What is American exceptionalism and how come I don’t believe in it? Well there are probably a lot of people who will argue with my definition, but here it is:
- The United States is not merely unique, it is special, alone among the countries of the Earth.
I don’t buy this.
If you think about it honestly, there really isn’t anything that exists in the United States that doesn’t exist in some form elsewhere in the world or in history. We didn’t invent democracy. We didn’t invent human rights. We didn’t invent capitalism. We didn’t invent religious tolerance. Arguably the only things we invented are pop music forms like bluegrass, the blues, jazz and rock, and even those rapidly spread into the world and then came back to us greatly transformed.
Think what world would have been like if the United States never existed. Yes, history would be totally different, but I think there would be some trends that would have emerged anyway. The Industrial Revolution would have happened anyway. European powers would have still been struggling for dominance and this would have eventually lead to global war. The world would have been colonized and then decolonized. Technical progress would still have occurred, perhaps more slowly, perhaps even more rapidly, but it would have occurred. In other words the world wouldn’t have been better or worse, it would have just been different. That’s all.
We are not God’s chosen people. We are not the only best and brightest in the world. We are not exceptional. Yes, we have the greatest concentration of economic, military and therefore political and cultural power in the world currently, but this is by no means permanent. One only has to look at the rapid advances of China and India to realize that. The United States may not last forever, and the world isn’t doomed simply because we cease to exist. We are not always right. And sometimes we need to listen to the rest of the world. We can be arrogant and hypocritical in our ideals. But to be fair, every country on the face of the Earth and in the depths of history has been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. We are not exceptional in that either. We are unique, but then so is everybody else.