Phi Beta Cons

American Exceptionalism Means that America Is Exceptional

Byron York on Bill Bennett’s show this morning said that the various defenders of the Iraq War have been criticizing Obama’s policies, but have not admitted their own mistakes in planning and executing that war. This is true and will interfere with the American people’s willingness to accept any further American activity regarding Iraq and may also influence future elections.

The main error was not to see the importance of a country’s underlying culture as the major factor in its capacity to create liberal self-government. And this factor directly bears on our interests here, in upholding the importance of teaching the liberal arts in order to protect and convey our culture in its totality to future generations. You can’t just be reading the Founding documents again and again.

The proponents of the Iraq War took the rhetorical idea of freedom as a universal value to the extreme–insisting that freedom as we understand it is instantly politically realizable by every nation on earth. The influence of Leo Strauss may have been operative here, with his repudiation of “historicism.”

Ironically, the Iraq War proponents invoked American exceptionalism in our invading to bring democracy abroad, but then seemed to forget just how exceptional America is, with its legacy of Anglo-Saxon and Judeo-Christian traditions. At that point, the proponents tended toward thoughtless, condescending lectures and pep talks that Americans were not to think that other nations weren’t as capable of freedom as we have been–in other words, that we were not exceptional!

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