Michael van der Galien

What Makes America Exceptional?

Posted on July 5 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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Heritage’s The Foundry blog asked Matthew Spalding, Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation and Lawrence W. Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education what they think makes America exceptional. The two men’s answers are, as far as I’m concerned, right on the money. Reed’s answer:

America is exceptional because Americans after the Founding showed that they really did take their new freedoms seriously. They did not expect much from their new government, other than to protect the peace and otherwise leave them alone. They didn’t wait for government to show them how to build a vibrant civil society; they just did it, and to a greater extent than any people before or since. In the 19th Century, they settled the continent; they formed endless and powerful problem-solving, private entities; they cultivated the virtues necessary for freedom to survive; and they welcomed millions to their shores to share the freedom experience with them.

Spaulding adds:

America indeed is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. American is exceptional because it is fundamentally dedicated to the principles of human liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and endowed with equal rights—permanent truths “applicable to all men and all times,” as Abraham Lincoln once said. It was because of these principles that rather than ending in tyranny the American Revolution culminated in a constitutional government that has long endured.

America’s principles are responsible for a prosperous and just nation unlike any in the world. They explain why Americans strongly defend their country, look fondly to their nation’s origins, vigilantly assert their political rights and civic responsibilities, and remain convinced of the special meaning of their country and its role of the world. It is because of these principles, not despite them, that America has achieved its greatness.

He rightly adds that even today, so many years after the Revolution, these principles still define America as a nation and a people. “Which is why the friends of freedom the world over look to the United States not only as an ally against tyrants and despots everywhere but also as a powerful beacon to all those who strive for liberty and seek democratic self-government.”

What has fascinated me about America ever since I was a little boy living in the Netherlands – and what continues to fascinate and attract me to it to this very day – is that it’s founded on an idea. What defines Americans isn’t the color of their skin or a shared (cultural) background, but their dedication to the principles of liberty and equality (before the law). Anyone who subscribes to these principles can be an American. It truly is a revolutionary and intriguing concept.

Woe to the those Americans who have lost their understanding of just how special, how exceptional and how inspiring they as a people and their country really are.

Meanwhile, be sure to take a look at these essays at the Heritage Foundation’s website. They’re great and inspiring reads.

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