Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Americans Being Better than Others

American Exceptionalism

Tibor R. Machan

It is now about time for the Democrats to figure out who and what they
want to be during the upcoming campaigns when they will attempt to regain
power in Washington and elsewhere around the country. This is will be
difficult, no less so than it will be for Republicans to find some theme
around which they will make their efforts to keep their power.

The reason is that both parties embrace incoherent political ideas.
Democrats want to put themselves forth as peace-loving, even though in
much of what they champion they embrace the philosophy of aggressive
government. Just consider Al Gore and his buddies, all of whom want the
government to coerce us to follow the precautionary environmentalism, sans
due process and civil liberties, that requires subjugating us all to
strictures based on various barely likely doomsday visions. And think of
how the Republicans are intent on looking like the protectors of the
vision of the American founders, all the while tossing out the principles
of individual rights and limited government in the name of the war on

In one valiant call to arms to liberal Democrats, Peter Beinart,
editor-at-large at The New Republic, writing for April 30th issue of The
New York Times Magazine, ended his piece with this pseudo-erudite
sentence: ?America can be the greatest nation on earth, so long as
Americans remember that they are inherently no better than anyone else.?
The sentiment sounds good, on its face, but upon close scrutiny it is yet
another bit of incoherence.

For one, once Americans take it that theirs is indeed the greatest nation
on earth, it is not too farfetched for them to take some credit for being
Americans, folks who have embraced and who sustain such a nation, in
contrast to millions across the globe who fail to do so. If you sign up
for a great project while others reject it, maybe you can be proud of this.

Of course, that does not mean Americans are inherently better than anyone
else. ?Inherently? means that by some trick being born a citizen of the
United States of America confers upon one virtue before one has done
anything actually virtuous. And that?s impossible. People are not born
virtuous?nor vicious?not here, not in China, not anywhere. They are born
with the capacity to become virtuous or vicious, depending on whether they
make good or bad choices and act accordingly.

Do American?s even think they are inherently better than others? Beinart
gives no evidence of this. Indeed, what would constitute such evidence?

Americans do hold the view, as Americans?that is to say, as citizens who
have either explicitly or implicitly sworn an oath to uphold the U. S.
Constitution?that they have basic rights, ones spelled out in the Bill of
Rights and, before that, in the Declaration of Independence. But remember
that the latter document speaks of unalienable rights for all human
beings, not just American citizens. So in terms of their own political
philosophy, Americans could not consider themselves as inherently better
than others, since their possession of the rights that their legal system
is meant to protect does not make them special. It only makes their legal
system special.

Still, just because Americans aren?t inherently better than others, it
doesn?t follow they couldn?t in certain respects be better than others.
For example, the fact that most Americans fully adhere to the idea that
all human beings have the right to freedom of speech or freedom or
religion, and that all are free to trade goods and services?their embrace
of these notions clearly make them better, not inherently but because they
have made the choice to live like this, unlike all too many people do
around the globe.

Clearly, for example, Americans who know that others have the right to
think for themselves even if they disagree with them, makes them better
than those in the Middle East who go on a rampage against, for example,
Danish nationals because of cartoons published in Danish newspapers that
are disrespectful of their religion. If one believes that the publication
of such cartoons justifies going on a rampage, then one is indeed worse
than most Americans. And Americans who acknowledge this aren?t being
irrational; nor do they exhibit any belief that they are inherently better
than others.

Beinart?s admonition is either nonsense?that stuff about American?s
thinking they are inherently better than others?or misguided?the part that
American should not think they are in certain respect better than others.
Indeed, being citizens of the greatest nation on earth, if that?s what
they are, can justifiably make Americans also think they are better, as a
matter of their loyalty, than most other people around the globe.

No comments: