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Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


http://www.theatlantic.com/politics...onalism/283540/

The article is too long to quote here in its entirety, but I do believe it's worth a read. Summarized, the author contends that American exceptionalism is indeed ending as the conservatives say, but of course, not simply because of Obama's election. I will quote the actual thesis, though:

quote:

As America and Europe have changed over time, so have the attributes that exceptionalists claim distinguish us from them. But for the contemporary right, there are basically three: our belief in organized religion; our belief that America has a special mission to spread freedom in the world; and our belief that we are a classless society where, through limited government and free enterprise, anyone can get ahead. Unfortunately for conservatives, each of these beliefs is declining fast.

The article then goes on to explain in good detail some ideas about the sources of the decline of these three ideas, and the current political implications. Certainly, all this in itself is enough fodder for debate and discussion. What I would like to add to the pile, however, is an idea about how all of this decline springs from the same source: that in the face of a world that has quickly caught up to the original exceptionality of the American nation, we as a country have chosen to burn long-term stores of value to achieve short-term gains, and that this is a clear signal of a nation in general decline.

Consider first American religiosity: in a world where church and state had always been inseparable, here was an American experiment that at least in name and sentiment allowed for a separation. Catholics could find a home in Georgia, Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Calvinists in Massachusetts, and there was no king or church of the nation to tell them no. This privacy of religious expression actually created a huge sort of latent power, a unity in respecting each other's religious space that I think gave much weight to the sense of freedom that Americans could speak of and feel proud of. In fact, (and here's where better American historians than I can correct me) I have the sense that the idea of a confessional, outwardly religious president is somewhat unheard of until Lincoln. Even then, I think of the Scopes Monkey Trial as a sort of manifestation of the American attitude that religion somehow maintains its private truth separate from public science, and that the real travesty was attempting to take religion public.

So it goes until the late 20th century. It took a long, long time to build the narrative that America was a place where one could practice their own beliefs without interference from their government or society. It took a lot of what we might call "good-neighborliness" of people observing and respecting each other at a distance because they knew that separation was what prevented the whole system from collapsing. With Reagan's first campaign, the Southern Strategy, which had only been obliquely religious in nature, turned into not just a racist and regionalist policy, but a religious one.

The idea was that the religious freedom and confidence of Americans was like a giant piggybank of stored wealth that worked and had value because nobody had raided it, and how convenient is it that we just happen to be holding this hammer! Forget the long-term consequences, we can create this Moral Majority and take this thing public, and in doing so, we can win NOW. Of course, it worked, and we see the early 80s as the real rise of the televangelist, of the real power of the anti-abortion movement, as the birth of prosperity gospel and a million other publicly-abhorrent things. What I am saying is that the public airing of previously non-problematic religious sentiment drained the public faith in them because it brought religion into public as a political bludgeon: a public thing that divided people, an inversion of the private thing that once united them. At this point, you're no longer saving public trust in religiosity in some imaginary piggybank: you are hammering that piggybank like a gong to beat all the wealth out of it for present gain.

Is it any surprise then, that there is such growing disgust in America with all things religious? And how similar is this to all the other depredations of those who look at our long-term stores of value not as precious things to be preserved, but as resources to be exploited?

Well, the war footing of the United States looks about the same, as far as I'm concerned. We're a warlike nation, preferring war to peace. After wars in places from Mexico to the Philippines, from South America to South Korea, from Asia to Europe, how do you kill a warlike people's love for war? I think in the same way that you kill their love for being religious: you take a private hypocrisy public, and in doing so, kill the ability to hold the belief. Somehow, Americans have always managed to tell themselves some narrative about how they are the good guys in each conflict. Secretly, they may have known that the war was bunk and that there was some horrible stuff going on, but in public, you couldn't go wrong by waving yellow ribbons and supporting the troops. Look at the convenient narratives behind our involvement in both world wars, the triumphant or abused saviors coming in to right the wrongs of the world and set things right to great and general applause. They still make miniseries about this stuff. When you believe in it, you fuel the engine of American capitalism. Wars are good for business. That's a very American adage. Just keep making sure that the Average Joe Majority believes in the just war story, and the money just rolls in.

With Vietnam, of course, you see the breaking-the-piggybank model again. To conscript American kids to fight an undeclared war was just too audacious. The private lie had become public, and therefore untenable. The WWII generation by and large supported the war, having grown up with their own Great Adventure Against Asia, but the youth saw little substance to the claim that we were righting some wrong or doing some good in fighting the Vietnam War. The raiding of the American trust in war-righteousness can be seen in some ways as the root cause of much of the chaos of the latter 20th century.

Of course, this find full flowering in Bush's adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was only the tiniest of fig leaves for this one: hypothetical weapons of mass destruction and a tenuous link to a non-governmental terrorist organization. This time, the raiding of the piggybank was flagrant, almost shockingly overt: how could you miss the Halliburton connections, the Blackwater ops? Americans may have always privately known that war brought profit and prosperity, but this was always kept carefully draped under a very large and amply-waving flag. If not for the sheer rapacity of the profiteers, Americans might have kept the delusion that war was a good thing for just a little longer. Hey, we managed it in Kuwait! No, just as the American faith in faith was destroyed by airing it out and using it as a short-term political bludgeon, so too was the American faith that we only fought just wars, only intervened when conscience demanded, so too was our warlike nature squandered in a brief, but very profitable orgy.

And of course that brings us to the final and most directly analogous piggybank: the stored wealth of the American nation. Since the founding of the nation, what constituted being poor, middle-class, or rich had clear but clearly porous boundaries. The wealth lay in trust: the trust that being poor was a temporary condition. What other motivation could people have to sell their life in work or wages, other than the trust that it would profit them somehow? If you weren't the wrong type of minority, the idea was that you'd migrate to this country and that of course, when you got here, you'd be poor. Then, you'd work, and eventually you'd make it. Making it to the middle class meant owning land, owning a home instead of renting a tenement. This was a clear marker. Perhaps you remember the days when getting a mortgage meant something, where even a single late credit card payment would cause the concerned lift of eyebrows and sharp intake of breath from the banker perusing your application. Becoming middle class meant that you had shown you were a good credit risk, because credit was only for the middle class, who were reliable, who had earned it. One could even make the leap from poverty to real wealth within a single generation, and even though we all knew that behind that success was sure to be some dark and dirty action, on the surface, we could convince ourselves that people moved from rags to riches because they were somehow smarter, better motivated, more competitive.

The story of this collapse is the story of the rapine of the past thirty-five years. It's taken a lot of long, concerted, and overt effort to kill the American dream, but hey, greed is a powerful motivator. In no other realm than in finance can substantial, long-term ideas be raided so efficiently with such instant results for the quarterly earnings report. I hardly need to do more than mention the idea of raiding trust built over decades and centuries for short term gain before the trends of globalization, mortgage and securities fraud, offshoring, tax evasion, and corporate-political collusion spring up like dragon's teeth in the mind. The American Dream was built on the illusion, however incomplete, of a kind of give-and-take: that I might be your employee now, but that I have faith that I may somehow become the boss later. That you and I, no matter how great the difference in our wealth, share the same burdens and benefits together. When you raid these concepts in broad daylight, you get short term profit, but you kill the ability of the nation to maintain the necessary faith that gave the live-giving cycles motive power. It's the difference between milking the cow and slaughtering it.

Consider just the one example of getting a mortgage to own a house. For a long, long time, homeownership was a special, exceptional step in becoming an American. There really was a mythos about it that I don't believe was matched anywhere else around the world. I remember my grandparents' pride at buying the one house they ever owned, in the late 50s, I believe. My grandfather was a welder, and had carefully saved and built up credit, and when they got the home, they never moved, having paid it off after living in it for thirty years. This slow, difficult path to homeownership was what generated the expression "safe as houses". As long as banks played the long game, investing in homes meant guaranteed, safe, but moderate increase in value not only for the bank, but also for the homeowner.

From the Savings and Loan scandals to the 2008 crash, what more can be said except that the financial sector took a good long look at the safe houses and without hesitation, picked up the hammer? Flagrantly throwing loans at unqualified buyers, selling junk investments under cover, blatantly mortgaging with intent to foreclose, using insurance as a safety net: these are not the tactics of an industry seeking to build long-term value, to say the least. The American Dream shattered right along with the American myth of homeownership. That myth was a self-fulfilling prophecy, a goose that veritably laid golden eggs just as long as you could keep from trying to kill it to get the eggs faster.

