Friday, April 22, 2016

It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.

From Richard Hofstadter as quoted in Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, 1981.
It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.
There is a strand of public discourse which tries to downplay American Exceptionalism. I understand why, for ideological reasons and for simple political expediency this is important to those such proponents. Based on my experience of living in multiple countries on five continents over nearly six decades, it is my experience that the US is indeed an exceptional country for many, many reasons. This belief is backed up with extensive reading of history but it is in the lived experience where you can see the exceptionalism most clearly.

One of the aspects of exceptionalism is the powerful sense of Americanism. We see and acknowledge differences among ourselves. He's from the South, she's Catholic, he's rich, she's a doctor, etc. But in general these categories function overwhelmingly as adjectives intended to provide background and context. They are not categories intended to capture and constrain. In the past forty years with the advance of progressivism and postmodernism, there has been an effort to define people both as Identities and as Victims. By race, gender, and class primarily, but there is a lot of flex in the ideology.

But that subscription to postmodern ideas of constrained (and constraining) Identity are still thankfully rare in the US, prevalent only in the academy and, when it is convenient, in the entertainment industry and among some class of politicians. Fortunately, most Americans still believe in American exceptionalism and believe all Americans to be fellow adherents. I will judge you on how you behave, what you do and what you accomplish rather than based on your accent or region or race, etc. If we mesh, wonderful. If we don't, we can go our own ways without interfering with one another.

It is an estimable position to take. We are an ideology of freedom and liberty. Thank goodness. And that is exceptional.

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