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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This World Is Not Big Enough For Both Exceptionalism And Justice, Amongst Other Things

In chapter 2 of his book, Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, And Democracy (click here for book reference), the book's author, Benjamin Barber, makes two important points about American Exceptionalism. His first point is that America is not the only nation to claim to be exceptional. The French have done, the Germans have done it, and even the Swiss have done it, as well as much of the rest of the world. This makes claiming to be special normal.

His second point is that the belief of America's people in their own exceptionalism has kept us in a state of innocence of sorts regarding America's ventures both on this continent and in the rest of the world. By innocence, what is meant is that many of us Americans are either oblivious to or in denial of what America has really done to others both here and abroad. This innocence not only enables many us to justify America's use of force even when self-defense was not involved; it makes proving to us that our nation has been wrong near impossible when we believe that our nation has been following its original principles. That is because with America being so special,  it normally has higher reasons than what other nations have for using force. It also allows other of us Americans to believe that America should practice some sort of isolationalism lest it becomes corrupted by the rest of the world.

The point here is that believing in the exceptionalism of our nation from its beginnings with the founding fathers allows us to assume our innocence rather than having to prove it.

What all of this shows is a link between the belief in the exceptionalism of one's own nation and the acceptance of the use of the rule of force. That is because those who believe in the exceptionalism of their own nation assume that how it treats others is just regardless of the evidence. In fact, to bring up evidence of wrongdoing to people who believe in the exceptionalism of their own nation is to sometimes court abuse if not martyrdom.

This lack of awareness of the sins and immoral acts practiced by one's own nation or, in short, its reliance on the rule of force rather than the rule of law is a normal condition for those who believe in exceptionalism. The rule of law is what the exceptional nation tries to force those inferior nations into following even when the rule of force is needed to do so.

Of course, to rely on the rule of force in a time when the proliferation of WMDs is inevitable is to do more than flirt with being bad, it also tests the ability of all nations to survive. That is because the continued use of the rule of force will invariably cause conflicts between nations or entities that have access to WMDs. And once there is the use of WMDs, there is no guaranteed way of stopping their use.

The problem is here is that belief in the exceptionalism of one's own nation does not just provide a hunting license on the rest of mankind, it is a siren call. Heeding its call brings makes people happy with themselves. 

However, we must face at least two sets of realities here. Because believing in the exceptionalism of one's own nation is natural, it is realistic to expect from the people of many nations. It not only gives people a license to mistreat others with impunity even from one's conscience, it gives people a reason to feel secure and makes them feel good. But such a belief  also not only allows for people to run roughshod over justice, it threatens everyone's future.

We especially see this belief in one's exceptionalism in those purists who call on their fellow countrymen to return to what made their naition so great. This shows another cost of believing in one's own exceptionalism: it shows a puritanical leaning that gives people to be intolerant of those not towing the original line.

We are soon entering a season when celebrating the specialness of America is not just in season, it is expected from all of its citizens. Yes, it is realistic to expect people to believe in their exceptionalism, but, again, there is another set of realities that come with believing in one's exceptionalism. It isn't that there is nothing to celebrate about America; it is whether we will balance that desire to celebrate our nation and ourselves with the knowledge of  the negative realities that comes with too much celebration, a.k.a., the belief in our exceptionalism, brings to ourselves, our neighbors, and the world.




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