So, after all this, some speculation. Cultures and economies in a building phase create institutions that produce long-term value, cycles that can sustain growth and expansion. Likewise, the surprise sex of these long-term ideas and stores of value are good signs of cultural collapse. Rebuilding the American faith in houses to the point where they become a safe, risk-free investment may literally be impossible now because it has become sufficiently obvious that their value can be raided. Nobody dared do this while the nation was strong, because we were all clearly thinking at least a little in the long term. On some level, subconscious perhaps, we all knew that our magical delusions, our national narratives, our self-fulfilling prophecies about houses or war or religious freedom had to be carefully shepherded lest they collapse. So, like the magical goose and the eggs, this is a story not about linear causation but of perpetual motion: neither the egg nor the goose came first, but we know for sure that one without the other is surely toast. Or maybe just like the pate and fried egg that sit on it, a last meal.

In short, the lesson of America is that a nation's sacred and secret ideas are what make it exceptional, and that a great example is the idea of exceptionality. Stop! Don't question it too much! That fragile film of self-reference is what holds the whole house of cards together. For when a nation decides to raid these secret ideas in public, their secret, self-sustaining magic is broken as is the country along with them.

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Mo_Steel
Mar 7, 2008

"We don't need a toilet. The pile of clothes in the hallway has worked fine for us for years, and it will continue to work."

An interesting article and good OP, thank you for them both.

American Exceptionalism, in my view, is something that really developed as a national ethos during the 20th century for a variety of reasons. One major reason that it didn't come about sooner is that the country was still too young; in the early 1800s the United States had only slightly more time as a nation than I have being alive, and it continued expanding into the 1900s in terms of new states. There were external threats but also internal ones like the Civil War that kept Exceptionalism from becoming a major facet until the 20th century. Another major aspect that I think delayed adoption of Exceptionalism was the scale and scope of immigration into the country in the mid to late 1800s. Millions of Germans, Brits, Irish, Italians, and other groups from Europe as well as Asia and other places around the world migrated to the U.S., with the foreign-born population as a percentage looking thusly:



This influx kept the rise of American Exceptionalism delayed because for a significant portion of the country the United States wasn't "home". While many doubtless came here seeking the American Dream I think that is only one factor of supposed Exceptionalism.

The 20th century in America seems almost predestined to bring about Exceptionalism as our character looking back on it now, but I think that's only the benefit of hindsight. I think three primary factors drove us to it though: an increase in cultural hegemony and national identity; broad expansion into foreign affairs, particularly militarily; and our rivalry with the U.S.S.R. In some ways these three things are not altogether distinct.

Referring to the table above again, there is a definite trend of less foreign born peoples as a percentage of the U.S. population from the 1910s onwards until the 1980s; I think that, combined with the events of World War I and II led to the United States coming together with a new and more cohesive national identity. These were struggles that defined a generation of people, and created a sense of us and them, with us encompassing all 50 states. At the same time as our national identity began to coalesce, the U.S. became a true economic and military powerhouse just as globalization began to rise economically. We flexed our muscles, and our population reaped the benefits through luxuries, comforts, and even assurances of basic needs. The fear of Communism contributed probably most blatantly of these three aspects to Exceptionalism's rise though: America painted itself as a great defender of freedom protecting from the scourge of The Reds, and we bathed in that fervor. Everything from the Space Race to proxy wars to the Olympics and beyond was tied into it, and I think that Exceptionalism needed an "other" that we lost when the USSR collapsed and the Red Scare mostly faded.

In the late 20th century and early 21st century that view has collapsed I think in part because it was hyperinflated; while I agree that aspects of it were "raided" by the wealthy or by fighting wars without genuinely defensible purposes, in other ways it was because the things it was pushing back against weren't there anymore. We don't have a national enemy any more that is clearly and easily defined; terrorism is too vague to hold up to that standard, and the events of 9/11 that brought a country together can only sustain pressure for so long. At the same time, while we've reaped the benefits of globalization the poor and middle class are beginning to eat the costs of it too, through lost jobs and global competition. Immigration is on the rise and political fracturing is leading to a dissolving national identity; many people hold deeply patriotic views but many people are also questioning their country in ways they weren't during the Cold War.

I don't think Exceptionalism is dead in America, but I do think the factors that brought it to fruition have largely faded out and it is on the downswing. What replaces it, I think, should be interesting to witness.

e: I'm not a U.S. historian so it's possible this is a very shallow "just so" look at the subject, so further insights and thoughts are very welcome.

Mo_Steel fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2014 around 03:03

Vladimir Putin
Mar 17, 2007
Pardon me sir, would you like to have some Polonium ?

I personally think American exceptionalism is still relevant today. America is probably the only country expousing something resembling liberal "Western" values and at the same time is relevant enough on the international stage to display any kind of leadership. There's really no other country that has the combination of those two qualities.

Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


I like the idea of thinking of exceptionalism in terms of whom we feel we are the exception to. Without that contrast, you're right, it's rebel-without-a-cause territory. Interestingly the author makes a lot of points about revolutionary and early America as an exception to European norms, but yes, the coalescence of American identity in the 50s couldn't help but be definition against the USSR.

Your point about foreign born nationals hits on another favorite point of mine; how changes in immigration policy reflect a contracting and not expanding nation. Having an ideology and national concept that is flexible enough to think of immigrants as possible additions to your identity rather than a viper-like insidious threat seems to highly correlate with a strong and growing nation. Remember that those Late 19th and early 20th century immigrants were waves of Irish, German, Chinese, and Italian immigrants, among others, who were actually coming to integrate into America old-style. They came here abandoning their homeland because they believed America was better. They may have taught their children to speak English, but they sold food and products that reflected their heritage because America wanted to buy it, wanted to absorb their culture.

Consider the modern terror of immigration. What possible thing could your average American want from a Mexican, given the propaganda and racism thrown around? Why do we restrict H1B visas so viciously, pushing possible highly-educated citizens right out the door they just came in?

It leads me right back to your point about cultural hegemony. When a nation is still supple and forming its identity, it's not rigid enough to outright reject immigrants. Once it puts its baseball and apple pie WASP fantasy out there as an ideal, it deliberately excludes the others who do not fit the vision. Yes, there were types like this in the early 1900s, but seriously, Ellis Island stayed open, and until about 1930, we were accepting waves of immigrants into full citizenship.

So yes, the points you mention do all contribute to the death of exceptionalism, which means that if we're not there already, America is headed to being just another nation among many. I really wonder about the psychological effects of that realization, of people waking up at some point and realize that America is a concept left by the side of the road a long time ago, that America is a lie told to them in bad faith to exploit them, not a story of our native equality, prosperity and opportunity.

Silver2195
Apr 4, 2012


Quidam Viator posted:

I like the idea of thinking of exceptionalism in terms of whom we feel we are the exception to. Without that contrast, you're right, it's rebel-without-a-cause territory. Interestingly the author makes a lot of points about revolutionary and early America as an exception to European norms, but yes, the coalescence of American identity in the 50s couldn't help but be definition against the USSR.

Your point about foreign born nationals hits on another favorite point of mine; how changes in immigration policy reflect a contracting and not expanding nation. Having an ideology and national concept that is flexible enough to think of immigrants as possible additions to your identity rather than a viper-like insidious threat seems to highly correlate with a strong and growing nation. Remember that those Late 19th and early 20th century immigrants were waves of Irish, German, Chinese, and Italian immigrants, among others, who were actually coming to integrate into America old-style. They came here abandoning their homeland because they believed America was better. They may have taught their children to speak English, but they sold food and products that reflected their heritage because America wanted to buy it, wanted to absorb their culture.

Consider the modern terror of immigration. What possible thing could your average American want from a Mexican, given the propaganda and racism thrown around? Why do we restrict H1B visas so viciously, pushing possible highly-educated citizens right out the door they just came in?

It leads me right back to your point about cultural hegemony. When a nation is still supple and forming its identity, it's not rigid enough to outright reject immigrants. Once it puts its baseball and apple pie WASP fantasy out there as an ideal, it deliberately excludes the others who do not fit the vision. Yes, there were types like this in the early 1900s, but seriously, Ellis Island stayed open, and until about 1930, we were accepting waves of immigrants into full citizenship.

