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by: douglas v. gibbs | published: 01 04, 2012

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The definition of Exceptionalism is, “The condition of being exceptional or unique; The theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm.” [1] In other words, to be exceptional is to be truly unique, and to be the exception to the rule.

Indeed, the United States is exceptional. This country is different from all of the others around the world. Our exceptionalism is not a recent occurrence, either. America was exceptional long before the United States became a nation. The conditions through which the American Colonies emerged, and their belief in Divine Providence, contributed to the exceptional nature of the United States of America.

This nation was not only exceptional at its founding, but has become increasingly exceptional over the passage of time. The exceptionalism that this country enjoys will no doubt continue well into the future, as long as the concept of exceptionalism is defended by the individuals that make up the grand experiment known as The United States of America.

The exceptional nature of the United States has been important not only to the growth of this country both geographically and economically, but to the many other peoples around the world. Our exceptionalism has set us apart in many ways, defining our character as a nation of opportunity, revealing our individualistic nature that has given way to self-reliance, and prosperity. Americans are more likely to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and engage any challenge that may come their way. We tend to be more personally responsible, we work harder, hold disdain for statism, are more charitable, and are more likely to participate in civic activities. Best of all, we do these things voluntarily, because we are free to as individuals.

Americans are patriotic. We are proud to be Americans. Some argue that is a form of arrogance, but in reality our pride as Americans is truly exceptional. According to the book, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation. Editor James Q. Wilson explains that to understand American Exceptionalism, one must only look at polls. “Three-quarters of Americans say they are proud to be Americans; only one-third of the people in France, Italy, Germany, and Japan give that response about their own countries. Two-thirds of Americans believe that success in life depends on one’s own efforts; only one-third of Europeans say that. Half of Americans, compared to one-third of Europeans, say belief in God is essential to living a moral life.” [2]

Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 and 1832 recognized the exceptional nature of the United States, and was amazed at how the politicians prayed, and the pastors preached politics, but government did not control religion, and the church restrained itself from intertwining itself with government. He noticed that though there was a certain level of separation between church and state, they also depended upon each other in a symbiotic manner. Tocqueville wrote, “America is great because America is good.” [3]

Alexis de Tocqueville was astonished by America because among the elites in Europe there was an anti-American sentiment that was sometimes believed by members of the general populace. The truth he learned by visiting the United States was very different from the criticisms of America by the political ruling classes of Europe.

Sigmund Freud said, “America is a great mistake.” “Anti-Americanism was an elite view,” James Q. Wilson commented in an article in The American, “but it has spread deeper to publics here and abroad.” [4]

Clearly, American Culture is different from any other culture in the world. The level of patriotism, individualism, religious beliefs, and our spirit of self-reliance sets the United States apart as a nation. As revealed in our founding documents, and the example provided by the everyday lives of Americans, we are a culture that holds dear our individual rights, while keeping a watchful eye on a potentially intrusive government. As a society, we largely support the limiting principles of the United States Constitution, expecting the role of the federal government to be restrained to only those functions necessary for protecting, promoting, and preserving the union. We expect our economy to grow as a result of a flourishing free market, with as little governmental interference as possible. Individualism means that we may encounter personal consequences, and we are fine with that, rather than expecting the government to somehow mend any vestige of perceived inequality.

The history of America set the tone for our exceptionalism. Historically, America is diverse, rugged, and a land of individual opportunity. And for this, the United States was blessed with an incredible influx of immigrants who came to this nation desiring the opportunity to participate in the freedom, and exceptionalism, that America had to offer.

The United States also made its share of mistakes, but rather than sink into despair, this country has risen above those dark points in history, correcting the nation’s course, and becoming greater because of those momentary storms of history. The strengths of our civil society has been different because we have achieved our prosperity through self-governance, where the local governments handle the local issues, and the centralized federal government is tasked with the complexities of protecting, preserving, and promoting the union.

As for social issues, the United States once again elevates to a level of exceptionalism unmatched around the world. Despite the rise of the welfare-state brought about by the Progressive Era, no nation allocates more responsibility for social policy to the non-profit sector. Our reliance on private entities to provide for “benefits,” offered at the governmental level elsewhere, has contributed to the prosperity of this nation, keeping the governmental bodies out of societal workings so that the governmental bodies can dedicate their time and energies to more pressing matters authorized to the government by the United States Constitution.

The exceptionalism of the United States, however, is frowned upon by political elites, and certain politicians have made it their priority to fundamentally change the complexion of this nation into something that more resembles the systems of Europe, and other parts of the world. They wish to eliminate American distinctiveness, fearing that it betrays a certain kind of arrogance.

Historically, those systems that allow government to be less restrained find themselves bogged down because of governmental interference. What has made the United States prosper is the nation’s defiance against such systems. The U.S. has purposely aimed to be as unlike Europe as much as possible. The distinctiveness of America has directly contributed to our exponential growth as a nation. Capitalism in America has enabled our culture to take full advantage of America’s commercial potential. Self-imposed discipline has fueled the free enterprise system, and this opportunity to succeed in the United States, and for the nation to prosper as a result, has specifically been because of the exceptional nature of America that works endlessly to disallow governmental attempts at intrusive regulations.

American Exceptionalism is American Individualism. We cherish our personal freedom, and though community and family is important, we place the freedoms of the individual above the perceived needs of the community. As a result, the community better benefits from the self-reliance, personal responsibility, and successes of the individuals.

America is exceptional because Americans are individuals. America is great because those individuals are good.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

[1] The Free Dictionary by Farlex:

[2] Peter H. Schuck and James Q. Wilson, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation; New York: Public Affairs (2008).

[3] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America; New York: Penguin Group (1984), Originally published in 1835 and 1840.

[4] Karlyn Bowman, “Understanding American Exceptionalism,” The American, April 28, 2008,

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