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Exceptionalism through time
June 30th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Despite fights about its merits, idea of American exceptionalism a powerful force through history

This is the first in a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. On Monday, we examine areas in which other countries lead the way.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – It’s safe to say the first European arrivals to New England wouldn’t recognize today’s debate over whether America is exceptional.

Though the United States wouldn’t be born for another century and a half, the Puritans arriving in the early 1600s on the shores of what would become Massachusetts firmly believed they were on a mission from God.

In other words, they had the exceptional part down pat.

Fleeing what they saw as the earthly and corrupt Church of England, the Puritans fancied themselves the world’s last, best hope for purifying Christianity - and for saving the world.

The Puritans never used the word “exceptionalism.” But they came to see Boston as the new Jerusalem, a divinely ordained “city upon a hill,” a phrase Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop used in a sermon at sea en route from England in 1630.

“They were reinterpreting themselves as God’s new Israel,” Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero said. “They were essentially playing out the biblical story.”

To modern ears, that literal exceptionalist thinking could sound at once both exotic and quaint, which makes the idea’s staying power and influence throughout American history all the more remarkable.

Photos: Faces of citizenship

Nearly four centuries after Winthrop uttered the words “city on a hill,” President Barack Obama finds himself responding to charges from Republican challenger Mitt Romney that he has insufficient faith in American exceptionalism.

“Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” Romney said at a campaign stop this year. “You have an opportunity to vote and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American.”

Obama has pushed back on that claim, saying in a recent speech that “the character of our country … has always made us exceptional.”

Though the particulars surrounding the idea have changed, the bedrock belief that America is exceptional when measured against the arc of history and against all other nations has helped forge the nation’s defining moments, from the American Revolution and the country’s dramatic expansion west to the Civil War and both World Wars.

More recently, arguments about American exceptionalism have helped elect and unseat presidents – and have fed a debate about whether the phrase still has any meaning.

'An asylum for mankind'

For New England’s Puritans, exceptionalism was a religious idea with big political repercussions.

They thought the Protestant Reformation, which had been set into motion a century before, hadn’t gone nearly far enough in rooting out the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

Puritans saw the pomp and hierarchy of the Protestant Church of England as too much like another papacy.

My Take: How I constructed 'The American Bible'

In New England, Winthrop and his fellow travelers established a theocracy that they hoped would be a model for English Christianity.

“They had to succeed to bring about this promised apocalyptic history that would culminate in the second coming of Christ, hopefully to New England,” said Deborah Madsen, an American studies professor at the University of Geneva.

“To fail would be to fail the world on this grand, transcendent scale,” said Madsen, who has studied the idea of American exceptionalism throughout U.S. history.

With the stakes thought to be so high, there was intense social pressure among Puritans to adhere to a strict moral code.

Everyone looked for signs that they were among the elect destined for heaven and kept a watchful eye out for neighbors who might be backsliding. The starkest example: the Salem witch trials of 1692, in which 19 people were hanged in Massachusetts for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

“If the members of the community fulfilled their part in the work of sacred history, not only would the individuals find salvation, but the whole community would be saved,” Madsen said, summarizing Puritan thinking. “But if any individual failed to live up to this grand destiny, the entire community would be denied salvation.”

Being God’s chosen people, it turned out, wasn’t all roses.

America exceptional? Not by the numbers

As new arrivals and subsequent generations enlarged colonial America, the Puritans’ faith-based ideas were gradually secularized.

By 1660, it had become clear to the Massachusetts theocrats that they wouldn’t be exporting their ideas abroad anytime soon. That was the year the British monarchy was restored after a decade of rule by the Cromwells, putting an end to Puritan rule in England and re-establishing the Church of England as a political power.

And with new Enlightenment ideas making their way from Europe about a rational universe knowable through reason, the Puritans’ quest for perfect religious institutions gave way to a colonial quest for perfect political institutions.

My Faith: Why I don’t sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’

The democratic ideas that made up this new political exceptionalism owed plenty to Winthrop & Co.

“Puritans had mapped out the relationship between church and the community that included the seed of democratic participation,” said Madsen. “The idea was that everyone had rights but also responsibilities.