So yes, the points you mention do all contribute to the death of exceptionalism, which means that if we're not there already, America is headed to being just another nation among many. I really wonder about the psychological effects of that realization, of people waking up at some point and realize that America is a concept left by the side of the road a long time ago, that America is a lie told to them in bad faith to exploit them, not a story of our native equality, prosperity and opportunity.

Yes, no one was racist against immigrants in the 19th century.

This was a bad post.

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010


Obtuse Cunt.
Please Do Not Engage.
Will bore you and everyone else with inane questions.




If the past can teach us anything it's that the screaming racists are less relevant these days, not more so.

That and America's post-war success is mostly a string of coincidences that have been slowly correcting themselves over the past 60 years. America being The Best Ever was not a historical eventuality by any means, and it's more in line with history for the East to be as large (or larger) of a role in the world economy as they are now.

Axetrain
Sep 14, 2007

Cutting me off at every turn

American exceptionalism has never existed, its just a belief that America is superior to all other nations because of magic. Myths about how we are the "freest" or best nation are just that, myths. This idea is fed to the public in order to make people forget that our aristocracy treats them like poo poo by appealing to nationalism.

icantfindaname
Jul 1, 2008



Vladimir Putin posted:

I personally think American exceptionalism is still relevant today. America is probably the only country expousing something resembling liberal "Western" values and at the same time is relevant enough on the international stage to display any kind of leadership. There's really no other country that has the combination of those two qualities.

America's foreign policy displays pretty much nothing of the sort. Seriously it is hilariously ridiculous to suggest that the US espouses anything more than a hollow shell of support for liberal democracy.

Axetrain posted:

American exceptionalism has never existed, its just a belief that America is superior to all other nations because of magic. Myths about how we are the "freest" or best nation are just that, myths. This idea is fed to the public in order to make people forget that our aristocracy treats them like poo poo by appealing to nationalism.

yes.

Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


Axetrain posted:

American exceptionalism has never existed, its just a belief that America is superior to all other nations because of magic. Myths about how we are the "freest" or best nation are just that, myths. This idea is fed to the public in order to make people forget that our aristocracy treats them like poo poo by appealing to nationalism.

I guess the post was too long for a close reading.

Yes, they are, as I said, myths. The point of building up all that narrative was to explain that myths generally believed by a culture are the glue that holds the nation together and the lubricant that allows inequality to slide into some sort of acceptable status quo. Yes, it is magical thinking, and the public of this nation has sustained it just as gladly as the aristocrats have. I literally called it self-fulfilling prophecy, which must be believed in public to have its magic effect; my central thesis was that when the light is shined upon these obviously hypocritical beliefs held by a nation, they collapse taking the nation along with them.

This is a post to a long-lost version of D&D where I could post something this long and not get one-line dismissals and responses that completely miss the point. I am making the controversial claim that magical thinking enables the progress of civilizations and that the collapse of American myths like exceptionalism, special religiosity, the Just American War, and the American Economic Dream literally mean the collapse of the country. I was hoping people would begin to talk about the myths at the heart of the plucky little England story behind the British Empire, or, since Roman culture is a specialty of mine, how the mos maiorum was literally built of magical thinking that collapsed during the late empire. Or, perhaps you feel that the politics and economics of a nation are entirely rational, conducted by purely rational actors, and just as BF Skinner said that our qualia are just useless emergent illusions, you're saying that our political myths are just illusions covering a hard-rational reality.

What exactly are you trying to say?

Spangly A
May 14, 2009

Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams and fairy tales.

Quidam Viator posted:

This is a post to a long-lost version of D&D where I could post something this long and not get one-line dismissals and responses that completely miss the point. I am making the controversial claim that magical thinking enables the progress of civilizations and that the collapse of American myths like exceptionalism, special religiosity, the Just American War, and the American Economic Dream literally mean the collapse of the country. I was hoping people would begin to talk about the myths at the heart of the plucky little England story behind the British Empire

I'll be honest, I came into the thread ready to post a firm kicking of the idea of "Exceptionalism" existing as anything but a delusion, then left because your post is a suckerpunch. I think most of the people coming into this thread will be drawn by the title but find you've already written their replies for them, it's a good OP.

Exceptionalism can be thought of as necessary for any empire to justify itself to its people in the same way the rich justify capitalism through a long series of deluded thinking that leads to "I'm just better than they are". It indirectly encourages racism as a way of dealing with cognitive dissonance. When you rule a third of the world it's pretty hard to justify that much colonial ownership as anything but "we're helping, I swear!".

Empire history is hardly my strong point, but to be clear, saying "the empire was absolutely bad" would get you funny looks round here. We don't think in terms of slave trade, mass exploitation, labour camps, imperialism, and genocide. We think in terms of We Gave The Funny People Railways, and other such pleasant ideas. England remains a bastion of xenophobia (our Island culture and sheer denial of history allows us to pretend that we aren't European) and yet I see people surprised that the former-colonial immigrants who live here don't exactly like us. Some of my Zim friends get quite agitated at any coverage of the royal family, as an example. To born and bred natives it seems to be just a harmless reminder of days gone by, as opposed to a monument to Exceptionalism and the violent exploitation it encourages. It took me a while to understand quite how offensive the Jubilees must be to anyone who isn't a raging nationalist. Exceptionalism doesn't really die, it just becomes less overt and jingoistic. A lot of people you could talk to here would understand that it's bullshit but they'd certainly be familiar with the concept and surprised when it's challenged, as it's such a huge part of our national ID.

tbp
Mar 1, 2008



The particular characteristics present during the genesis of America and resulting policies and attitudes amongst it's people are rather exceptional though..

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010


Obtuse Cunt.
Please Do Not Engage.
Will bore you and everyone else with inane questions.




tbp posted:

The particular characteristics present during the genesis of America and resulting policies and attitudes amongst it's people are rather exceptional though..

Exceptional compared to average people or exceptional compared to other countries' creation myths?

Just off of the top of my head, Spain has El Cid, Germany et all has Charlemagne, Russia has a variety of character, both Imperial and Soviet, China has tons of figures, Egypt has tons of figures, etc.

The most mythic of America's influential people is probably Washington, but that's only because he invoked Cincinnatus and stepped down from power.

Dreylad
Jun 19, 2001

One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously when the decay which leads its to death has already begun


There's something circular and weird about this article. It's not a bad article, and it talks about some of the issues facing the United States quite directly. But American Exceptionalism was a concept created to describe certain American attitudes about their own country that went beyond traditional nationalist fervour. Somewhere along the line conservatives and liberals took the idea as a serious and coherent thing and used it to justify their own weird expectations for their country. It's very strange.

Dreylad fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2014 around 13:09

tbp
Mar 1, 2008



Exceptional in terms of how it, still to this day, strongly influences the national character with regard to a taste for individualism and prioritization of freedom over equality. It's more than I can type out on my phone, but if you want to just look at a particularly comprehensive work on it read Democracy in America and contrast that with The Old Regime and the French Revolution. It becomes readily apparent how the genesis of America was and still is wildly important to a prioritization of freedom especially when compared to countries like France.

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010


Obtuse Cunt.
Please Do Not Engage.
Will bore you and everyone else with inane questions.




tbp posted:

Exceptional in terms of how it, still to this day, strongly influences the national character with regard to a taste for individualism and prioritization of freedom over equality. It's more than I can type out on my phone, but if you want to just look at a particularly comprehensive work on it read Democracy in America and contrast that with The Old Regime and the French Revolution. It becomes readily apparent how the genesis of America was and still is wildly important to a prioritization of freedom especially when compared to countries like France.

"Still to this day" is more of a function of which institutions are still standing. You could just as easily say that Mao to this day strongly influences the national character with regard to a taste for collective support and prioritization of aid over individualization, but that's only because the PRC hasn't fallen.

Again, take Cincinnatus - he is from a culture that was dead a thousand years (or charitably, ~350) before the start of the American Revolution but he is revered and remembered enough that he was directly quoted and honored in this country. How are you so sure that the same will happen with American cultural figures?

