The Magazine

What’s So Great About America

Nov 15, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 09 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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President Obama—who in other venues, such as his Nobel speech, has given eloquent testimony to America’s uniqueness—last year made a now notorious remark that nicely summarized the off-the-shelf liberal view. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” The logic is straightforward. Since every people believes it’s exceptional, none is. And thus our belief in American exceptionalism merely shows how much we’re like everybody else; the assertion disproves itself. We all of us here on Spaceship Earth indulge in a kind of touching childish delusion, akin to a toddler’s belief that he’s the center of the universe. We really should grow up. 

For many sophisticated Democrats the belief is not merely childish but dangerous. It distracts us from the urgent matters at hand. “This conceit that we’re the greatest country ever may be self-immolating,” Kinsley wrote. “If people believe it’s true, they won’t do what’s necessary to make it true.” 

This strikes us—and will strike most Americans, we’ll wager—as the precise opposite of the truth. Americans through time have already done “what’s necessary to make” the country unique in all the world; that’s why Glenn Beck and all those Tea Partiers prattle endlessly on about the Founders. Thanks to the ingenuity, persistence, and sacrifice of earlier generations, our obligation now is to conserve the arrangements that make us exceptional, reaffirm them, and prepare to pass them on, with an abiding faith in personal liberty. And this much should be obvious: If Americans don’t believe “we’re the greatest country ever,” we won’t be for much longer. 

Sounds like a campaign theme.

—Andrew Ferguson

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