January 9, 2014
Instructor: Douglas V. Gibbs
41669 Winchester Rd.
· Basics of Government
· Why do we need government?
· Building Blocks of Government
· The American Form of Government
· Political Spectrum
· American Exceptionalism
Why do we need government?
"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." --Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” ― James Madison, The Federalist Papers
In a society with no government, people have no freedom. In a society with too much government, people have no freedom.
Without government there is no law, and without law there are no enforcers of the law. This kind of system is called an anarchy, which is a transitional form of government. In an anarchy, there is no freedom because the citizens must constantly protect their property, and their lives.
With government in place, there are laws in place. When there are laws in place, it is necessary to hire enforcers of the law, such as a police force. A society with a government in place can create an environment of freedom that allows citizens the ability to leave their property and engage in activities away from their property.
In a society with no government, people have no freedom. In a society with too much government, people also have no freedom.
Tyrannical governments dominate the pages of history. These governments obtain their power through violence, and bloodshed. To maintain their power, they must also do so through violence and bloodshed. When tyrannies are finally toppled, the path to dislodging tyrannies also includes violence and bloodshed.
Violence and death are the common results of powerful central governments with dominant rulers.
Dictators do not normally reveal their plans of tyranny during their rise to power, for the people would never have allowed them to become their leaders if they knew this kind of violence was in their future.
In history, tyranny is the rule, and liberty is the exception. Governments that protect the freedoms of the people, and respect the rights of their citizens, are a rare occurrence. Freedom requires the citizens to be informed and involved. With freedom comes responsibility.
“A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” - James Madison.
An educated society begins by teaching the younger generations the principles of liberty. The founders understood we need government, but a limited government was required to protect the rights and property of the citizens. However, because of human nature, the founders realized that without making sure that the people remained educated about the system they had established, a downward spiral into despotism and tyranny was inevitable.
Thomas Jefferson originated the concept of public education, through state governance. The original purpose of public education in this country was to teach our children:
"Of all the views of this law [for public education], none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people safe as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty." ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia (1782)
An uneducated society allows tyranny to rise up because of the failure of the people to remain vigilant in protecting their freedoms. The government becomes unwilling to live up to its promises, or follow the rule of law set up as a standard.
People often search for purpose through government, believing the false promises by their powerful leaders. Then, the government creates emergencies, to better enable the rulers to do things they could not normally do when society is peaceful, and there are no domestic disturbances. As a result of the emergencies, the citizens become eager for stability. They are willing to accept something different than what they had in order to achieve peace and safety. Even statism begins to look attractive, because all the people know is that they yearn for a change from what the citizenry had been experiencing under the prior government in crisis.
In the case of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, the German people were deceived by an evil Nazi ideology that eventually became a threat to the stability of the entire globe. War spread across Europe. The Nazi War Machine engulfed Europe. Japan began to swallow up territories in the Pacific. Italy concentrated on North Africa. During World War II Hitler slaughtered millions of Jews, as well as people the Nazis believed were genetically inferior, and people who dared to stand as opposition. Millions of lives were lost during World War II to stop the tyranny of the Axis powers.
The Founding Fathers recognized the dangers of creating a central government. Their research of the Anglo Saxons, Ancient Israel, Greece, Rome, and Slovenia revealed to them the dangerous reality that a central government in the United States created the potential of tyranny in the new country. However, without a strong government, the union of States would be unable to defend themselves against invasion, nor ensure domestic tranquility.
The Founding Fathers of the United States recognized that government is necessary, but that too much government is dangerous, so the federal system created during the Constitutional Convention placed an emphasis on local control over local issues, while allowing the Federal Government to handle the external issues necessary for protecting, preserving, and promoting the union of Sovereign States.
The new government needed to recognize State Sovereignty. The powers of the state governments would exceed the powers of the national government, except when regarding the authorities granted to the federal government. The new United States Government had to be strong enough to protect, preserve and promote the union, while limited enough not to intrude upon the rights of the individual States. Alexander Hamilton called for a strong national government, but many of his colleagues saw nationalism as dangerous, and prone to tyranny.