Kit Walker
Jul 10, 2010
"The Man Who Cannot Deadlift"

Well, exceptional doesn't necessarily mean good. I would argue that the extreme focus on poo poo that happened generations ago as if it has any meaning today is pretty stupid. Circumstances are completely different. You can't take pride in the founding of a country when you're working every day to gently caress over all the people that make it good to benefit the tiny fraction of economic vampires making everything terrible.

ChaosSamusX
Jul 18, 2010


tbp posted:

Exceptional in terms of how it, still to this day, strongly influences the national character with regard to a taste for individualism and prioritization of freedom over equality. It's more than I can type out on my phone, but if you want to just look at a particularly comprehensive work on it read Democracy in America and contrast that with The Old Regime and the French Revolution. It becomes readily apparent how the genesis of America was and still is wildly important to a prioritization of freedom especially when compared to countries like France.

Which is why it took until the 1860s to get rid of slavery.

Lawman 0
Aug 17, 2010



I mean I think it all depends op on what you want to define as "American Exceptionalism"; is it really a specific set of traits or just a celebration of our current national character? I mean im sure many of these people bitching and moaning about the end of american exceptionalism are the descendants of the people who bitched and moaned about Italians and other ethnic groups flooding in during the late 1800's 'ruining our country' with their weird (read: tasty) food and dirty Catholicism. In a way those people were right since those immigrants did end up changing our national fabric but it didn't destroy the country or anything. The weird and artificial american exceptionalism that was cooked up during the Cold War to provide a boost to national unity did its job and is now fading away to be replaced by other ideas.

Anyone who thinks this is going to somehow break the country up is deluding themselves and in fact if they are trying to keep that myth alive will probably help engineer a collapse if they push back too hard. We are not really going to fall down far in ranking either (unlike the UK) since we are so big that it would take a massive catastrophe like yellowstone going off or something for our power to really fall. We have to remember that the unipolar moment was just that, a brief moment in history before another age of great power competition. The ascension of China to the top has been obvious to people for centuries and should be allowed to be completed so the Chinese don't get more reasons to behave badly. Russia too has partially reemerged from its collapse and should be given a wider berth consummate with its power. That said our two main rivals are in no position to actually force us into submission and we will still outclass them in most things for a while. So really the thing most likely to destroy us would be overreacting to our perceived 'decline' and doing something completely retarded.

tbp
Mar 1, 2008



ChaosSamusX posted:

Which is why it took until the 1860s to get rid of slavery.

I appreciate the "snarky comment" but this is fairly comprehensively addressed in the scholarship I mentioned.

BrandorKP
Jan 21, 2006

Can you and I even have a conversation about anything. I'm entirely serious. I'm obsessed with a universals. You very often argue as if universal don't exist and totally and completely miss the point of any type of conversation about them.

I think there is something to the idea the that myths we as a country perceived to be reality are being shaken apart right now. Particularly the myths of older white middle class Americans who lean right.

But this is not a new thing to talk about, or to happen. It's happened before. Springsteen talked it in 82 in the song Atlantic City. Martin Luther King shook our collective myths. The decline of rust belt cities corroded them. Tillich talked about the shaking of our myths in the aftermath of the creation of the atomic bomb. Our collective myths were shaken by the women's suffrage movement. John Brown smashed them at Harper's Ferry. The civil war tore them apart. They were burned in the Whitehouse in 1814. Even going back to the revolution John Adams stood up to the myths of an angry mob and defended the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre in court. Our history is a collection of ends of our myths and they could be listed for pages.

If we can continue to look at the ends of our myths and change, if we continue to confront our ironies, we will continue to be the exceptional nation.

But then again I read a lot of Niebuhr and frankly I'm just restating the conclusion of the Atlantic article. You don't seem to mention the articles conclusion or seem to address it.

BrandorKP fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2014 around 16:44

Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


Yes, you caught me, BrandorKP. I DO agree with the conclusion of the Atlantic article, that all this collapse is the best thing by far for America. I'm just tired of being dismissed as just an accelerationist around here. In each of these cases, it's conservatives that have led the charge into raiding long-stored wealth. My political beliefs are based around the idea that the most effective and permanent way to excise an evil ideology is to let it have its way in public. To look at tge final line, I believe that America needs truly extraordinary discontent to overcome our present inertia, and that the letting this awful purge happen is the best path to progress.

A Buttery Pastry
Sep 4, 2011

Delicious and Informative!


Spangly A posted:

I'll be honest, I came into the thread ready to post a firm kicking of the idea of "Exceptionalism" existing as anything but a delusion, then left because your post is a suckerpunch. I think most of the people coming into this thread will be drawn by the title but find you've already written their replies for them, it's a good OP.
Yeah, it's not exactly what one expects to see in a thread about American Exceptionalism. I rather appreciate how the topic is approached, looking at the concept in a universal fashion, though obviously centered on America in the specifics.

Quidam Viator posted:

I was hoping people would begin to talk about the myths at the heart of the plucky little England story behind the British Empire, or, since Roman culture is a specialty of mine, how the mos maiorum was literally built of magical thinking that collapsed during the late empire.
Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to add my two cents about a much smaller empire, specifically the Danish one.

While one can talk of Denmark existing in some form or the other for over a thousand years, I don't think it makes that much sense in terms of national mythos. Sure, there are semi-mythical figures like Gorm the Old, or the myth of how our flag fell from the skies over Estonia, but they are more anchors for our modern national mythos than relevant in terms of national character. For the longest time, our kings were German through and through, our nobility the same, and the European territory they ruled was probably not even majority Danish. It was essentially a miniature Habsburg Monarchy, in this case the Oldenburg Monarchy.

The history of the Oldenburg Monarchy is basically one of losing more and more territory. First Sweden and Finland, then Scania to the Swedes in the 17th century, later Norway because the British decided we should give them our entire fleet, and we declined. The German territories remained though, and with the loss of Danish and Norwegian provinces, Germans came to represent a significant minority of the overall population as well. Unfortunately for the monarchy, nationalism and liberalism became a bigger and bigger factor, and eventually 1848 came around. A royal succession crisis, and demands for a constitution by the citizens of Copenhagen, quickly led to rebellion in Schleswig-Holstein due to fears that acceptance of constitutional rule would lead to the two duchies to be separated due to the desires of Danish nationalists. The rebellion ended up a failure, despite Prussian intervention, which was seen among the Danish population as evidence of Danish virility and vigor, against weak effeminate Germans. That the Prussians had only backed down due the threat of intervention by both Russia and the UK was lost in the nationalist fervor. Thus when the issue came to the fore again, the hyper-nationalist liberals were unwilling to concede to any kind of compromise, and thus the Danish state was reduced to the absolute core, by the removal of a third of its territory and population.

While an enormous loss for the state of Denmark, this was in truth the birth of the Danish nation state, and thus the Danish identity was not one born out of a victorious war, but one of an ignominious defeat. The conscious rejection of Denmark as their home by the German minority was in some way a revelation to many Danes, and the new national project became finding out what being a Dane meant. One of the core tenets of the new Danish identity became the avoidance of conflict, and militarism in particular, in favor of cooperation. A central idea during the period following the loss of the German territories (which included a significant amount of Danes), was one of national strengthening through cooperation, of internal colonization of territory that had essentially been empty for centuries. On the smaller scale, Danish industry was largely one of cooperatives, where farmers joined their resources in production and promotion. Thus despite having few of the resources that fueled the industrialization of other European countries, Denmark remained competitive by marketing its products abroad, especially to the ever hungry British industrial machine.

Of course, this national awakening wasn't uniformly progressive, despite how it might initially appear. The ideas of cooperation were largely facilitated by the narrowing down of what it meant to be a Dane, and the fact that the country was so homogenous that this definition held up. This idea of what it means to be a Dane, and the enforcement of it, has become so central to the Danish identity that it has essentially become invisible. This nationalism, the idea of "the people" as a united force which can only survive through cooperation and homogeneity, became the core of the social-democratic Danish state that evolved from the start of the 20th century. Thus cooperative-nationalism has in a way subsumed class struggle for many Danes throughout the history of the Danish nation state.

