The Corner

Exceptionally Strange

Richard Cohen’s attack on “American exceptionalism” — which “has been adopted by the right to mean that America, alone among the nations, is beloved of God” — takes him into some strange territory.

The huge role of religion in American politics is nothing new but always a matter for concern nonetheless. In the years preceding the Civil War, both sides of the slavery issue claimed the endorsement of God. The 1856 Republican convention concluded with a song that ended like this: “We’ve truth on our side/ We’ve God for our guide.” Within five years, Americans were slaughtering one another on the battlefield.

Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter.

Does Cohen really want to maintain that the Republicans of the 1850s should have been more willing to compromise on slavery? Is this what liberalism has come to?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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