America needed a lion, powerful enough to defend the union against foreign enemies, but restrained enough that it left State Sovereignty alone. The problem with lions, however, is that they eat you. So the question was, how could the founders create a strong enough central government for the external issues, but limit it in such a way that it not only did not interfere with internal issues, but when needed, would act as a mediator between the States when necessary?
Building Blocks of Government
The Founding Fathers understood that in order to control power at the governmental level, power would need to be limited through a series of strategies. Various concepts were used to ensure that government not only remained limited, but that there would be many checks and balances to make sure those limitations remained in place.
Government, in a general sense, is directly connected to The Law. The parts of government must be able to make law, modify law, repeal law, execute the law, and apply the law. Therefore, there are generally five parts of government.
· Head of Government/Executive
· Local Governments
· The People
Some governments use all of these parts, some of these parts, or only one of these parts. The manner in which these parts of government are used, or not used, will depend upon where along the political spectrum the government in question lies.
The legislature is the law-making part of government. It is the duty of the legislature to make law, modify law, or repeal law, as necessary. The legislature can be a consultative assembly, a parliament, or a congress.
If the legislature is consultative, this means it is nothing more than a part of an oligarchy, advising the ruler on matters of law, policy, and foreign affairs. Consultative assemblies lack the lawmaking power of traditional legislatures, and often exist only to give the appearance of giving the people a voice, when in reality they provide no real check against the central government, or the head of state. Consultative assemblies are normally just a rubber stamp for the ruling party, or head of state. Members can be elected, or appointed.
Parliamentary legislatures are normally elected. A parliament can be a single legislature, or consist of two, or more, houses. In a parliament, the members make law, modify law, and repeal law, and through its leadership, serves as the head of state, or executive branch, or government as well. In a parliament, there is no separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.
A Congress, like a parliament, may consist of a single legislature, or be broken up into groups, or houses. The members are elected, and in a republic the power to legislate is granted solely to the Congress.
Legislatures do more than make and revise laws, though that power is their main authority. Legislatures often are also charged with administrative oversight, ensuring the laws are being carried out by the proper agencies of government. In the American system of government, the U.S. Senate also has an “advise and consent” power, where the executive must receive approval of the Senate before taking certain actions, such as making treaties with other countries, and regarding appointments to government positions that are not elected.
Legislatures represent the constituents, serving as a voice of the people. The representatives are elected to represent States, territories, provinces, or districts, depending on the government in question.
Head of Government/Executive
The head of government, or executive, also acts as the head of state. It is the job of the executive to run the day to day operations of the government in a manner not unlike the chief executive officer of a large business. Other duties can include acting as the representative of the nation to the world, which includes visiting with foreign dignitaries, as well as a potential of many ceremonial duties.
The head of government can be a monarch, a ruler, a prime minister (which also makes the head of government a legislator, as well), a chancellor, or a president. The head of government can be appointed, achieve the position by birth, or be elected. In a parliamentary system the prime minister, or chancellor, is also, normally, the leader of the majority party in the legislature, which means the head of government always has a legislative majority.
Presidents are separately elected, and are not a part of the legislature. Presidents may, or may not, enjoy a working majority in the legislature. A president lacks the full authority to dictate governmental policy, reliant upon the legislature to propose laws, and make laws. The president’s authority regarding laws is normally limited to “approval,” which is confirmed by the president’s signature on the proposed law. Once a law is in place, however, the President has the authority to ensure the legislation is carried out, or “executed.”
In the United States, the President also provides information and advice to Congress, like through the State of the Union address; works with foreign states by negotiating treaties, or negotiating executive agreements; appointing non-elected government jobs (with the consent of the U.S. Senate, in the case of the United States); acts as commander in chief of the military; accepts or vetos proposed law; and grants pardons (except in the cases of impeachment). Often, the President will also suggest proposals for new law, which is, more often than not, proposed by a representative that is in the same political party as the President. Some authorities, as in the authority to make war, rests solely on the President because there are times when these decisions must be made quickly, without the benefit of a prolonged debate.