Which brings us to the present. Like in the US, the Danish national mythos is being challenged, though in different ways. Since the foundation of our national myth is explicitly based in extreme homogeneity, it is not compatible with the multiculturalism immigration brings with it. In short, something has to give. For the far right, the answer is obvious; the immigrants should get out, or assimilate completely, restoring homogeneity. Far the far left, the answer is the expansion of the in-group, the inclusive cooperative to replace the exclusive one. Finally, the center, consisting of everyone from former democratic socialist to conservatives, now just liberals, essentially doesn't give a drat about any of it, and is happily dismantling the whole thing. It should come as no surprise then that the center-left is collapsing, losing supporters to the original liberals (why settle for the imitators?), the far left, and increasingly the far right. An election cycle or two, and the far right will almost certainly have replaced them as the clearly second largest party in parliament. What that means for the Danish national mythos I don't know. Perhaps it will eventually be reinforced through assimilation and/or deportation, though it could just as well remain solely as a bitter cultural left-over which neo-liberals use to ward off threats to their reign. Obviously I would prefer the far left non-nationalist version, but I'm not sure I'm enough of an optimist to buy that idea.

icantfindaname
Jul 1, 2008



tbp posted:

Exceptional in terms of how it, still to this day, strongly influences the national character with regard to a taste for individualism and prioritization of freedom over equality. It's more than I can type out on my phone, but if you want to just look at a particularly comprehensive work on it read Democracy in America and contrast that with The Old Regime and the French Revolution. It becomes readily apparent how the genesis of America was and still is wildly important to a prioritization of freedom especially when compared to countries like France.

Ahahahhahahahahaaaaaa what an absolute load of poo poo. This is a joke post right? You're telling me that the country that executes its own citizens extrajudicially, collects and stores every communication made by its citizens in an intelligence database, and considers open, publicly acknowledged racial profiling in the police and legal system acceptable, prioritizes freedom better than other liberal democracies which don't do those things? Never mind the fact that other countries developed liberal democracies and civil liberties quite independently of the United States: France, the UK, and to an extent Imperial Germany. We should ignore all of these things because EQUALITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



tbp posted:

I appreciate the "snarky comment" but this is fairly comprehensively addressed in the scholarship I mentioned.

By this you mean 'book from the 1830s criticizing slavery, which was written by a French aristocrat and had essentially no influence on the institution of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States'? No seriously how does that book address the issue of slavery and Jim Crow in any way whatsoever? It had no effect, nobody cared and the only things that stopped those institutions in the end was external intervention with overwhelming force. You're full of poo poo.

icantfindaname fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2014 around 18:57

Mo_Steel
Mar 7, 2008

"We don't need a toilet. The pile of clothes in the hallway has worked fine for us for years, and it will continue to work."

Quidam Viator posted:

I like the idea of thinking of exceptionalism in terms of whom we feel we are the exception to. Without that contrast, you're right, it's rebel-without-a-cause territory. Interestingly the author makes a lot of points about revolutionary and early America as an exception to European norms, but yes, the coalescence of American identity in the 50s couldn't help but be definition against the USSR.

Your point about foreign born nationals hits on another favorite point of mine; how changes in immigration policy reflect a contracting and not expanding nation. Having an ideology and national concept that is flexible enough to think of immigrants as possible additions to your identity rather than a viper-like insidious threat seems to highly correlate with a strong and growing nation. Remember that those Late 19th and early 20th century immigrants were waves of Irish, German, Chinese, and Italian immigrants, among others, who were actually coming to integrate into America old-style. They came here abandoning their homeland because they believed America was better. They may have taught their children to speak English, but they sold food and products that reflected their heritage because America wanted to buy it, wanted to absorb their culture.

Consider the modern terror of immigration. What possible thing could your average American want from a Mexican, given the propaganda and racism thrown around? Why do we restrict H1B visas so viciously, pushing possible highly-educated citizens right out the door they just came in?

It leads me right back to your point about cultural hegemony. When a nation is still supple and forming its identity, it's not rigid enough to outright reject immigrants. Once it puts its baseball and apple pie WASP fantasy out there as an ideal, it deliberately excludes the others who do not fit the vision. Yes, there were types like this in the early 1900s, but seriously, Ellis Island stayed open, and until about 1930, we were accepting waves of immigrants into full citizenship.

So yes, the points you mention do all contribute to the death of exceptionalism, which means that if we're not there already, America is headed to being just another nation among many. I really wonder about the psychological effects of that realization, of people waking up at some point and realize that America is a concept left by the side of the road a long time ago, that America is a lie told to them in bad faith to exploit them, not a story of our native equality, prosperity and opportunity.

Taken as a whole, I view the death of Exceptionalism as a positive even if the means that brought it about are resulting in negative real life aspects because my persistent belief is that our Exceptionalism could have very toxic outcomes, particularly in light of nationalistic fervor in other countries in the 20th century leading to some horrific actions (including in the U.S. in things like proxy wars in the Middle East and Asia).

As far as the psychological effects, with luck and considerable effort I'm hopeful that the shift in national character will lead to meaningful introspection about what our national goals ought be, what our national status is, and how we should go about achieving those goals to the best of our abilities. While exceptionalism may hang along for a while and possibly never truly vanish, I think it's possible our national character could form around other goals. I say luck because the future is impossibly unpredictable, and any number of events could distort the direction of our country and it's believed character for decades. Could any person of the 1900s have predicted the shape of America in the 1950s? My hope is that activities like our domestic spying and military adventurism and staggering economic inequality will put new pressure on the country to really examine itself critically during this waning period of Exceptionalism in spite of the institutional forces that press against that sort of examination.

What I don't see is the U.S. collapsing. Lacking a national character or ethos like the Exceptionalism we've clung onto for much of the last century should almost de facto promote some national soul searching even if it's not explicitly viewed in that framework, and could probably lead to political fracturing, but I am doubtful the economic and military power of the U.S. will dissolve as rapidly as the myth of Exceptionalism has. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I think it's unlikely and I think that power will hold the U.S. together for some time. Maybe a couple generations from now I could see that shifting if other nations take over technological advancement en masse and the U.S. falters in stability and education.

Mo_Steel fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2014 around 19:21

anonumos
Jul 14, 2005

Fuck it.

I would argue that America was never as exceptional as people believed it to be. The conservative views of America (a Christian Nation, Classless, Free, etc) are incorrect and always have been. Throughout our history we have been a nation of moneyed elites, racial divides, slavery, and a complex blend of religion and secular humanism.

It comes back to the conservative mindset of sticking their heads in the sand: slavery, Segregation, unreasonable imprisonment, literal Crusades against native peoples, morality laws, vast inequality, and hatred for immigrants never existed...for the American conservative, the USA was never better than when half its population was in chains for the benefit of wealthy land owners, when we were winning glorious "wars" against the Indian nations, and when a white man could kill a black woman in the street without repercussion.

Bottom line: American exceptionalism was always a myth predicated on your position in American society. It was the by-product of delusional thinking; the "loss" of exceptionalism is just the slow awakening of people who once believed themselves untouched by America's problems.

Raiding public trusts, or dragging private ideas into the public sector is a nice way of putting it. However, I still think it was all a complete fabrication to begin with.

Edit: Ask an Indian, an 1800's Irish immigrant, a 1700's slave, or a 1950's segregated "negro" how exceptional America really is. My point is the only people who could believe in this myth are those who never had to question their privilege; and this group was always a tiny minority of the whole. The majority suffered under "exceptionalism". Like other posters here, I'm hopeful for the shattering of this myth, because it seems there might actually be more appreciation for the hardships of our countrymen (the Tea Party and Religious Right notwithstanding). What I mean is that the "exceptionalist" is a quickly vanishing demographic. The rest of us know what's really happening.

anonumos fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2014 around 19:55

Axetrain
Sep 14, 2007

Cutting me off at every turn

Quidam Viator posted:

I guess the post was too long for a close reading.

Yes, they are, as I said, myths. The point of building up all that narrative was to explain that myths generally believed by a culture are the glue that holds the nation together and the lubricant that allows inequality to slide into some sort of acceptable status quo. Yes, it is magical thinking, and the public of this nation has sustained it just as gladly as the aristocrats have. I literally called it self-fulfilling prophecy, which must be believed in public to have its magic effect; my central thesis was that when the light is shined upon these obviously hypocritical beliefs held by a nation, they collapse taking the nation along with them.

