Why America is Exceptional

One of the greatest things about our society is that we can get ahead by helping others. Until recent human history, to get ahead you had to help yourself and only yourself. A job which helped others would only keep you down. Bill Gates is the richest person in the world. He gained his wealth through making all our lives better. Blacksmiths were not blacksmiths because they were the kind of people that enjoyed working in hot forges, but rather because they had to toil in this labor to earn a living. Now we can serve others by being who we want to be. Someone who likes math can be a mathematician while someone who likes acting can perform in Hamilton. We live in the best time in history to be alive. Our dreams are achievable and our well-being depends on serving others to their satisfaction. To paraphrase economist Walter E. Williams, before today the way great wealth was amassed was by looting but today great wealth is amassed through serving your fellow man.

Civic knowledge and American values are the two qualities that have made The United States great. As Alexis de Tocqueville said in Democracy in America, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” One reason America is good is because of the values she holds. I think those values are on the decline, especially among the nation’s youth. I think every community in America needs to have its civic knowledge and belief in American values revitalized. As we forget what makes us American we cease to be American. As we forget what makes us exceptional we will stop being exceptional. We are not great because of where we are, any physical quality or luck but because of what we believe and the values we share. America is great because of ideas like individualism and liberty. We are forgetting that.

I believe that Americans need to have a better understanding of the current choice they face I think they also need a better understanding of how our government works. A quote falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson but correct regardless says, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Less than 40% of Americans can correctly name all three branches of government. 25% know that a Senator serves a six-year term and only 20% know there are 100 Senators. Less than 30% can point to the pacific oceans and name the Vice President while 20% believe the sun revolves around the earth. Our education system is failing us but this problem can be solved. The country faces serious problems in its future and an ignorant public will only exacerbate them.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and a society is only as strong as its weakest links. We need people to come together and go on the streets and into schools and distribute basic information on how our country works and on the issues which face all of us. We also need people with different views to listen to each other.  Take Ben Shapiro’s speech at California State Los Angeles. Before his speech was given the University canceled it to appease members of the student body who wanted to censor him. Ben Shapiro planned to give the speech anyway in protest against the University but the administration caved and allowed him to speak. Ben Shapiro required a police escort on and off campus and students who wanted to listen needed to be snuck in through the back to avoid a near riot-like environment outside the room.

This was not just an isolated incident. Forty percent of millennials say that the government should limit offensive speech. Americans should value liberty and as George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” While different sides of the political spectrum may disagree, finding common ground in the idea of liberty is on the decline. As Leo McKern said, “It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree.” An American society that does not believe in the right to speak is one that is not great. We cease to be good when we allow voices to be silenced. We cease to be great.

PJ O’Rourke once said, “Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” Problems do not arise when something is not known but when that ignorance is not known. It is not dangerous to not know something, no one knows everything. What is really dangerous is what we think we know but we do not know. That is the fatal conceit. Ignorance may be bliss but it is also fatal. An ignorant nation is destined for mediocrity and I want more for America. I think we still are great but to think we are entitled to greatness is foolish. We are on the wrong path and any change has to happen first in our communities. We are still good but when stop being good… we will stop being great.

3 thoughts on “Why America is Exceptional

  1. American exceptionalism is a belief that springs up when people take shallow patriotisn too far.

    In your article you say two things make us exceptional: civic knowledge and American values. So what is civic knowledge? (You do not define it or point out examples, you only walk about American values.)
    The American value you point out is America is good. Okay so why is America good? Is it because we are a democracy? Is it because we have liberty? Those civic structures and principles don’t make people, or a country, inherently good or bad. You could maintain a country that is democratic, but is also full of cannibals. Democracy doesn’t make a country automatically good. So what is it? Chrisrian values? If Christian values are the reason America is great (and good), then liberty and individualism (ironically enough) are destroying your ‘good’ America.

    Post enlightenment Individualism and liberty have led to mass societal degeneration. The West went from a place of hierarchy and religion, to a place of degeneracy and nihilism very quickly. Technology has masked this fall. America helped it along though! Overthrowing the monarchy is a first step in tearing down the old order, institutions, and religions. American values that you seem to praise so much, helped our society open the door for evil. We now live in a society where there are hundreds of genders, all order is dismissed as a social construct, and there is no social hierarchy. Is this really a ‘good’ America?

