“On The Claim of Exceptionalism
Part II – Historically, Why Are Nations Thought To Be Great?
Throughout history there has been one major definition for national greatness (or exceptionalism) and that is great military power. As we see, all the mentioned politicians pick up on this theme and those challenging Obama want more troops, more missiles, more nukes. It has long been this way. Why were the Romans great? Conquest. Why was France under Napoleon exceptional? Conquest. Why was the British Empire great? Conquest. And why is America exceptional? The alleged capacity to force most of the world to its will. Oh, there are other things people sometimes mention: Roman law and great architecture; the Napoleonic Code and freeing the Jews from their ghettos; England making the seas safe from pirates and introducing the world to Indian food; and finally, when it comes to the U.S., there is that multifaceted thing called “freedom.” But all that is really secondary. The first and foremost historical criterion for national greatness is: going out, hitting your neighbor over the head and stealing his stuff. That is why “great powers” are great.
Part IV – Conclusion
The sound bite versions of greatness or exceptionalism that come from our politicians are so superficial and decontextualized as to be meaningless. They are the verbal equivalent of that little hammer doctors use to make your lower leg jump forward. Sure, they get a response, but you really don’t know what it all means. Then again many Americans just can’t see beyond the big army, big navy (ah, those navy seals), and big air force. Guns, guns, guns, that is the traditional, historical road to greatness. Just read a bit of history. All the rest is fluff.”