“By fulfilling their responsibilities and respecting the rights of others, they would achieve happiness through the social contract.”

That egalitarianism helped lay the groundwork for the American Revolution, though Madsen notes that “the terms of reference had changed from salvation to democracy.”

America’s revolutionaries were keenly aware that their calls for democratic government in the face of English rule were exceptional for their time.

“Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 in “Common Sense,” which helped galvanize colonists toward the Revolutionary War.

“Freedom hath been hunted round the globe,” Paine wrote. “Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger. … O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

The Puritan vision of America as world’s godly beacon had been replaced by the image of the nation as the world’s workshop for political and social progress. America’s founders wanted to break with what they saw as the corruption of European politics and society, where a person’s status was mostly a matter of inheritance.

By contrast, the founders proposed in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

While other republics had come and gone, many of the founders who signed the Declaration - and, later, the Constitution - wanted the American Republic to endure forever.

This was city on a hill 2.0.

Manifest destiny

Reading the founders’ paeans to American exceptionalism - about aspiring to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the Constitution puts it - can put a lump in your throat.

But their vision excluded huge swaths of the population, like women and slaves. And other applications of the idea had their own dark sides.

Take Manifest Destiny.

As the nascent United States strove to expand westward in the 1800s, its leaders faced major problems, including how to justify taking land that belonged to Europe or that was occupied by Native Americans.

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Manifest Destiny – the idea that it was God’s will for the U.S. government to occupy North America or all of the Americas – offered a big part of the answer.

“A civilization that has the sanction of God is always the ultimate justification,” said the University of Geneva’s Madsen. “The idea was that God had made it manifest that the U.S. should expand. … It’s not much different than the idea of American exceptionalism.”

Like many facets of exceptionalism, the notion of Manifest Destiny wasn’t entirely new.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth of England had established herself as a divinely ordained monarch whose reign had been presaged by the Bible. That mythology, which inspired Puritan exceptionalism, had helped English plantation owners justify forays into what is now Northern Ireland.

In the same way, Manifest Destiny helped justify the United States as it laid claim to European land and forcibly removed tens of thousands of American Indians. Many asserted that the campaign was meant to civilize or Christianize the natives, making good on America’s “chosenness.”

And the American image of a continent brimming with virgin land – which denied the presence of American Indians there – synched nicely with long-held exceptionalist visions of an unspoiled and utopian New World.

“Our manifest destiny (is) to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions,” American newspaper editor John S. O’Sullivan wrote in 1845, arguing for the annexation of Texas, in what is believed to be history’s first mention of Manifest Destiny.

It’s hard to know how much America’s leaders truly believed in the idea versus how much they employed it for purely political ends. Manifest Destiny certainly had high-profile critics, including Mark Twain, who declared himself an “anti-imperialist.”

“If you’re a cynical person and you see something like the Mexican-American War as a land grab, you can say this idea of Manifest Destiny was construed to create a moral tissue for a war of aggression,” Boston University international relations professor Andrew Bacevich said.

The westward expansion was driven largely by Southerners who wanted to farm the land and expand American slavery.

But abolitionists like Frederick Douglass also appropriated American exceptionalism, arguing that the nation’s “peculiar institution” was evidence that America was falling short of its Christian mandate.

That abolitionist line foreshadowed a key argument of 20th-century liberals: If America is exceptional, it’s because of the decisions we make around justice, not because of innate “chosenness.”

By Douglass’ time, American exceptionalism was so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that it transcended religion. Abraham Lincoln, often described as a deist - believing in a distant, uninvolved God - was nonetheless a hearty exceptionalist.

“He believed that America was leading the way in history toward democracy and equality,” said Dorothy Ross, a history professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University. “At that time, Europe is still steeped in monarchs and failed revolutions, and America was still the only mass democracy in the Western world and believed that it was leading the historical way.”

Even the relatively unreligious Lincoln came to see the hand of God actively participating in American history through the Civil War.

“He gives to both North and South this terrible war,” Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, referring to God. “American slavery,” Lincoln said, was something that “He now wills to remove.”

The first president to say it

Despite its centuries-old influence, the term "American exceptionalism" didn’t emerge until sometime in the past 100 years.