The model of the American President is the most commonly followed model around the world.
The judiciary is normally the part of government where the law is applied. Courts can consist of one judge, panels of judges, or committees. Some courts have juries, and some don’t. In the United States we have a dual federal and state system of courts. The federal courts and the State courts have their own powers, and area of constitutional authority.
Some courts are “trial courts,” some are “appeals courts,” and each State, and the federal government, also have their own “supreme court.”
U.S. Courts can only hear cases that are brought before them. A trial courts, evidence is presented, and arguments are made. A jury may be present, depending on the size, or type, of case. In some cases, a grand jury may be convened, to determined if a case should proceed to trial in the first place. Trial courts normally hear “civil cases,” and “criminal cases.”
Due Process is a constitutional concept we will discuss later. Judicial Review is not a constitutional concept, and will also be discussed in subsequent chapters.
In the American judicial system, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means that the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, or the state. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed a crime.
Either party in a civil case, or the defendant in a criminal case, may appeal the decision to a higher court if they feel the ruling was wrong. Appeals courts accept no new evidence, and the parties making the appeal are tasked with arguing that mistakes were made in the original trial, or the law was misapplied. Appeals courts are under no obligation to hear appeals.
Local governments include State governments, provincial governments, and municipalities. In the United States, State governments are supposed to be autonomous from the federal government, enjoying State Sovereignty. City governments, though enjoying some autonomy, are also often subject to provisions in the State Constitution. Local government is closest to the citizens. In unitary governments, all authorities belong to the national government, and the local governments possess little or no power regarding local issues.
In the United States, the States are their own republics. The States are supposed to be as individual and autonomous as the residents within their borders. Though autonomous, sometimes the States and federal government hold concurrent powers on some issues.
The U.S. Constitution begins with the words “We The People” because the document was written for the people in a language that should be easily understood by the people. Government exists because of the people. However, like government, if the people have too much power, it can be dangerous, which is why the U.S. Constitution even divides the power of the people. This is a part of what makes this nation a republic, and not a democracy.
Congress is the link between the people, and their government. Representation enables the interest of the citizens to be applied to government. Elections are held so that the people can choose the representatives they wish to represent them in government. Some elections are direct, and some are indirect (as in the case of the Electoral College).
The American Form of Government
The battle of political ideas is indeed the battle for control over the United States Government. The debate over the role of government in America continues to shape our history to this day. What kind of government Americans should live under is a question best answered, however, not by today's ideologues, but by the framers of the United States Constitution.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 had its share of debate. In fact, the battles between persons like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison against personalities like Alexander Hamilton during the early years of this nation (note that the debates between Jefferson and Hamilton did not occur during the Constitutional Convention, as Jefferson was in France during that time period) are quite similar to the debates we are experiencing today between the political establishment, and traditional conservatives. One could even classify Alexander Hamilton as one that clung to ideas very similar to those of today's liberal Democrats. He believed that the federal government should be centralized to better rule over the States, that the federal government should subsidize businesses in order to make them supportive of an ever-growing state, as treasury secretary he supported tax increases and strict government planning of the economy, and he championed the accumulation of public debt, protectionist tariffs, and politically controlled banks. Hamilton belittled Thomas Jefferson, and others like him that believed in a limited federal government, for speaking too much of liberty.
Hamilton, like today's liberal Democrat and Establishment Republicans, believed the people could not be trusted.
The Founding Fathers, with a few exceptions like Alexander Hamilton, believed the American government must be limited, and localized, if individual liberty was to be protected. The federal government is limited to only those authorities enumerated to it by the U.S. Constitution, while all other authorities are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people, as enunciated by the Tenth Amendment. Thomas Jefferson strongly opposed public debt and national banking, seeing both of them ultimately as a threat to an American's natural, God-given, rights.