    It’s interesting how in only two hundred years, the West went from a religious, hierarchical, and philosophical place, to a degenerate, sinful, and culturally dead place. Technology had made it seem as though everything is fine, but this is merely an illusion. In old Europe, there were sacred traditions. Now Americans have traditions like watching porn each night. Before, Europeans were united by one people and one culture under a revered monarch. Today, Americans only God is themselves. The only allegiance for most Americans is feeling good.

    Bill Gates and his software that made him wealthy didn’t come about because muh American liberty. It came about because of advances in technology. These advances in technology mask our cultural decay. The blacksmith, by the same logic, made everyone’s lives better by providing metal tools and spurs. A blacksmith in the good ‘ol days learned his trade, and used it to made a profit. Nowadays, people think that they can be whatever they want. This is not true. A midget cannot compete in the NFL against extremely tall athletes. A man who is unable to speak cannot be a great singer. To say that America is special because you can be whatever you want is childish. That sentiment, which has spread all around the western world, is silly. People aren’t taught to improve themselves and learn a trade or skill when they are young. Instead, young people are told they are special. Every kid gets an award… right?

    America is crumbling. It is entirely divided. It should make one wonder, did the American Revolution lead to the creation of a perfect fairy tale land, or did it open the door for the collapse of any and all hierarchy, social norms, culture, and religion?


    1. The answer to the problem is dangerously simple… America just needs another Frontier. Frederick Jackson Turner, a famous American historian, proposed his “Frontier thesis”: America was not forged as a unique entity completely by its European heritage, it earned its aspects (a strongly democratic society, a lack of “high culture”, prone to violence, a need to protect one’s friends and community) by moving ever westward. The fringe communities built on the edge of American claimed soil had no large government to protect them, but they had their previous European values still with them, and that allowed them to adapt to the relatively harsh and uninhabited frontier – thus the birth of a more democratic environment, and the cultural taboo of having an authoritarian government. Highly organized religion could not function and maintain itself, so Protestantism held more power over Catholicism, and one might argue the less strict tenets found in Protestantism led to the American people being more individualistic than the European contemporaries. Also, either out of necessity, or perhaps adoption from the neighboring indigenous cultures, a more egalitarian society was created, one that respected the rights of minorities and women more than the original colonial societies. And, obviously, the stressful conditions under which early American pioneers had to endure was the birth of the “quick to anger, and occasionally quicker to forgive” mentality that the American people is stereotypically known for.

      But, times have changed. The qualities that have often been romanticized with the American Dream were created in a time of a Frontier, and were created thus because these qualities allowed people to survive. Then, after the railroad had mounted the American spine and rid the West of its magic – we had two World Wars. Two events to test the mettle of our ideals, to exhaust the love patriots had for their country. The wars, in a sense, were another frontier: A boundary to push against, the painful type of progress that refined the individual… or left him dead/forgotten. This challenge kept the American spirit alive. AND then, after that, we had a technological frontier. The sudden shock of convenience gave something for the American people to struggle against.

      And here we are now. The current generation has inherented the borderline-fictionalized qualities and privileges that previous generations had to strive to get, it had to be earned. Our lack of a frontier, lack of a struggle, has left the American people with too much free time, and with that comes the abuse of our liberty, our free speech, our equality, and our pride.

      To quote my favorite author, John Steinbeck: “We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these changes.”


  2. This kind of thinking reminds me of a scene from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The one between Nately and the old man in the Italian whorehouse:
    Old man in whorehouse: You see, Italy is a very poor, weak country and that is what makes us so strong, strong enough to survive this war and still be in existence, long after your country has been destroyed.
    Capt. Nately: What are you talking about? America is not going to be destroyed.
    Old man in whorehouse: Never?
    Capt. Nately: Well…
    Old man in whorehouse: Rome was destroyed. Greece was destroyed. Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you think your country will last? Forever?
    Capt. Nately: Well, forever is a long time.
    Old man in whorehouse: Very long.


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