Some historians say it’s unclear who coined the phrase, while others credit Joseph Stalin with doing so in 1929, when he admonished American communists for suggesting that the United States’ unique history could make it immune to Marxism.

In his reprimand, the Soviet leader decried “the heresy of American exceptionalism.”

Ironically, American intellectuals and eventually the broader public came to embrace the term, especially in the years following World War II, even after communists used the Great Depression as evidence of Stalin’s alleged "heresy.”

Just like President Woodrow Wilson had done in World War I, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman justified American involvement in World War II largely on the basis that the country had been chosen to lead and transform the world.

After the Second World War, “the United States had emerged as the strongest country,” said Johns Hopkins’ Ross. “Social scientists began studying things like national character and what makes America unique.”

American affection for the idea grew during the Cold War, as the U.S. attempted to distinguish itself from the “godless” Soviet Union.

“Our governments, in every branch ... must be as a city upon a hill,” John F. Kennedy said in a Boston speech just before his inauguration in 1961, citing John Winthrop by name.

In the ’60s and ’70s, however, American scholars and others began challenging the idea of American exceptionalism, mostly from the left and especially after the Vietnam War, which liberals criticized as a costly exercise in American hubris.

Historians began to see exceptionalism as a scholarly construct, a way of interpreting American history rather than as accepted fact.

Ronald Reagan illustrated the partisan gap around the idea, speaking of America as a “city on a hill” and attacking President Jimmy Carter for allegedly showing weakness on the world stage, including in the Iran hostage crisis.

“We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so,” Reagan told the first annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974. “We are today the last best hope of man on Earth.”

President George W. Bush employed similar rhetoric in his global “freedom agenda,” even after initially pledging a “humble” foreign policy.

Despite greater Republican than Democratic support for the idea (91% vs. 70%) , a 2010 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans subscribed to the notion that the U.S. has a “unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.”

Boston University’s Prothero criticizes that definition of American exceptionalism, which he says is how most American politicians use the term today.

For John Winthrop, the shining city was an aspiration that depended on the righteous behavior of the Puritans, Prothero says, part of the social contract that laid the groundwork for democracy. Whether the city would in fact shine was an open question.

If the Puritans dealt falsely with their God, Winthrop had said in his 1630 sermon, there will be “curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

In contemporary American politics, by contrast, Prothero says the idea of exceptionalism has been stripped of its conditionalism, becoming “a kind of brag.”

“Today, it’s ‘of course God blesses America,’ ” he said. “It’s presumptuous.”

Others have attacked the idea as little more than the kind of nationalism felt by citizens of countries all over the world.

“I believe in American exceptionalism,” President Obama said in France in 2009, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

But the president has since sounded a different tune. In his Air Force Academy commencement speech in May, Obama repeatedly expressed support for American exceptionalism.

“The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” Obama said. “It's one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.”

In fact, Obama appears to be the first sitting president to publicly use those words, political experts say. Given their place in the modern American political lexicon, nearly 400 years after Winthrop first gave voice to the idea, he is unlikely to be the last.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Europe • Mitt Romney • Politics • Protestant • Religious liberty • United Kingdom • United States

soundoff (3,068 Responses)
  1. KBW

    And then everyone woke up and realized the Earth has been recycled many times and we are not the most advanced civilization.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  2. Peikovianyi

    One / What makes you believe that political ideology is the guiding force for our nation's exceptionalism?

    Our Revolution was the first attempt to create a society based on the European Enlightenment. We were a secular republic in an age of absolute monarchs. We will remain exceptional if we assert Classical Liberalism in an age of police states.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • One

      I think the U.S. could have been a successful state as a monarchy (if the population was inclined to have a monarch). In my opionion, the key aspects that make the U.S successful and have the potential to be exceptional are our oceanic insulation from the constant tumult in Europe and elsewhere, our agricultural production coupled with the greatest set of interconnected navigable rivers in the world (ones that lead to sea no less), and a good set of harbors around which maritime trade has developed.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Karabekians

      Location, location, location. Our history is filled with slight advantages including its location and natural resources. Don't forget immigration, some of our brightest minds and successful business owners came from other countries. Freedom from caste systems allowed them to be successful and not just be a stooge under the ruling class. So a monarchy? There are a lot of factors to consider and not just location.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  3. Kelly25