When the government is allowed to do things that are not Constitutionally authorized, it is akin to letting the camel poke his nose into the tent. Eventually, whether you like it or not, the camel will be completely inside the tent, and you will have little room to do much for yourself, leaving you compelled to practice all of your activities around the will, and size, of the camel.
As a result of letting the camel poke its nose into the tent, the United States Government has pushed aside the Constitution, and has practiced little restraint when it comes to the powers of the federal bureaucracy in Washington, DC. The idea that the federal government is a servant to the people, and that the citizens of the states are the masters, is facing demise. Generations of activist judges in an unconstitutionally powerful judiciary have eviscerated the constitutional protections afforded the American People. National debt, harmful protectionist international trade policies, tax dollars being used to subsidize various politically connected businesses, central economic planning, and a political control over the money supply have instigated boom-and-bust cycles in the economy that has brought some Americans to a point of asking for the government to save us - when it was the statists in government that caused the mess in the first place with their liberal policies over the last century, or so.
The centralized state of the British Empire, headed by a despotic king, is what we fought against during the American Revolution. Behold, after more than two hundred years of freedom, this nation's leftwing of the political spectrum is working on enshrining that very system we fought against in America. The Democrats, and Establishment Republicans, are trying to change the American Form of Government into something the Founding Fathers fought against, hoping to eliminate true federalism, and create a system built on protectionism, dominant executive powers, judicial activism, state guided mercantile economics, government franchise monopolies, a state run banking system, and interventionism that benefits the statists and their supporters at the expense of the general public's wallet, and freedoms.
Big government policies reside throughout the political system. Neo-conservatives, like Democrats, have also never opposed big government in the way traditional conservatives have, and often embrace leftist proposals. These people are the most dangerous of all, because while they claim to be champions of a limited constitutional government, and promise to slash the size of the federal government, once in office they align themselves with the political establishment, joining the big government politicians as they goose-step America into decay, and financial ruin.
The implementation of big government ideas is nothing short of socialism, and the injection of these policies into the American Form of Government will lead America to consequences the Founding Fathers did not wish us to suffer through. Big Government is dangerous in any form, be it Compassionate Conservatism, American Liberalism, or neo-socialism that takes the form of a Leviathan State that promises it is nothing of the sort. The combination of centralized power and economic mercantilism are the defining characteristics of the British Empire that the American revolutionaries waged war against, and those are the same characteristics of the proposals of American leftists.
Socialists know that the American People have a distaste for a government that believes its role is to provide from the treasury for entitlement programs, and to in turn dictate the behaviors of the citizens for the "common good." This is why the strategy of these statists is to promise the American People one thing, and then deliver something very different. They realize that in the beginning they can never appear to be supporting a socialistic system of government, or reveal that they are indeed big government statists, even though their platforms are indeed socialist in nature. They mustn't let you realize they are the reincarnation of the European economic mercantilists, pushing economic policies that call for government regulation of America's economy in order to increase its power at the expense of rival nations that may seem to provide a favorable climate for a season, but fails to recognize that all trade is beneficial, and strict government controls are counterproductive. They have also been careful not to deliver so much statism that the American People would discover the nature of their intentions, and instead have instilled big government statism incrementally, allowing the American People to become dependent upon the liberal entitlement programs, essentially softening the people up for the hard-core socialism they have planned in the future, and seem to be trying to implement during the term of the current administration.
Statists have declared that their control over the private sector is necessary to save the Free Market, their control over health insurance is necessary to save the health care industry, their Cap and Trade policies are necessary to save the planet from the mythical threat of man-made Climate Change, and their socialism is necessary to preserve democracy.
Leftists proclaim the role of government is to provide a series of new deals, to provide competition when the government is not a fair competitor, and to give hope through hopeless programs that kills choice and liberty. Their deception and lies, and forced legislation if necessary, they believe will bring about their big government system. They believe that once you are enslaved by the growing federal government, you will like it, because the elitist intellectualists are going to take care of you, and make sure you are a productive member of the state, for the state, of the state, and by the state.
