What is the origin of the idea “American Exceptionalism”? Most Americans’ belief in this is based on a reflexive veneration of the revolutionary war coupled with good old-fashioned team spirit. If pushed further to justify their feelings they may fall back on the claim that this exceptionalism comes from the many and superior accomplishments of its citizens in sports, science, business, warfare, and on and on. But to paraphrase Yoda, “zip codes not make one great.” History is replete with individuals from all over the globe who have achieved great deeds.
America is not exceptional because our neighbors are nice folk or because its residents have achieved laudable feats, but rather it is exceptional because it is more than a mere country – it is an idea and ideal. It is the political incarnation of the concept that the negative rights of the individual trump all other concerns. Period. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness exist only to the extent that ideal is respected. Governments and constitutions do not GRANT negative rights. They are inherent and inalienable to our being. Constitutions/governments are but mere tools to protect these rights. One does not protect something by injuring it. Regrettably the United States government has been injuring the very thing it was established to protect since its inception (see: Alien & Sedition Acts, slavery, etc.). It has only gotten worse since – “like sands through the hourglass”, so are the injuries against liberty.
Some will insist that despite these failures it is still the freest country in the world, although that is demonstrably false based on its ever-falling rank (17th) in the Cato Human Freedom Index (and similar indices). Freedom should be graded on an absolute scale, not a curve. A country that permits the practice of civil asset forfeiture, criminalizes victimless activities, requires state permission to employ or be employed, confiscates wealth solely for the punitive goal of ensuring “fairness”, and that pre-emptively invades other countries resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent civilians; such a country is not the ideal and is far from being great.
Indeed, even one of the most basic cherished freedoms, the freedom of speech, is under attack from the left and the right. Congress is presently trying to make it a criminal offense to boycott Israel. That pesky 1stamendment was in the way but they seem to have found a work around. Stay tuned. Meanwhile in New York City it is now a criminal offense ($250k fine) to repeatedly “mis-gender” someone by using the “wrong” pronoun when addressing them. Sure, people should be nice and respectful, but likewise it should not be a criminal offense to say mean things. Allowing speech to be criminalized because someone else does not like its content or it hurts someone’s feelings utterly disembowels the 1stAmendment.
“We don’t have freedom of speech so we can talk about the weather. We have the 1st Amendment so that we can say very controversial things.” – Ron Paul
The greatness of the American ideal exists anywhere people acknowledge that what their neighbor does is none of their business and that when conflict arises it should be dealt with by an equivalent level of reciprocal force or mediation. Respecting this ideal means acknowledging that all interactions must be voluntary. Wherever this ideal is respected can rightfully be called “American”. In such places “America” will firmly take root and those that live there will enjoy the promise of what America should have been: a place where one is free to pursue their own happiness free of authoritarian busybodies.
P.S. And no, the fantasy of the “social contract” does not magically make every state intrusion into our lives “voluntary”