It’s nice of Andrew Ferguson to admit that conservatives like to prattle on about ‘American Exceptionalism,’ at least in part, because it irritates liberals and it polls well. But he still doesn’t really explain why he thinks it’s true. Obviously, it has something to do with personal liberty and freedom. It has something to do with making a lot of people very wealthy. We have enjoyed a lot of material success as a nation. We’ve led in many fields. But Ferguson doesn’t really get specific.
We obviously had an exceptional beginning, leading the way in decolonization and representative government. But we’re hardly alone in that now. What makes us exceptional today is largely mere happenstance. We emerged from World War Two in the strongest position, and we took it upon ourselves to take a lead role in rebuilding the world on terms more consistent with our values than the values of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Hirohito. And we’ve agreed to maintain a lead role, which means everything from hosting the United Nations in New York, to being the enforcement arm of the U.N., to funding the IMF and The World Bank, to policing the world’s shipping lanes. Sometimes these roles are special because they make people exceptionally pissed off. But we do these things, and it does set us apart.
However, I never know if conservatives hate Europe’s socialism because they think it’s only possible because they are sissy-boys who rely on us to protect them, or if they actually feel like Europe is under the jack-boot of authoritarianism. In other words, do the people at the Weekly Standard think we can’t afford to police the shipping lanes and patrol Afghanistan and provide people with a solid social safety net? Will the cost of Medicare and Social Security and ObamaCare eventually compel us to leave those onerous tasks to the Chinese? Is that their fear? Or do they honestly think it’s a matter of personal liberty to have to buy health insurance from some for-profit corporation?
I don’t know. Maybe they just like stuff that polls well and pisses off liberals. What I do know is that our exceptional role comes at an exceptional cost. I don’t want to turn everything over to the Chinese. But, if our outsized international role is what’s preventing us from sharing Europe’s standard of living and security, then I think we should ask Europe to do more to help us shoulder our burdens. I think we’ve earned that right. And I think we’ve proven that, as exceptional as we may be, we make a lot of mistakes. We have not earned the right to continue on this way. Our track record is too mixed to say we have cornered the market on wisdom or virtue.