Such is the threat of an unhealthy love of an unconstitutional government, accompanied with the desire to put down any opposition, and elevate rulers of compassionate dictators to the highest levels of the American Form of Government.
When government grows, liberty wanes. When statism gains complete control over a nation, freedom dies - and tyranny rises once again to take claim of yet another victim as it has so many times in history.
In the battle of Left versus Right, it is important to understand what it all means in the first place. Like-minded individuals tend to gather together when a theater of opinion erupts. Congregating in such a manner is human nature. Houses, or chambers, of government are no different. Members of the political assembly who support similar agendas sit together, much in the way social allies tend to hang out together at a dinner party. The classification of "left" and "right" grew out of the tendency of people to group together on one side, or the other.
The early definition of "left" and "right" was different than in today's American Society. The earliest known split between the left and the right in a political assembly occurred in France before the French Revolution. Members of the National Assembly sat on the right or the left of the hall depending on their level of political support in regards to the ruling monarchy. Those in support of the monarchy, and the religious elements that came with the reigning government, would sit on the right. The people on the right were defined as being those holding traditional interests in line with the Church and the monarchy, believing the king ruled by divine right, and that Catholicism must continue to be the state religion, and therefore continue to be a strong influence on governance. These people who sat on the right side of the assembly believed that the Church had a vested interest in the political system.
Those who sat on the left side of the hall in France during the period preceding the French Revolution did so in support of "enlightenment," which was considered to be in the interests of rationalism and secularism. The left used secular elements to challenge the Church's long-held influence over government, fostering nationalism among its allies, and promoting hope in constructing and shaping the political community. The left desired to change government by overthrowing the Church and the aristocracy by promoting secularism and nationalism. The planners of this glorious new "Enlightened" government became the leaders of France after the French Revolution, orchestrating a Reign of Terror, which was a period of chaos during which thousands were guillotined for being politically incorrect.
The radicals within this new government saw the Catholic Church as the enemy while promoting its Cult of Reason. Like with the monarchy before them, however, it became clear that to control the political and social upheaval the government in place must also become tyrannical in their own right. Under the rule of “The Left,” France remained a nation unable to cultivate liberty, and one that remained under the iron fist of a dictatorial government. For many, this was no surprise. Some of the planners of the change of the form of government in France knew that in order to keep order they would need to "treat the people as cattle."
The French National Assembly established a constitutional monarchy and adopted a new constitution in 1791 that created a Legislative Assembly. The political assembly, as with any other political body, rapidly divided into factions opposing each other. The three factions that formed in the new French Legislative Assembly were the radicals (liberals), moderates (centrists) and conservatives. The radicals (liberals) sat in the left section of the assembly hall, the conservatives sat on the right, and the moderates sat in the center section. Their political identities were more similar to those political movements today in the United States, than was the pre-revolution arrangement that emphasized itself more on monarchy and religion.
America was much younger than the European nations, and never had a landlord class of titled nobles. In fact, the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibited such a system. The Founding Fathers desired to break away from European traditions as much as possible, even abandoning much of British Common Law when defining citizenship. To be a British Subject the rules were weak, and divided loyalties ran rampant throughout the British Empire. The United States as a nation could not tolerate divided loyalties, and placed a stronger standard of natural born citizenship upon the President in order to eliminate the opportunity for the executor of the American Form of Government to harbor divided loyalties between the United States of America, and any other nation. That way, the new American government could break completely free of any European influence, and forge itself into a Republic independent from British influence, and in fact, European influence as a whole.
The political landscape of the United States of America, since there never was a class of nobles, was simple in the young nation. Either you were a Federalist, an anti-Federalist, or somewhere in between. In other words, you believed in a stronger centralized federal government, you believed that the federal role in government should be limited greatly, or you found yourself somewhere between the two beliefs.
