YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 27, 2013

“American exceptionalism” retold

american-progress-ideation2I have already compiled a list of turning points for the ascent/decline of “the West” here: http://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/. But the purpose of this blog is to suggest a counter-narrative for American history, warts and all. The goal is to find an approach to US history that will not leave students or your home-schooled child adrift with lifeboats offering only tendentious accounts of US history, and offering either idealized or demonized versions of the American past. (For a patriotic account by “America’s greatest writer” see http://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or try this more recent one: http://clarespark.com/2014/02/07/herman-melville-on-the-materialist-solitary-backwoodsman/.)

In a short blog, I can outline only some major points.

First, to present a corrected version of US history, it cannot be rooted solely in America, with non-whites the hapless victims of murderous European-born whites. During the age of expansion, conflicts between France, England, Spain and the Netherlands were critical. Had Americans not expanded West, say by hugging the Atlantic coast, there might subsequently have been a jigsaw of European colonies like the map of Africa in the late 19th century and onward.

Second, westward expansion also exacerbated conflict between the industrializing North and slaveholding South. Without an economic history of these regions, US history and the politics of expansion remain incomprehensible.

Third, although ethnocentrism can be found in many cultures, racism in the U.S. directed against non-whites was a by-product* of American (and world) economic development (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentrism, or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism). But anti-imperialists deny that racism has been partly corrected, insisting that “institutional racism” persists despite the civil rights movement and its achievements. (I do not mean to minimize the effects of racism: see http://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.) Nor would the anti-Americans examine the obliteration of high Western and American culture, substituting a popular culture that is mostly primitivist. Going native is a major cause of mass psychological regression to a stage of life where “adults” are over-influenced by parental surrogates and other ideologically tainted authority. Such primitivist regression is rarely criticized by hipster democrats; by contrast, communists accept a notion of Progress that ineluctably leads to Leninist bureaucratic centralism and that demonizes ‘capitalism’/market society as an imposition by filthy lucre and their “commercial” mass media.

Fourth, infuriated by leftist critics of US imperialism (often concentrated in the blue states), some “red state” patriots argue that the warts are removed, that American self-criticism has lifted us out of the Slough of Despond, and that the concept of American exceptionalism should be rehabilitated. This is a shallow judgment, though I partly agree. Urban decay and a rotting public school system for inner city kids remains an unsolved problem, one of many, including massive waste and fraud at every level of government.

Fifth, not enough weight is given to the bounty of Nature that greeted the first European settlers, an abundance preserved by mostly hunter-gatherer Indian tribes that famously refused “development.” Much of American economic success battened off the virgin land, and we are evading real environmental problems if we imagine that the Green movement is nothing but a communist plot in all its manifestations. (See Bob Ennis’s comment below, with which I concur.)

Sixth, though some “traditionalists” on the Right prefer a view of the Constitution as divinely inspired,  we do better by our children and ourselves to celebrate cultural and political pluralism. The secular state does not signify atheism, communism, and the end of pluralism, but rather secularism is the guarantee of personal freedom and the unmatched luxury of individuality. It is in our Bill of  Rights, along with the relatively free markets that are responsible for unprecedented upward mobility and wealth creation, that “American exceptionalism” really exists.

*There used to be a debate among historians whether racism caused slavery, or whether slavery caused racism, but it is now the case that major scholars treat “racism” as an independent variable, and indeed they claim that racism is the engine of U.S. history, a flaw so terrible and omnipresent that reparations are demanded. Do not underestimate the determination and penetration of non-white cultural nationalists. See http://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/, also the illustration above, which takes its cue from Diego Rivera’s Stalinist murals, with a strong dose of the Fantastic and Surrealism.

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6 Comments »

  1. […] 3. American exceptionalism. Anti-Americans, whether Soviet or Nazi/Fascist, have wreaked havoc on the writing of history. Partly because of the way that the corporatist liberals (i.e. the pseudo-moderate men of either Party, see http://clarespark.com/2011/12/02/the-whiteness-of-the-whale/, etc.) absorbed movements from below during the 1960s and 70s, catering to cultural nationalists (subtly racist)  of all kinds, and because there was much ammunition available in the American past, owing to our particular history, the most self-critical,  open and pluralistic society on earth has a terrible international reputation, just as does democratic Israel with its authoritarian neighbors. With a very few exceptions, our most prominent intellectuals and opinion-makers see us as no more than rapacious white people/Jews plundering the other “races” and Mother Nature herself. Who wouldn’t want to drop out and turn on Nirvana in such a hellhole? Hence, the demand for cheap narcotics and other forms of escape, strongly reinforced in the popular culture. (I developed this paragraph further here: http://clarespark.com/2013/02/27/american-exceptionalism-retold/.) […]

    Pingback by The Counter-culture vs. “the Establishment” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 16, 2013 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

  2. I am a chemical engineer by profession and have spent most of my entire 47 year career corecting environmental deficiencies in the petrochemical industries. The left keeps hammering these industries even though over that period, more than 90% of the pollution caused by them has been removed. We on the right are not, as most laymen believe, against environmental regulation. We are against the counterproductive regulation that comes when environmental zealots, who are really anti industry extremists, come to power, as they have in this administration. In is in this anti-capitalism context that we view the “environmental movement” as a leftist assault on liberty and prosperity. The term “communist front” is so 20th century.

    Comment by Bob Ennis — February 27, 2013 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

    • I applaud Bob Ennis as both a moral person and a responsible engineer. It is true that the Left (and I mean Leninist Left) has penetrated the Green movement, but that fact should make us even more vigilant regarding reliable science and statistics.

      Comment by clarespark — February 27, 2013 @ 10:05 pm | Reply


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