The Corner

American Exceptionalism

The other day I finished reading A History of the American People, the 1997 door-stopper book by Paul Johnson. Actually, I listened to the audiobook, which is 38 CDs long, each one 70+ minutes. It took a couple of months but was definitely worth the investment of time. My favorite paragraph is the last one, found on page 976 (in the copy that has sat on my shelf for years). Read it and feel good about America:

It is appropriate to end this history of the American people on a note of success, because the story of American is essentially one of difficulties being overcome by intelligence and skill, by faith and strength of purpose, by courage and persistence. America today, with its 260 million people, its splendid cities, its vast wealth, and its unrivaled power, is a human achievement without parallel. That achievement–the transformation of a mostly uninhabited wilderness into the supreme national artifact of history–did not come about without heroic sacrifice and great sufferings stoically endured, many costly failures, huge disappointments, defeats, and tragedies. There have indeed been many setbacks in 400 years of American history. As we have seen, many unresolved problems, some of daunting size, remain. But the Americans are, above all, a problem-solving people. They do not believe that anything in this world is beyond human capacity to soar to and dominate. They will not give up. Full of essential goodwill to each other and to all, confident in their human decency and their democratic skills, they will attack again and again the ills in their society, until they are overcome or at least substantially redressed. So the ship of state sails on, and mankind still continues to watch its progress, with wonder and amazement and sometimes apprehension, as it moves into the unknown waters of the 21st century and the third millennium. The great American republican experiment is still the cynosure of the world’s eyes. It is still the first, best hope for the human race. Looking back on its past, and forward to its future, the auguries are that it will not disappoint an expectant humanity.

John J. Miller — John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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