This is a post to a long-lost version of D&D where I could post something this long and not get one-line dismissals and responses that completely miss the point. I am making the controversial claim that magical thinking enables the progress of civilizations and that the collapse of American myths like exceptionalism, special religiosity, the Just American War, and the American Economic Dream literally mean the collapse of the country. I was hoping people would begin to talk about the myths at the heart of the plucky little England story behind the British Empire, or, since Roman culture is a specialty of mine, how the mos maiorum was literally built of magical thinking that collapsed during the late empire. Or, perhaps you feel that the politics and economics of a nation are entirely rational, conducted by purely rational actors, and just as BF Skinner said that our qualia are just useless emergent illusions, you're saying that our political myths are just illusions covering a hard-rational reality.

What exactly are you trying to say?

If you want to speak of AE as the completely false piece of propaganda it is then I apologize. If your here to pretend it is in anyway based on reality that's another thing. Every country/city/tribe all the way back to the ancient Greeks and further has used the exact same myths about how "We are the best, look at all the great things we have done! the other peoples are just savage barbarians, how lucky you are to be sons and daughters of XYZ group!" America is no different.

quote:

This privacy of religious expression actually created a huge sort of latent power, a unity in respecting each other's religious space that I think gave much weight to the sense of freedom that Americans could speak of and feel proud of.


As long as your some form of Christian we respect your right to free worship, got it.

quote:

Since the founding of the nation, what constituted being poor, middle-class, or rich had clear but clearly porous boundaries.


This is completely false.

quote:

The wealth lay in trust: the trust that being poor was a temporary condition. What other motivation could people have to sell their life in work or wages, other than the trust that it would profit them somehow? If you weren't the wrong type of minority, the idea was that you'd migrate to this country and that of course, when you got here, you'd be poor. Then, you'd work, and eventually you'd make it. Making it to the middle class meant owning land, owning a home instead of renting a tenement. This was a clear marker. Perhaps you remember the days when getting a mortgage meant something, where even a single late credit card payment would cause the concerned lift of eyebrows and sharp intake of breath from the banker perusing your application. Becoming middle class meant that you had shown you were a good credit risk, because credit was only for the middle class, who were reliable, who had earned it. One could even make the leap from poverty to real wealth within a single generation, and even though we all knew that behind that success was sure to be some dark and dirty action, on the surface, we could convince ourselves that people moved from rags to riches because they were somehow smarter, better motivated, more competitive.


Well simple survival is why people are forced (not choose) to work in awful conditions for little pay. Most Americans had no hope of becoming landowners or wealthy at all until very recently after the largest conflict ever upset things enough. Even then thats for white men only and now without the specter of communism threatening to turn our workers into soviets the wealthy no longer have to treat any of the workers decently anymore and we are rapidly returning to how things were before that very brief period of upward mobility. Sure a very few people can go from poor to rich but they are the exception not the rule.

quote:

It's taken a lot of long, concerted, and overt effort to kill the American dream, but hey, greed is a powerful motivator.


On the contrary it has taken great lengths to keep it alive in the face of poverty, discrimination, union busting, and a political system controlled by the wealthy and used to funnel more to them at the expense of everyone else. The gains of the middle class during the middle 20th century are being erased and wide spread media such as phones and the internet that allow people to see and compare are the reason this lie is just now starting to crumble.

You know I will say I skimmed through it too quickly when I first read it and mistakenly got the impression that you believed AE to be something grounded in reality, my first post is still true though.

tbp posted:

Exceptional in terms of how it, still to this day, strongly influences the national character with regard to a taste for individualism and prioritization of freedom over equality.


The United States does not prioritize freedom or equality, it doesn't now nor has it ever.

Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


OK, Axetrain. Let's talk. To reject exceptionalism as a "completely false piece of propaganda" is to show absolutely no respect for the oldest and most potent piece of national identity ever conceived. Truth or falsity is absolutely immaterial in a practical sense. Effectiveness is what counts. What axe are you trying to grind here? This essay wasn't about my personal beliefs, but about gaining an understanding of the ideological basis of American exceptionalism.

If you need to know my personal views so you can feel like I'm on your side so you don't need to be all aggressive, then here you go: I believe that American exceptionalism was a stretched truth that we got a LOT of mileage out of simply by using it in the same way the Greeks, the Romans, and the British did, since that was the model the founding fathers stole it from. I believe that Colonial and Early America were by far the best place in the world for religious freedom: so in response to your snark about being a Christian, then yes, that was true back then, or you could be a Deist. Now, America's the worst 1st world shithole for religious freedom. Is that what you're upset about? I also believe that Reagan Conservatives, Free Marketeers, and Corporatists are the ones holding the piggybank-smashing hammer and that they are the enemies of those who believe in social justice, economic equity, and solidarity. Can you stop being so loving dismissive with me now? I'm making broad comments about an idea, not talking about on-the-ground realities about the present. All of your comments lack any historical basis, and I'm talking in terms of long history.

You reject as completely false the idea that we ever had any sense of division between poverty, the middle class, and the rich, and that the borders were ever porous, and you do this without evidence. So how did we even come up with this mythos of the log-splitting Abe Lincoln, the rags-to-riches Ford and Carnegie stories, or the millions of stories of late-19th and early-20th century immigrants who rose to economic stability? Or are you claiming that all those Italians still live in cold-water Tenements in Hells Kitchen, and that the same Chinese railroad slaves are still at it five generations later? Sure, now? Now, everything is bullshit. Is that what you're talking about? If so, we're not even in the same century.

And women? No loving duh there isn't opportunity for women. None of the models we built our magical spell of exceptionality on gave rights to women, so why would American have gone with that radical idea? Really, it's more proof of my thesis that African-Americans and women have received little to no benefit from the myths of American Exceptionality because they came to the table while the story was being deconstructed. In actual fact, a case can be made that the Reagan Revolution is a spiteful destruction of all the old structures just to refuse entry to our classic slave-laborers, blacks and women. What's your point?

And my most important point is this: as long as myopic people continue to coddle the rich by offering them convenient opposition, by preserving the American Dream despite their efforts to dismantle it, then YOU are the one giving life support to a hateful ideology. Nobody can stop or harm them as much as they can by simply winning. How quickly we could be over and done with them if they simply got their way! You fight a constant battle against complacency because you are your own worst enemy. Your opponents thrive off of the illusion of being under attack, and you keep feeding them.

quote:

The United States does not prioritize freedom or equality, it doesn't now nor has it ever.

Dude.

Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


A Buttery Pastry posted:

An Outstanding Post

What you say about Danish identity is illuminating, and spot-on for the topic. Is it too much to say that cooperation and homogeneity are as much founding ideals as stories of an ancient king and flags falling from heaven? To some extent, it had to be clear that these were conditional, that class struggle was as you say "being subsumed" by these overarching ideas.

It's almost like that's the hallmark of these national myths: they cover over the difficult and messy real struggles and allow citizens to believe in a nobler and cleaner idea of what their nation is. I think that it's an excellent parallel example to the US, because the entire world is undergoing some sort of face-to-face with the problems caused by their long-held prejudices, myths, and practices. It's hard to think of a stable place in the world right now, a place with a solid national ideology and firm foundation.

It seems like immigration is testing a lot of European nations on the consistency of their ideals and values.

Quidam Viator
Jan 24, 2001

Danger is the beating heart of any true adventure.


anonumos posted:

I would argue that America was never as exceptional as people believed it to be. The conservative views of America (a Christian Nation, Classless, Free, etc) are incorrect and always have been. Throughout our history we have been a nation of moneyed elites, racial divides, slavery, and a complex blend of religion and secular humanism.

It comes back to the conservative mindset of sticking their heads in the sand: slavery, Segregation, unreasonable imprisonment, literal Crusades against native peoples, morality laws, vast inequality, and hatred for immigrants never existed...for the American conservative, the USA was never better than when half its population was in chains for the benefit of wealthy land owners, when we were winning glorious "wars" against the Indian nations, and when a white man could kill a black woman in the street without repercussion.

Bottom line: American exceptionalism was always a myth predicated on your position in American society. It was the by-product of delusional thinking; the "loss" of exceptionalism is just the slow awakening of people who once believed themselves untouched by America's problems.

