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American Exceptionalism Essay


American exceptionalism has been widely assailed as unjust and arrogant. The tendency of recent presidents to hop on the bandwagon and criticize our own system and to dismiss the uniqueness of our regard for the human spirit has only served to provide opponents of exceptionalism with ammunition. This essay considers the justifications for the doctrine of exceptionalism and explores its ramifications in the context of the unfolding panorama of United States history.

The Founding Fathers conceived of a bold new experiment in government that differed critically from any prior notions of democracy. For, while it was based upon the presumed right of all persons to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the American founding documents asserted without equivocation that these rights derived from God (Luhrmann, 2012, ch. 2). Man, created in God’s image, was uniquely imbued with the bold spirit to develop, to achieve, to transform, and to possess. 

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The fact that such principles were inculcated within the American political system from the outset did not merely reflect the fact that the North American colonies had become a beacon for religiously oppressed persons everywhere. Rather, it clearly derived from a latent desire to construct a system that reflected a godly design from the outset. Within a context of right and wrong clearly and strongly established by the Ten Commandments, the system advocated freedom of religion, speech, and thought for those who sought to live productive and godly lives. This stood in remarkable opposition to other ostensibly free nations that nevertheless saw fit to discriminate between one Christian denomination and another. It deserves mention, by the way, that this apparently open-armed acceptance of all faiths extends only as far as people seek to accept her democratic principles and their godly basis. In particular, one rejects the notion that the Constitution in any way welcomes groups such as radical Muslims that seek solely to take advantage of America’s bounty while earnestly working to destroy the underlying fabric of her strength and stability.

The doctrine of American exceptionalism openly encouraged the nation’s pursuit of its Manifest Destiny. The challenge of taming a wilderness was coupled with the palpable possibility of spreading the developing prosperity to the point where a nation could be realized that not only offered a singular example of godliness, but also wielded the economic power to spread that doctrine and the military might to deter all who might seek to check her. The essential role of religion within the burgeoning nation served to make her exceptionalism ever more apparent. This is the case not only for the active Christian communities, but even for the Jewish community. While a variety of Christian movements served vital roles in sponsoring expansionism and ensuring law, order, and tranquility in frontier communities, including the Mormons who played no small role in taming the West (Holloway, 2015, ch. 34), Jews in America felt free—arguably for the first time—to pursue their goal of perfecting the world, made possible by living cleanly and ever striving to learn. This example and the material bounty that it offered served to attract all manner of foreigners to our shores during the greatest wave of mass migrations that the world had ever seen. Encouraged by the bold example of the Pentecostals and other revivalist groups (Robbins, 2004, p. 118), the European immigrants in particular—whether Roman Catholics from the Italic or Slavic states or Protestants from Central or Northwestern Europe—saw that the only limit upon their pursuit of personal achievement and the concomitant glorification of God rested in their own ability to obey the laws of the community and work toward the common good.

The current assault on exceptionalism corresponds directly to the precipitous decline in Christian church attendance and the concomitant decline in moral values. Both of these likely resulted from the altogether unexpected material bounty that followed the World War II years and the Age of Information that seminal wartime achievements, including transistors and integrated circuits, ushered in soon afterward. However, it was largely after the onset of the social media revolution—a time when men became “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, // Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, // Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2b-4)—that the situation spiraled out of control. Universities, ostensibly seats of the advanced learning and thirst to understand and to excel that drove America’s engines of technology and commerce, have become seats of a newfangled “liberalism” that denies the existence, let alone the centrality, of God and is tolerant only of its own tortured precepts. Moreover, based upon reasons that remain largely unfathomable, persons in power seek the overthrow of the government, first sponsoring a bogus inquisition that tried to unseat a validly elected president, then altogether rejecting the findings of their own appointed special counsel when—using the entire available apparatus of the world’s wealthiest government—he failed to confirm their libelous assertions.

It is only the glimmer of American exceptionalism that is even enabling us to survive these parlous times, motivating well-intentioned individuals ever to thirst for freedom, truth, and all the concomitant blessings that accompany the due placement of one’s faith in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Holloway, R. (2015). A little history of religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Luhrmann, T. M. (2012). When God talks back: Understanding the American Evangelical relationship with God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Robbins, J. (2004). The globalization of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 117-143.

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