Suggesting that America has had an exceptional past requires little explanation. It is more interesting, however, to understand why. Natural unspoilt resources, strategic geography afar from European battlegrounds, and a tradition of liberal thought are certainly all contributors.
Now, with the conclusion of the American century the question becomes whether American exceptionalism is sustainable. Ultimately, America is only as powerful as its economy, specifically one in which the US dollar is the reserve currency of the world. The dollar is no longer pegged to any reserve of gold or silver, and its value as a commodity is based entirely on whether or not everybody thinks it has value. While this has been a beneficial relationship for America, its time may have run out. Thanks to runaway debt, excessive spending, and the unending printing of money, America will soon have a currency crisis on its hands.
The current economic system benefits America because foreign goods and services (which represent investments of labor and capital and have actual value) can be bought for American dollars (little green pieces of paper). When China stops financing American debt and the rest of the world no longer accepts the dollar, America’s luck will run out and its economy will suffer. Becoming a much poorer country will limit the ways in which America can continue to be exceptional. There may not be money available to fly people to the moon or to police the rest of the world. There will be limits to how much expensive oil can be imported from the rest of the world. The political stability that has held for almost the entirety of America’s existence may end as people become enraged by a significantly lower standard of living. America may well be left a country without enough resources to feed, clothe and shelter even its own citizens. Rather than exceptionality, America’s future will likely be one of collapse. The empire will be revealed to be wearing no clothes, doomed by an illusory currency system, and relegated to the dustbin of history.
James Hirsh is a U3 North American Studies and Political Science Student as well as Vice-President of Libertarian McGill. He can be reached at email@example.com.
There are three American inventions that I happen to love: the KFC Double Down, pawnshops, and mindlessly joyriding with no fixed destination.
Driving down the Montana interstate between Whitefish and Kalispell after a long day of indulging in these three things, I was hit with a feeling that I don’t often get in Canada (and no, it wasn’t just indigestion from the Double Down). There is something undeniably fulfilling about spending a day doing the exact things I was always told were off-limits. This is the freedom that Americans must be so in love with.
Many will pugnaciously point out how unsustainable the American way of life is, and how, for that reason, the American notion of exceptionalism is faulted. These people are mistaken. For better or worse, it is that exact sense of incredible freedom that makes America different from any other country in the world.
But even with this freedom, there is strife. The country is undergoing a massive social upheaval. During these times, freedom runs the risk of inspiring acts that run the moral gamut. Freedom of press, through new media like Twitter, led to Sarah Palin’s now infamous “blood-libel” claim. At the same time, In Iran, Twitter was instrumental in giving exceedingly oppressed people a voice during the all-too-short-lived Green Revolution.
Moderate Republicans are struggling to keep Tea Party members appeased. Try as they might, the rhetoric of the Tea Party is gaining support as more and more Americans become disenchanted with Barack Obama. Contrary to what his election-time supporters believed, Obama is not prepared to simply say, or do, whatever it is people want—that’s the specialty of the Tea Party.
The new American right claims “real" American values and spews what the “average” American wants to hear, a reassurance of American supremacy. It is a revolving door of static commentary on an America that doesn’t exist anymore. These people are absolutely not the risk-takers that made America great. Freedom, to the new right, is rhetoric.
The true value of American exceptionalism has changed forms. Wise people have accepted that it is no longer the material aspects of American culture that make it exceptional. All the rest are too busy deciding whether to read Decision Points or America by Heart first.
Peter Shyba is from Calgary and is a U1 IDS/Social Studies of Medicine student.
Though some, like Robert Bachevich, author of The End of American Exceptionalism, believe this guiding principle (if not malignant tumour) of America is dead, the facts clearly suggest it is not. American exceptionalism is the deeply engrained social and political theory that has allowed for the American culture of abundance to flourish. As long as that culture remains, so too does American exceptionalism. When I was asked to write this piece on the status and/or relevancy of American exceptionalism, I was dumbstruck by how it could be anything but extremely relevant and thriving.
For me, the modern embodiment of this ideology is not rooted in the fact that there was no feudal age in these United States, nor is it rooted in the puritanical roots of America. Instead, it is rooted in the frontier myth and the land itself. By this I mean the sheer abundance of America and the early theme in American history of relocating (and in the process, moving deeper and deeper into the new nation) so that all Americans could practice their own beliefs and consume to excess in their own little fiefdoms.
This ideology rings true today with the modern libertarian conservative movement. In being the first “new state,” America was also the first truly individualist nation, basing its ever-present, yet ephemeral American Dream on the false belief that unlike in every other nation in the world, everyone in America can have a slice of the pie of prosperity.
American exceptionalism has deeply affected the lives of hundreds of millions and continues to this very day. The most pernicious part of the ideology of American exceptionalism is that the concept of les Noblesse oblige has died and in its place an individualist (depending on who you ask) dystopia/utopia has blossomed.
I am not trying to demonise this political ideology. In fact, I think we all owe a great deal to it since it has, in part, allowed for our current way of life, but simply put: there are two sides to every coin. In the end, this truly American ideology is alive and well, though the focuses on egalitarianism and populism have faded slightly. There is obviously much more to the ideology than I could possibly get to here, but if we study the purely domestic effects of American exceptionalism, the most obvious effect is the culture of abundance.
Myles T.S. Anevich is a U2 at McGill University studying History and Political Sciences. In his part time he is a semi-professional bass player and amateur contrarian.