Raiding public trusts, or dragging private ideas into the public sector is a nice way of putting it. However, I still think it was all a complete fabrication to begin with.

Edit: Ask an Indian, an 1800's Irish immigrant, a 1700's slave, or a 1950's segregated "negro" how exceptional America really is. My point is the only people who could believe in this myth are those who never had to question their privilege; and this group was always a tiny minority of the whole. The majority suffered under "exceptionalism". Like other posters here, I'm hopeful for the shattering of this myth, because it seems there might actually be more appreciation for the hardships of our countrymen (the Tea Party and Religious Right notwithstanding). What I mean is that the "exceptionalist" is a quickly vanishing demographic. The rest of us know what's really happening.

Yes. You're the voice of now, of our present cultural awareness. Everything you're saying is true, and yet you have to consider how much less traction this statement of yours would have gotten the further back in American history you go. Only today do we have a strong enough coalition and platform of people to make these statements publicly, and my central contention is that you have the overreach of the rich to thank for that. They keep pushing harder and harder, and in doing so, have killed the myth that we all used to just swallow, the one that kept the elites conveniently elite.

My argument is about the incredible durability and effectiveness of these ideas regardless of their truth or falsity. How the hell do you con an entire nation of people into fighting countless wars, slaving away at wage labor, tolerating straight-up genocide and mass enslavement, and working against their own best interests while SIMULTANEOUSLY getting them to speak happily and proudly of the nation that makes them do this? I am claiming that this is a serious piece of ideological craftsmanship, and that it required a certain majority people to be able to believe that they were getting a fair deal out of all this. What do the 1950s Negro, the 1800s Irish washerwoman, and the 1700s slave have in common?

None of them got to vote against the system that exploited them, but the system drat well voted in favor of their exploitation.

A Buttery Pastry
Sep 4, 2011

Delicious and Informative!


Quidam Viator posted:

I believe that Colonial and Early America were by far the best place in the world for religious freedom: so in response to your snark about being a Christian, then yes, that was true back then, or you could be a Deist.
The best Western-derived at least. Gets a bit more complicated if we include the Islamic world, or India for example. That's not particularly important to this discussion though, just wanted to mention it.

Quidam Viator posted:

What you say about Danish identity is illuminating, and spot-on for the topic. Is it too much to say that cooperation and homogeneity are as much founding ideals as stories of an ancient king and flags falling from heaven?
I would go so far as to say that the stories of kings and flags are (or were, see below) essentially just window dressing, bolstering the national identity through "more than a thousand years of history." I suppose it's similar to how the Germans looked to their pre-Christian roots in the 19th century as well (Wagner for example) as part of the creation of a common national identity. That said, my perception is that vikings have become much more prominent in the Danish national myth in recent decades, though as brave adventurous tradesmen, not pillaging raiders. Not sure exactly where that fits in, perhaps Germany being tamed made us forget our constant defeats, and we have dared to once more think of ourselves as more than just a potential punching bag. It's certainly are more natural fit for a country that went 130 years without any military adventurism, to one of the most eager partners in American interventions around the world.

McDowell
Aug 1, 2008

Surely, Caligula was my greatest role

Of the three pillars of 'American Exceptionalism':

"Our belief in organized religion; our belief that America has a special mission to spread freedom in the world; and our belief that we are a classless society where, through limited government and free enterprise, anyone can get ahead"

The final one is more nuanced and agreeable. Smart government must balance individual and collective interests while striving for a robust meritocracy.

The first two are a deviation of what I see as the original 'American Exceptionalism' - the idea of the American continent as a tabula rasa for applying enlightenment/modernist theories of government (which then gets into the 'American Experiment' and 'Manifest Destiny'). The Founding Fathers saw independence as an exceptional opportunity to create an autonomous nation with tremendous wealth; where power could be divided and decisions made "rationally" - as opposed to Eurasia, which at the time was divided up into ethnonationalist fiefdoms.

In the late 18th century you saw American religions like the Shakers, which were very collectivist; Jefferson imagined they would eventually become the only religion. But since the Founders didn't know what kind of external social structures would emerge they simply kept government out of the business of establishing or endorsing specific churches (primarily to prevent the President/Congress from being like Henry VIII). But there is nothing uniquely American about 'belief in organized religion' - if anything the decades of distrust of Catholics was from fear the Vatican (an Old World institution) would attempt to put us in their thrall and take away our exceptional agency. This first 'pillar' is bunk.

The 'second' pillar is Neoconservative Freedom Crusader propaganda. If anything the American Revolution inspired the French, who killed their king and attempted to create their own tabula rasa with Napoleonic conquest. The next hundred years of European history are the ethnonationalist fiefdoms eating each other and coming into a new equilibrium, up to Russia having a revolution in the 'next step' of rationality and then becoming a totally-not-ethnonationalist power; with America having to come in and break up these blood feuds. Instead of seeing this larger picture the second pillar assumes history started in 1945 and the United States can civilize the world, by force if necessary. It cannot; unless you accept the ultimate tabula rasa of the hydrogen bomb.

Here's a good series by Adam Curtis about our ideas of Freedom - the third episode deals alot with this second tenet of American Exceptionalism.

https://archive.org/details/AdamCurtis_TheTrap

Rogue0071
Dec 8, 2009

Grey Hunter's next target.

Quidam Viator posted:

OK, Axetrain. Let's talk. To reject exceptionalism as a "completely false piece of propaganda" is to show absolutely no respect for the oldest and most potent piece of national identity ever conceived. Truth or falsity is absolutely immaterial in a practical sense. Effectiveness is what counts. What axe are you trying to grind here? This essay wasn't about my personal beliefs, but about gaining an understanding of the ideological basis of American exceptionalism.

"American exceptionalism" is a historical myth that has very little basis in reality, why should it be shown "respect"?

It should also be noted that while certain elements of what would become the concept have existed for a while (Winthrop's "City on a Hill", for example), the term 'American exceptionalism' was coined by Joseph Stalin in a criticism of the Communist Party of America. It was then next referenced in the 1980s, when the modern idea of it was conceived. Hardly "the oldest and most potent piece of national identity ever conceived".

Quidam Viator posted:

If you need to know my personal views so you can feel like I'm on your side so you don't need to be all aggressive, then here you go: I believe that American exceptionalism was a stretched truth that we got a LOT of mileage out of simply by using it in the same way the Greeks, the Romans, and the British did, since that was the model the founding fathers stole it from. I believe that Colonial and Early America were by far the best place in the world for religious freedom: so in response to your snark about being a Christian, then yes, that was true back then, or you could be a Deist. Now, America's the worst 1st world shithole for religious freedom. Is that what you're upset about? I also believe that Reagan Conservatives, Free Marketeers, and Corporatists are the ones holding the piggybank-smashing hammer and that they are the enemies of those who believe in social justice, economic equity, and solidarity. Can you stop being so loving dismissive with me now? I'm making broad comments about an idea, not talking about on-the-ground realities about the present. All of your comments lack any historical basis, and I'm talking in terms of long history.

I take it you haven't studied colonial Massachusetts, then. Or, for that matter, the enormous amount of religious-baiting and bigotry in the early American republic, particularly against Catholics - go check out a Nast cartoon sometime.

quote:

The first two are a deviation of what I see as the original 'American Exceptionalism' - the idea of the American continent as a tabula rasa for applying enlightenment/modernist theories of government (which then gets into the 'American Experiment' and 'Manifest Destiny'). The Founding Fathers saw independence as an exceptional opportunity to create an autonomous nation with tremendous wealth; where power could be divided and decisions made "rationally" - as opposed to Eurasia, which at the time was divided up into ethnonationalist fiefdoms.

"Ethnonationalist fiefdoms"? Modern nationalism was a product of the liberal revolutions of the long 19th century, and was directly hostile to feudal 'fiefdoms'. In France in the 1780s, less than half the population spoke French (which was really more like Parisian). How, exactly, was the Ancien Régime 'ethnonationalist'? Or the Habsburg empire? In fact, can you name a single European state that was one in the early 1780s?