Unlike the Europeans, royalty played no role in determining the political spectrum, nor did religion. Nearly all of the early American Politicians were deeply religious men, so the political spectrum did not separate the factions along religious lines. God played a major role in the principle foundation of the nation, but the founding fathers also determined that no religion could ever take an official role in government. In other words, the establishment of any religion as the official religion of the United States was forbidden. But, the freedom to practice one's religion was not to be infringed upon. Almost all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were either clergy, or highly involved in their church. 27 of the 56 signers had Christian seminary degrees. The founding fathers fervently prayed in Congress. Benjamin Franklin is widely regarded to be among the least religious of the founding fathers. However, his speech given to Congress on June 28, 1787 asking that Congress have a prayer every morning before conducting business was overtly religious in nature. Despite the belief of some, there was not a political battle between The Church and the secularists.
From the newer models in France, and America, the definition of the Political Spectrum became about the level of control of government over a society, rather than the presence of a monarchy, or established church. Zero percent government intrusion on the lives of the people inhabits the far right of the current political spectrum, which is a condition known as "anarchy." 100% governmental control inhabits the far left extremity of the Political Spectrum, or a totalitarian government. The American form of government, or a Constitutional Republic that rules by law, is very near the center of the spectrum, resting on the slight right of the middle.
Most of the current forms of government present reside on the left side of the Political Spectrum, drawing their foundations from socialist principles. Socialism is authoritarian, which in its beginnings sought to overthrow the Church and aristocracy by promoting atheism and nationalism, much like the enlightened planners of the French Revolution, only replacing the government they thought to be a tyranny with a tyranny of their own. In Russia, the rise of socialism held the basic tenet of replacing the individual's commitment to God with a commitment to love and serve a collective society ruled by an elite few.
When one examines the communist society, which resides on the left side of the Political Spectrum, one finds that if society was ruled over by an equally powerful religious theocracy, the basic governmental elements of the ruling doctrine are the same, and is just as tyrannical. Therefore, a controlling government based on religion is no different than an atheistic system of communism. Either way, the form of governance is based on centralized control over the people, and limits personal individualism, and freedoms.
Economically, the left again is going to encourage increased government involvement with the instruments that regulate the economy. Under a leftist economic system, such as in the communist model, the government seizes control of the industries, eliminating private ownership. In the fascist model, however, the authoritarian political entity engages in corporatism, allowing the private enterprises to remain private, yet bundled together in a uniting strength under authoritarian government rule. Because fascism (from Italian fascismo, Benito Mussolini's authoritarian political movement in Italy 1922 to 1943) was created to be an adverse reaction to the apparent economic failure of Marxism, and labeled itself as the opposite of communism, fascism is often referred to as being right-wing, and ultra-conservative. If you break down the political structure of fascism, however, it becomes apparent that defining fascism as being on the right side of the political spectrum is problematic. Like socialism, fascism exalts the group above the individual (in fascist states often the nation or race is exalted above the identity of the individual). Like other leftist systems fascism also calls for a separation of church and state, a national civilian army, and a progressive taxation. One element of fascism some may argue as being right-wing is the fact that fascism seeks to eliminate labor unions for co-ops. But the co-operatives, in a fascist state, are controlled by the government, and therefore become more so leftist than the system before. Though fascism during the early twentieth century claimed to be anti-communist, the National Socialism of the ideology hardly placed them on the opposite side of the Political Spectrum.
Ultimately, the true definition of the Political Spectrum is dependent upon how government interacts with society. Increase government intrusion and the needle on the spectrum moves to the left. Limit government intrusion and the needle moves to the right. In both cases, the extreme of totalitarianism, or anarchy, are equally dangerous. And ultimately, some forms of government, despite the promise of fairness, are often only precursors to another form of government. The Founding Fathers realized this, recognizing that the only form of government that both limits the powers of the federal government, while still giving it enough strength to govern, is a Constitutional Republic. They knew that if you pursue liberal thought too far an authoritarian government would rise from the movement. If government was limited too much, and the government did not have enough power to enforce law, an authoritarian government would rise to fill the void.
