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The case for American exceptionalism

| Monday, August 29, 2016

America. What does it mean to you? For some, it means liberty and opportunity; for others, it means football tailgates and family BBQs. But for many Americans, it is a story of great adversity and unparalleled achievement. While they recognize that it is not perfect, nor has it ever been, many Americans see the U.S. as a beacon of hope and freedom for all mankind.

In the eyes of some at home and abroad, however, there is something fundamentally wrong with this worldview. Almost daily, some prominent figure can be found denouncing the evils of early American history, the excesses of American culture, the flaws of American foreign policy or the inequality in American society. More often than not, these indictments are based on misguided information and a distorted view of reality.

Americans, in turn, are often criticized for their national pride, and unfairly characterized as biased or ignorant. Perhaps, as an immigrant to this great country, I can offer an explanation for American exceptionalism that will not be dismissed as blind patriotism.

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is inherently different from other nations, specifically in regards to its unique history, values and unrivaled success. It is a nation born from the understanding that God, not government, bestows upon people their unalienable right to liberty.

Individual freedom is so profoundly engrained in American society that most of the world can hardly understand it — whether that’s the guarantee of gun ownership, the sanctity of trial by jury or the rights of citizens to say what they want and financially support whichever political candidates they choose.

The founders of this nation believed that constitutionally protected freedom would allow individuals to generate wealth and live prosperously without government infringement. They were right. The great American experiment that began in 1776 would succeed in creating the wealthiest, freest and most powerful nation in the history of civilization.

The values of free enterprise, market capitalism and private industry created the largest and richest economy the world has ever known. These values help us understand how the United States, with less than five percent of the global population, represents almost 30 percent of total world economy.

One of the most pervasive misconceptions is that America is somehow losing its competitive edge in scientific and technological development. This could not be further from the truth. The U.S. accounts for 40 percent of global spending on research and development, employs 70 percent of all Nobel Prize winners, and houses three-quarters of the world’s top 40 universities.

Each year, American factories lose millions of jobs to foreign competitors with low-cost labor; yet the U.S. remains overwhelmingly the world’s leading manufacturer. How is this possible? It’s because American manufacturing is doing what it has always done: moving forward, maximizing efficiency and pursuing the greatest profits. From Microsoft to Apple, from Google to Amazon, Americans have proven time and time again to be world’s preeminent innovators.

Perhaps even more impressive than America’s economic success, is its accent to global leadership. How did a weak and relatively insignificant union of colonies become the world’s greatest superpower? As fascism, and later communism, spread virulently around the globe, the U.S. remained true to its core democratic values. This commitment to protecting freedom, coupled with the bravery and sacrifice of millions, ensured that America would triumph in the face of great evil.

By the end of the twentieth century, America was not only the most powerful nation in the world, but also the cultural center of contemporary Western civilization. The U.S. overwhelmingly leads the world in music, movies, literature and even modern art. In some ways, America’s military supremacy is not nearly as impressive as Hollywood’s cultural influence.

I believe America is a truly exceptional nation, and I am incredibly thankful for the privilege to call it my adopted home. I disagree fully with those who think this is a nation in decline, or a nation falling behind the rest of the world in any meaningful way.

The United States certainly has problems, and Americans are in need of stronger, more effective leadership if they are to overcome the numerous challenges facing this nation. As another presidential election draws near, the future of America has never been more uncertain. However, it’s important to remember that America is no stranger to adversity. The true measure of a peoples’ strength is its capacity to meet new challenges in the face of overwhelming odds. If American history has shown us anything, it is that it’s capacity for overcoming such challenges might well be limitless.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Liam Stewart

Liam Stewart is a Sophomore in the College of Arts and Letters, majoring in political science. Liam was born and raised in the beautiful Irish city of Dublin, although he has been proud to call Seattle home for the past six years. He enjoys country music, hardback books and binge-watching TV shows. He can be reached at lstewar4@nd.edu

Contact Liam
  • vrepo

    Why do you need to constantly compare America to other countries ? This article is full of superlatives. Just say “we are so cool” instead of “we are cooler than others”.
    Just imagine if the America you are describing was a person. I think it would be a particularly obnoxious individual, coming to others and saying to them “I am freer than all of you”.

    • Nathan Troscinski

      Because our culture and economy are highly competitive and therefore Americans, on the whole, like to see themselves as winners. Only natural that that would be reflected at the national level.

  • Nathan Troscinski

    I agree in general but have two points:

    1.) The US isn’t the world’s manufacturing leader though (at least not in terms of manufacturing output)
    Source: http://blog.euromonitor.com/2014/09/top-5-manufacturing-economies-what-challenges-are-they-facing.html
    2.) Your description of the US’s rise ignores the fact that it had many geographic and demographic factors stacked in its favor. The US has a tremendous amount of natural resources while being geographically isolated by the two oceans from potential invaders. The US is also physically massive, allowing for a larger population for army and industry.