Rogue0071 fucked around with this message at Feb 5, 2014 around 01:09

McDowell
Aug 1, 2008

Surely, Caligula was my greatest role

Rogue0071 posted:

"Ethnonationalist fiefdoms"? Modern nationalism was a product of the liberal revolutions of the long 19th century, and was directly hostile to feudal 'fiefdoms'. In France in the 1780s, less than half the population spoke French (which was really more like Parisian). How, exactly, was the Ancien Régime 'ethnonationalist'? Or the Habsburg empire? In fact, can you name a single European state that was one in the early 1780s?

I'm using 'ethnonationalist' in the sense of a state defined by blood and lineage rather than popular sovereignty and the democratic process. The rationale for these states was a ridiculous premise that specific families were born to rule because God said so - American Exceptionalism can be seen as breaking from this.

Rogue0071
Dec 8, 2009

Grey Hunter's next target.

McDowell posted:

I'm using 'ethnonationalist' in the sense of a state defined by blood and lineage rather than popular sovereignty and the democratic process. The rationale for these states was a ridiculous premise that specific families were born to rule because God said so - American Exceptionalism can be seen as breaking from this.

The theory of divine right of kings is separate from ethnic nationalism - which holds that nationality is an inherent trait, often tied to language. The French monarchy, for example, did not justify itself by arguing that it was creating a state for the 'French nation', but rather by claiming divine right to rule. Ethnonationalism advocates the construction of a nation-state, which is at odds with the role and form of the feudal state.

Axetrain
Sep 14, 2007

Cutting me off at every turn

Quidam Viator posted:

OK, Axetrain. Let's talk. To reject exceptionalism as a "completely false piece of propaganda" is to show absolutely no respect for the oldest and most potent piece of national identity ever conceived. Truth or falsity is absolutely immaterial in a practical sense. Effectiveness is what counts. What axe are you trying to grind here? This essay wasn't about my personal beliefs, but about gaining an understanding of the ideological basis of American exceptionalism.

If you need to know my personal views so you can feel like I'm on your side so you don't need to be all aggressive, then here you go: I believe that American exceptionalism was a stretched truth that we got a LOT of mileage out of simply by using it in the same way the Greeks, the Romans, and the British did, since that was the model the founding fathers stole it from. I believe that Colonial and Early America were by far the best place in the world for religious freedom: so in response to your snark about being a Christian, then yes, that was true back then, or you could be a Deist. Now, America's the worst 1st world shithole for religious freedom. Is that what you're upset about? I also believe that Reagan Conservatives, Free Marketeers, and Corporatists are the ones holding the piggybank-smashing hammer and that they are the enemies of those who believe in social justice, economic equity, and solidarity. Can you stop being so loving dismissive with me now? I'm making broad comments about an idea, not talking about on-the-ground realities about the present. All of your comments lack any historical basis, and I'm talking in terms of long history.

I don't think the use of American exceptionalism has changed all that much over time except that the narrative of it has changed to reflect more cherry picked historical events as time passes. I'm not trying to be dismissive or aggressive, maybe I am coming off that way because I just finished Zinn's: A peoples history and this thread topic struck a nerve. American exceptionalism (or whatever it was called before that term was coined) has been a wildly successful disinformation campaign going back for centuries and is certainly worthy of discussion about what it has done and what will happen when or if it disappears but it needs to happen in the context of being false.


Quidam Viator posted:

You reject as completely false the idea that we ever had any sense of division between poverty, the middle class, and the rich, and that the borders were ever porous, and you do this without evidence. So how did we even come up with this mythos of the log-splitting Abe Lincoln, the rags-to-riches Ford and Carnegie stories, or the millions of stories of late-19th and early-20th century immigrants who rose to economic stability? Or are you claiming that all those Italians still live in cold-water Tenements in Hells Kitchen, and that the same Chinese railroad slaves are still at it five generations later? Sure, now? Now, everything is bullshit. Is that what you're talking about? If so, we're not even in the same century.

No I am rejecting that these boundaries are clear or porus not that they exist. Ask 10 different people what the boundaries between Poor, Rich, and Middle class are and your likely to get 10 different answers. A person in the past born into poverty is likely going to stay in poverty same as today regardless of the amount of work they put in. Luck is the primary deciding factor when it comes to financial success and it always has been. Your Carnegies and Rockefellers of yesteryear push these myths of rags to riches because they managed to make it big and want to make other people believe that they to can go from bottom to top through merit because it suits their interests whether they actually believe them or not.


Quidam Viator posted:

And women? No loving duh there isn't opportunity for women. None of the models we built our magical spell of exceptionality on gave rights to women, so why would American have gone with that radical idea? Really, it's more proof of my thesis that African-Americans and women have received little to no benefit from the myths of American Exceptionality because they came to the table while the story was being deconstructed. In actual fact, a case can be made that the Reagan Revolution is a spiteful destruction of all the old structures just to refuse entry to our classic slave-laborers, blacks and women. What's your point?.

My point is the progress that has been made that fuels the American Mythos can only be applied to a minority of the population.

Quidam Viator posted:

And my most important point is this: as long as myopic people continue to coddle the rich by offering them convenient opposition, by preserving the American Dream despite their efforts to dismantle it, then YOU are the one giving life support to a hateful ideology. Nobody can stop or harm them as much as they can by simply winning. How quickly we could be over and done with them if they simply got their way! You fight a constant battle against complacency because you are your own worst enemy. Your opponents thrive off of the illusion of being under attack, and you keep feeding them.
.

Are you arguing in favor of accelerationism here?


Can you point to some point in American history where it has. And yes things are better today but going from horrible to less horrible doesn't inspire a lot of praise.

Axetrain fucked around with this message at Feb 5, 2014 around 01:54

McDowell
Aug 1, 2008

Surely, Caligula was my greatest role

Rogue0071 posted:

The theory of divine right of kings is separate from ethnic nationalism - which holds that nationality is an inherent trait, often tied to language. The French monarchy, for example, did not justify itself by arguing that it was creating a state for the 'French nation', but rather by claiming divine right to rule. Ethnonationalism advocates the construction of a nation-state, which is at odds with the role and form of the feudal state.

My point still stands that American Exceptionalism has traditionally been seen as our continent being 'free' from either of those trends. The OP's article posits that America should be out freeing the world from their own power structures. It's a way to distract from the American idea that we must constantly challenge and renovate our own social structure.

menino
Jul 27, 2006

Pon De Floor

I wouldn't say that it was a national myth, but a prevalent one among certain groups from an early time period. Even in the 1840's there were drastic disagreements about the role of expansion in the continent. There has certainly been a strain of exceptionalism among certain groups before the big influxes of Irish and Germans in the middle of the 19th century, but I think most of the newly arrived thought of the US (after around 1850) in terms of cheap land and a better shot at a paycheck.

Mornacale
Dec 19, 2007

n=y where
y=hope and n=folly,
prospects=lies, win=lose,

self=Pirates


Axetrain posted:

Are you arguing in favor of accelerationism here?

Quidam Viator posted:

Yes, you caught me, BrandorKP. I DO agree with the conclusion of the Atlantic article, that all this collapse is the best thing by far for America. I'm just tired of being dismissed as just an accelerationist around here. In each of these cases, it's conservatives that have led the charge into raiding long-stored wealth. My political beliefs are based around the idea that the most effective and permanent way to excise an evil ideology is to let it have its way in public. To look at tge final line, I believe that America needs truly extraordinary discontent to overcome our present inertia, and that the letting this awful purge happen is the best path to progress.

Fojar38
Sep 1, 2011
------------->
This space guaranteed to be full of the stupidest shit you can imagine about history that I don't understand.
------------->

PS: Time for a 39th Fojar, we can do better than this

computer parts posted:

If the past can teach us anything it's that the screaming racists are less relevant these days, not more so.

That and America's post-war success is mostly a string of coincidences that have been slowly correcting themselves over the past 60 years. America being The Best Ever was not a historical eventuality by any means, and it's more in line with history for the East to be as large (or larger) of a role in the world economy as they are now.

The notion that the US somehow tripped and bumbled into superpower and now hyperpower status is just as stupid and wrong as the notion that it was spawned by holy fiat to lead the dirty browns in the name of Christ.

Enlightenment ideology is really, really important to why the US and the West as a whole dominate the world today and dismissing it as this thread seems want to do is a bad move.

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icantfindaname
Jul 1, 2008



edit: n/m

icantfindaname fucked around with this message at Feb 5, 2014 around 02:29

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