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Michael van der Galien

American Exceptionalism and American Religion

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Posted on January 3 2010 2:00 pm
Michael van der Galien was born in the Dutch city of Leeuwarden in 1984. For as long as he can remember, he has been obsessed with the United States. When he was 17 years old, he started blogging - of course about America. His articles have been published at Big Hollywood, Pajamas Media, Hot Air (the GreenRoom) and Right Across The Atlantic. He's also an editor for the Dutch conservative blog, De Dagelijkse Standaard.
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It is a curious formula, that phrase “American exceptionalism.” As commonly used, the phrase suggets that the United States somehow escaped the typical patterns of history—the patterns that seemed almost inviolable and iron-clad historical laws, precisely because they appeared in one European country after another. The socialist revolutions of 1848, and the intense nationalism that escalated into the First World War, and the cultural malaise that followed the war, and the subsequent rise of fascistic movements—all of these had their American forms, to be sure. But in the United States they were always echoes, rather than originals, and they were never, in a certain sense, serious.

It takes a fantasist—determined to read American history solely by European lights—to think that the nation was ever at much real risk of having a socialist revolt in the nineteenth century or rule by homegrown fascists in the twentieth century. Philip Roth’s 2004 what-if, alternate-history novel, The Plot Against America, had elements of this fantasy, imagining a 1940s America in which Charles Lindbergh becomes president and the United States resembles Hitler’s Germany. The most interesting element of the book, however, may be its final recognition of something like American exceptionalism: Even if, by some unlikely historical contrivance, a native Nazism had gained power, the resilient nation would have managed to shrug it off fairly quickly. The whole thing is just too European, just too alien, and just too weird.

Read the entire essay at First Things.

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