Through its history as colonies in the New World, the Americans had already proven to the world that they were exceptional. The British Colonies, after all, were founded on the principles of Religious Freedom, and Property Ownership, while re-discovering concepts like the Free Market, and Natural Rights.
The definition of Exceptionalism is, “The condition of being exceptional or unique; The theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm.” In other words, to be exceptional is to be truly unique, and to be the exception to the rule.
The United States is exceptional. This country is different from all of the others around the world. Our exceptionalism emerged long before the United States became a nation. The conditions through which the American Colonies were formed, and their belief in Divine Providence, contributed to the exceptional nature of the United States of America.
This nation was not only exceptional at its founding, but became increasingly exceptional over the passage of time. The exceptionalism this country enjoys will no doubt continue well into the future, as long as the concept of exceptionalism is defended by the individuals that make up the grand experiment known as The United States of America.
The exceptional nature of the United States has been important not only to the growth of this country both geographically and economically, but to the many other peoples around the world. Our exceptionalism has set us apart in many ways, defining our character as a nation of opportunity, revealing our individualistic nature that has given way to self-reliance, and prosperity. Americans are more likely to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and engage any challenge that may come their way. We tend to be more personally responsible, we work harder, hold disdain for statism, are more charitable, and are more likely to participate in civic activities. Best of all, we do these things voluntarily, because we are free to as individuals.
Americans are patriotic. We are proud to be Americans. Some argue that is a form of arrogance, but in reality our pride as Americans is truly exceptional. According to the book, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation, Editor James Q. Wilson explains that to recognize the existence of American Exceptionalism, one must only look at polls. “Three-quarters of Americans say they are proud to be Americans; only one-third of the people in France, Italy, Germany, and Japan give that response about their own countries. Two-thirds of Americans believe that success in life depends on one’s own efforts; only one-third of Europeans say that. Half of Americans, compared to one-third of Europeans, say belief in God is essential to living a moral life.”
Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 and 1832 recognized the exceptional nature of the United States, and was amazed at how the politicians prayed, and the pastors preached politics, but government did not control religion, and the church restrained itself from intertwining itself with government. He noticed that though there was a certain level of separation between church and state, they also depended upon each other in a symbiotic manner. Tocqueville realized that America is great because America is good.
Alexis de Tocqueville was astonished by America because among the elites in Europe there was an anti-American sentiment that was sometimes believed by members of the general populace. The truth he learned by visiting the United States was very different from the criticisms of America by the political ruling classes of Europe.
Sigmund Freud said, “America is a great mistake.”
“Anti-Americanism was an elite view,” James Q. Wilson commented in an article in The American, “but it has spread deeper to publics here and abroad.”
Clearly, American Culture is different from any other culture in the world. The level of patriotism, individualism, religious beliefs, and our spirit of self-reliance sets the United States apart as a nation. As revealed in our founding documents, and the example provided by the everyday lives of Americans, we are a culture that holds dear our individual rights, while keeping a watchful eye on a potentially intrusive government. As a society, we largely support the limiting principles of the United States Constitution, expecting the role of the federal government to be restrained to only those functions necessary for protecting, promoting, and preserving the union. We expect our economy to grow as a result of a flourishing free market, with as little governmental interference as possible. Individualism means that we may encounter personal consequences, and we are fine with that, rather than expecting the government to somehow mend any vestige of perceived inequality.
The early history of America set the tone for our exceptionalism. Historically, America is diverse, rugged, and a land of individual opportunity. And for this, the United States was blessed with an incredible influx of immigrants who came to this nation desiring the opportunity to participate in the freedom, and exceptionalism, that America had to offer.
The United States also made its share of mistakes, but rather than sink into despair, this country rose above those dark points in history, correcting the nation’s course, and becoming greater because of those momentary storms of history. The strengths of our civil society has been different because we have achieved our prosperity through self-governance, where the local governments handle the local issues, and the centralized federal government is tasked only with the complexities of protecting, preserving, and promoting the union.
