protection for the invading army; the story of a 12 year old Chinese boy taken away bound in ropes to be sacrificed to the king; and others of a similar vein. We can add to the list from our own knowledge of history, and unfortunately for some among us, personal experiences such as the remaining survivors of the Holocaust.
America, the land of the free and home of the brave was not so free for millions of Africans brought here as slaves. America, the land of the free and home of the brave was not so free for those thousands of American citizens of Japanese decent who were rounded up and put into internment camps. America, the land of the free and home of the brave was not so free for black Americans suffering under the terror of the KKK in the post Civil War South. So you see, even in this great land of ours, we are not so far removed from the tyranny brought about when individuals have no freedom.
I was reminded recently of the preciousness of liberty as I sat in the last row of an airliner bound for San Diego from New York City. In front of me was a Jewish family, and in front of them a black family. As I looked at these two families, the thought came to my mind; in other societies such as Nazi Germany, I could (legally) shove that Jewish family into a rail car and send them off in mass to be murdered in gas chambers. In my own country in years past, I could (legally) break apart that black family and sell each member separately to be slaves to another white master. I could at any time whip my slave, or even kill him without due process of law.
What keeps the Americans civilization in 2011 from slipping into the darkness of tyranny and oppression and joining those in the past who brought so much suffering to so many? May I suggest to you that the reason is summed up in the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America’s exceptionalism comes about because America’s vector has been the vector of liberty, and we veer away from that vector at our own peril (Correction: at our grandchildren’s peril.)
That my friends is why American Exceptionalism matters.
What say you?