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Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 04 July 2013


By Jim Jordal

"It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own."

Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Samuel Cooper, May 1, 1777

"The happy union of these states is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world."

James Madison, Notes on the Federal Constitution, 1829

American exceptionalism is the term given by scholars to the belief that America differs from other nations in its unique mission to develop and transfer political freedom, economic equality and the "blessings of liberty" to the remainder of the world. This persistent belief was echoed by early explorers as they discovered the New World, by our first governmental leaders as they created our founding documents, by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and by many prominent people since then. The belief that we are an exceptional people is pervasive and strong and has been implemented in many favorable ways, and in others not so favorable.

The quotes above express the beliefs of many Founding Fathers that our experience in forming a new country and a new form of government was indeed the hope of a world at that time gripped by competing empires, autocratic kings, oppressive feudalism, endemic poverty, and exploitation by plundering explorers sent out to claim unexplored lands for their kings and Christianity.

The concept of exceptionalism is rooted in the idea that power follows Divine selection and blessing. It has religious pillars closely related to the European concept of the "Divine Right of Kings." In the Bible it finds expression in the Abrahamic Covenant whereby God promises to make Abraham’s descendents numerous as the sands of the sea and a blessing to all peoples of the earth. Later it could be heard in the "Promised Land" concept expressed by Moses and bloodily carried out by Joshua.

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 expressed American exceptionalism clearly and forcibly. It warned other countries—especially those in Europe, including Britain---that the Americas were no longer open to settlement or political intervention by foreign powers. Although it was really only the hopeful roaring of a fairly weak country, it remained the embodiment of American hemispheric policy for over a century.

The Western Hemisphere was thus supposedly closed to chaotic European despotism for all time. The idea was to keep this hemisphere closed so that the American experiment in freedom and political democracy could grow unhindered. But various nations led by Spain kept creeping in, especially in the economic realm. So American political exceptionalism was gradually overcome by the search for economic gain and remains so to the present time.

The idea that government existed to enlighten and protect the public and that it ruled in responsibility and concern for them was indeed a rather new experience for the earth. And that government allowed its power to be limited by justice under law was another. In that respect we were truly exceptional. Even Britain with its early movement toward limiting the power of the Crown (Magna Carta, 1215, and English Bill of Rights, 1689) still maintained a strictly structured social class system with most political and economic power remaining with the titled nobility.

Today we still believe in American exceptionalism. Somehow we are different and demand to be recognized as such. But as never before this foundational belief is threatened by a resurgent "power elite" dragging us back to the economic servitude of the "Gilded Age" of the late 1800s and the "Roaring Twenties" preceding the Great Depression. Yes, we still maintain a semblance of political democracy, but increasingly and unceasingly power is eroded from the people and transferred to the upper classes that now control the machinery of government sufficiently for this trend to continue.

We’ll think more about this subject next week.