Regarding social issues, the U.S. elevates to a level of exceptionalism unmatched around the world. Despite the rise of the welfare-state brought about by the Progressive Era, no nation allocates more responsibility for social policy to the non-profit sector. Our reliance on private entities to provide for “benefits,” offered at the governmental level elsewhere, has contributed to the prosperity of this nation, keeping the government out of societal workings so that the governmental bodies can dedicate their time and energies to more pressing matters authorized to the government by the United States Constitution.
The exceptionalism of the United States, however, is frowned upon by political elites, and certain politicians have made it their priority to fundamentally change the complexion of this nation into something that more resembles the systems of Europe, and other parts of the world. They wish to eliminate American distinctiveness, fearing that it betrays a certain kind of arrogance.
Historically, societies that allow government to be less restrained end up bogged down by governmental interference. America’s prosperity is the nation’s defiance against such systems of communitarianism. The U.S. has purposely aimed to be as unlike Europe as much as possible. The distinctiveness of this country directly contributes to our exponential growth as a nation. Capitalism in America has enabled our culture to take full advantage of America’s commercial potential. Self-imposed discipline has fueled the free enterprise system, and this opportunity to succeed in the United States, and for the nation to prosper as a result, has specifically been because of the exceptional nature of America that works endlessly to disallow governmental attempts at intrusive regulations.
American Exceptionalism is American Individualism. We cherish our personal freedom, and though community and family is important, we place the freedoms of the individual above the perceived needs of the community. As a result, the community better benefits from the self-reliance, personal responsibility, and successes of the individuals.
America is exceptional because Americans are individuals. America is great because those individuals are good.
Anarchy: Zero Government. Supporters of Anarchy believe that from chaos rises order. They seek to destroy the old system so that a new political system may rise up from the rubble. Anarchy is a transitional state of governance, transitioning whatever it destroys into an oligarchy, or similar centralized state.
Capitalism: Economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.
Civic Activities: Participating in community events, donating time for society, i.e. donating blood and charity events.
Communitarianism: Society where community outweighs the individual; a common good conception of justice; well ordered society without rulers that uses pluralism as the guiding principle.
Divine Providence: The care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures.
Exceptionalism: The condition of being exceptional or unique; The theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm.
Nationalism: Unhealthy love of one’s government, accompanied by the aggressive desire to build a ruling centralized governmental system.
Questions for Discussion:
1. How would the United States be different if we did not perceive ourselves as being an exceptional nation?
2. Why is America’s view of Divine Providence different than in other countries?
3. What is the difference between charity, and governmentally sponsored redistribution of wealth?
4. How has our history made our nation stronger in the long run?
5. What would America be like if our Founding Fathers decided they wanted the United States to be more like Europe?
6. How is the success of the individual beneficial to the community? How does this show that an individualistic society based on personal choice benefits the community better than a communitarian society?
- The Free Dictionary by Farlex: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/exceptionalism
- John L. Hancock, Liberty Inherited: The Untold Story of America’s Exceptionalism; Liberty Lane Media (2011)
- Peter H. Schuck and James Q. Wilson, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation; New York: Public Affairs (2008).
-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America; New York: Penguin Group (1984), Originally published in 1835 and 1840.
-Karlyn Bowman, “Understanding American Exceptionalism,” The American, April 28, 2008, http://www.american.com/archive/2008/april-04-08/understanding- american-exceptionalism
-Merriam-Webster Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism
- W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap: The 28 Great Ideas That Changed The World, Washington: National Center for Constitutional Studies (1981)
-Yahoo Answers: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100916152705AAU1UPF
-Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/communitarianism/
-Webster’s Dictionary, 1828 Version: http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/providence
-The Free Dictionary by Farlex: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/exceptionalism
Copyright: Douglas V. Gibbs, 2014