(The American Conservative) -- by Daniel Larison --
There have been several responses to the Lowry/Ponnuru essay on American exceptionalism. Damon Linker’s is particularly withering, and Conor has written a very effective rebuttal as well, but the best is probably from Democracy in America (via Scoblete):
Ranking all countries on these subscores, America comes in a multi-way tie for 30th place. So according to a respected NGO often considered to be on the centre-right (though the board is politically diverse), America is not the freest country in the world, or most democratic. It isn’t second or third either. It’s merely in the top tier.This is the most effective response because it cuts the legs out from under the self-congratulatory hegemonist boasting that is at the heart of the essay. It is important to remember that lurking behind most arguments on behalf of “American exceptionalism” is a demand for unending American hegemony and supremacy. This seems especially true of mainstream conservative arguments on this score. To the extent that Obama does not indulge in self-congratulatory bluster and arrogant hectoring of other nations, they find his embrace of American exceptionalism to be insufficient or non-existent.
What might be worth considering is how much ground America has lost at home in terms of freedom, democracy, individualism, openness and dynamism while we have been vainly pursuing the role of hegemon and would-be democratizer of the world. Maybe even twenty years ago the claim that America was “freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth” could have withstood scrutiny. Now it is rapidly becoming something that nationalists tell one another to keep their spirits up.
Part of the change is a measure of the genuine expansion of these goods in other parts of the world. There is more and better competition, so to speak, than there used to be, and at the same time we have been stagnating or regressing. That is something Americans can take pride in for our part in helping to make that happen, but it also means that we cannot continue to congratulate ourselves for a unique and superior status that we have long since ceased to have. This should also teach us that we need to return to a patriotism that does not boast and does not need to boast of the greatness of our country.
The certainty that ours is the best country in every significant political and economic category blinds us to admitting errors that need to be corrected, and the obsession with national greatness distracts us with power projection and coercion as substitutes for the building and maintaining of the foundations of a prosperous, self-governing republic. While we have been minding everyone else’s business, we have been neglecting our own. If we would have America be exceptionally free, prosperous and creative, we need to concentrate far more of our attention and resources on America, and we need to manage those resources far more prudently and carefully. The good news in being behind so many other free, flourishing nations in these rankings is that it tells us that they have the means to take care of their own problems and will manage just fine on their own...MORE...LINK