Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
That Americans think of themselves as something special is not new, de Tocqueville wrote about it in detail (1835).

The US has several foundational myths, a good book which goes into this is Richard T. Hughes - Myths America Lives By.

The publisher's blub linked above gives a summary of his thesis on the four types of exceptionalism.

One of the reasons there is so much dissent in the US at present is that the failure of these myths to match reality is causing a rethinking of the basis of US society. Some are retreating into escapism, either by consumerism or by religion, some are developing modified versions of the old myths as seen by the new varieties of neo-con ideas, and some are still denying reality altogether.

However, you can't fool mother nature...

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 09:25:47 AM EST

The primary resistance to the advance of Gramscian ideas comes from an opposing quarter that I will call contemporary Tocquevillianism. Its representatives take Alexis de Tocqueville's essentially empirical description of American exceptionalism and celebrate the traits of this exceptionalism as normative values to be embraced. As Tocqueville noted in the 1830s (and as the World Values Survey, a scholarly comparative assessment, reaffirmed in the 1990s), Americans are different from Europeans in several crucial respects. Two recent books -- Seymour Martin Lipset's American Exceptionalism (1997) and Michael Ledeen's Tocqueville on American Character (2000) -- have made much the same point: that Americans today, just as in Tocqueville's time, are much more individualistic, religious, and patriotic than the people of any other comparably advanced nation.

What was particularly exceptional for Tocqueville (and contemporary Tocquevillians) is the singular American path to modernity. Unlike other modernists, Americans combined strong religious and patriotic beliefs with dynamic, restless entrepreneurial energy that emphasized equality of individual opportunity and eschewed hierarchical and ascriptive group affiliations. The trinity of American exceptionalism could be described as (1) dynamism (support for equality of individual opportunity, entrepreneurship, and economic progress); (2) religiosity (emphasis on character development, mores, and voluntary cultural associations) that works to contain the excessive individual egoism that dynamism sometimes fosters; and (3) patriotism (love of country, self-government, and support for constitutional limits).

Among today's Tocquevillians we could include public intellectuals William Bennett, Michael Novak, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Marvin Olasky, Norman Podhoretz, and former Clinton White House advisor and political philosopher William Galston, and scholars Wilfred McClay, Harvey Mansfield, and Walter MacDougall. Neoconservatives, traditional conservatives of the National Review-Heritage Foundation stripe, some students of political philosopher Leo Strauss, and some centrist Democrats are Tocquevillian in their emphasis on America's special path to modernity that combines aspects of the pre-modern (emphasis on religion, objective truth, and transcendence) with the modern (self-government, constitutional liberalism, entrepreneurial enterprise). The writings of neoconservative Irving Kristol and National Review-style conservative Charles Kesler clarify this special American path to modernity. Like thoughtful scholars before them, both make a sharp distinction between the moderate (and positive) Enlightenment (of Locke, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith) that gave birth to the American Revolution and the radical (and negative) Enlightenment (Condorcet and the philosophes) that gave birth to the Revolution in France.

Like their ideological opposites, Tocquevillians are also represented in business and government. In the foundation world, prevailing Gramscian ideas have been challenged by scholars funded by the Bradley, Olin, and Scaife foundations. For example, Michael Joyce of Bradley has called his foundation's approach "Tocquevillian" and supported associations and individuals that foster moral and religious underpinnings to self-help and civic action. At the same time, Joyce called in "On Self-Government" (Policy Review, July-August 1998) for challenging the "political hegemony" of the service providers and "scientific managers" who run the "therapeutic state" that Tocqueville feared would result in "an immense and tutelary" power that threatened liberty. As for the political world, a brief list of those influenced by the Tocquevillian side of the argument would include, for example, Sen. Daniel Coats of Indiana, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. All have supported Tocquevillian initiatives and employed Tocquevillian language in endorsing education and welfare measures that emphasize the positive contributions of faith and responsibility.


by oldfrog on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 10:23:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The part of de Tocqueville's analysis that neo-cons seem to overlook is his criticism of American materialism. In his world "gentlemen" (that is the aristocracy) went into public service as a disinterested effort. Since their source of funds was from their family wealth they could devote themselves to social causes. After all the purpose of his trip was to study the US prison system.

The Americans, according to him, were mostly interested in making money. Only those who couldn't succeed in this effort went into politics. The result was a succession of second-rate leaders. We see a similar dynamic these days. Those most adept at innovation go into business while dimmer bulbs go into politics. What is new is that those entering politics now see it as a way to self aggrandizement. The US has turned into a kleptocracy.

You won't find the neo-cons talking about this discrepancy between the national myths and reality. Those with neither the brains to make it in business or the greed to become kleptocrats end up as intellectual prostitutes (also known as "pundits").

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 11:18:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are some interesting nuggets in that article, but they're marred by being embedded in an ultrareactionary and distorted understanding of modern American society.

What is it about some lefties that they seem to lack the confidence in their own values and feel as if it somehow bolsters their arguments to point to people on the far right who happen to agree with them on some issues. In this case someone straight out of the most paleo fifties National Review vision of the world. Someone whose political ideology is directly descended from de Maistre agrees with you. Given that his reasons for doing so rest on values that are diametrically opposed to yours, it is not something which reinforces your position. If anything the opposite.

It seems to be primarily an anglo-saxon disorder. You don't get this in France and Germany, or at least I haven't noticed it.

by MarekNYC on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 03:25:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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