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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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IT IS exceptionalism week in the world of American think-tanks. No fewer than three of them—the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and the Manhattan Institute in New York City—have arranged discussions of a fat new book on the subject, “Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation”, edited by Peter Schuck and James Q. Wilson. But, as Hegel feared, do the thinkers understand a concept just as it stops being relevant? Does the owl of Minerva really fly only at dusk?
All countries are exceptional. But America likes to think of itself as exceptionally exceptional, different from other advanced industrial countries not just in its social arrangements but also in its underlying values. America has a smaller state than other comparable countries and a more unequal distribution of wealth. It is also more strongly committed to what Margaret Thatcher once called “Victorian values”—individualism, voluntarism, patriotism.
American exceptionalism has been increasing ever since the rise of the modern conservative movement from the late 1960s onwards. The current Bush administration, with its commitment to conservative values at home and assertiveness abroad, is the most exceptional administration in recent years. But the book raises a new question: is a new cycle, dominated by a rejection of conservatism and a convergence with West European norms, about to dawn?
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