    Without God we are a doomed Nation as seen these last 3 1/2 years. Why such a small percentage (athiests) of our population is able to controll our government is beyond me.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Peikovianyi

      Tom Paine (atheist), Ben Franklin (agnostic), Washington and Jefferson (deists), John Adams (Christian), would disagree. They knew about the religious wars in Europe, and were only too glad to have a secular government here. We don't care what the mailman does on Sunday. It's his own time and he spends his own dime. We only ask him to deliver the mail.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • LinCA

      @Kelly25

      You said, "Without God we are a doomed Nation as seen these last 3 1/2 years. Why such a small percentage (athiests) of our population is able to controll our government is beyond me."
      How the fuck do you get so stupid?

      You may want to take inventory of all the politicians at every level of government in the US. You'll find that christians far outnumber all others combined. You'll be hard pressed to find any legislative body, anywhere in the country, that doesn't contain a solid majority of christians. If there is any particular group responsible for the poor conditions we're in, it's the believers among us.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Kellly President Obamaa has led the country back to a more CHristian ethic – as oppposed to the dog eat dog mentality of the far RIght. Wakeup and apppreciate what you have.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  4. wizzzard in the sky

    Unlike most US citizens I have traveled the world. I have been to places they don't take the tour groups. ..USA you are getting $creweD and most of you don't even know it. Thank your politicians that are telling you how great the USA is......was....

    July 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Kelly25

      You don't need to travel so much as you need to have your eyes and ears open. I have lived in America my whole 51 yrs of life and I have seen our government ruin our once great nation and yet, we still have these progressives thinking what is happening is good. We are being robbed blind!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  5. Daniel

    I am white- so this is coming from a white person. Pure 50 scion of 1800s german ancestry, 50% son of french citizen.
    I am a US citizen, by birth and by generations- some who faught in the Civlil War. Why do I say this?
    Look at this article and you really ask yourself how delusional man can be- Thomas Payne is talking about oppression everywhere- hmmmm. Well a significant portion of the US population were slaves. Yes Slaves. Then what followed slavery
    was oppression in the worst sense- Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Post Jim Crow. To this day- it is as if it none of it ever existed
    or that "Get over it". Yet this country spends countless resources making sure we "dont get over" the holocaust.
    This country is founded upon repression. Now, having said that... if you were white, like me, then it is a whole different story.
    Yes, plenty of opportunity for my ancestors who migrated out West, and beyond St. Louis. Many typical American success stories. I have had plenty of opportunity. But I cannot sit here and read delusions. If i had not been part of the white world
    things would have been very different. Even in the white world- there was lots of repression, and people did not find America to be such a great place once here- they were servants or oppressed Labor just like they were in England or in Serfdom.
    It is important to remember this. Also.... the Pilgrims did not land into a place that was...... uninhabited. So it took massive
    oppression in the form of ridding ourselves of the Native population. Why didn't Thomas Payne and others even mention this?
    Because colored people and Indians were like dogs. Literally. Actually dogs were treated better. They were non human.
    They did not exist! That is why this is delusional

    July 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Peikovianyi

      Slavery and violence were and are the norm worldwide. Slavery continues in Africa. Why not consider the role America played in advancing the modern age, rather than focus on America's faults which were universal?

      July 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • NativeBornUSA

      Daniel no country anywhere was just came in to being there were wars there were past history slavery did not get invented in the US and as far as it being a large portion of the population is laughable and not statistically true, there were more slaves in example in Rome. As far as slavery? My great greandfather fought at Ghettysburg wounded twice there. Who owned slaves then? Democrats, Who started Jim Crow? Democrats, How started the k kk? Democrats, who voted predominately against the civil rights act of 1964? Democrats it only passed in a democrat controlled congress thanks to republican votes that same party that actually freed the slaves. Problem in this country yes is too much power in government without checks and balances in place like term limits like poltical contribution limits on all money including that from unions and voter ID which is getting to be sorely needed due to corruption fake votes illegal votes.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • ArthurP

      According to genetic research 25% of all Americans who consider themselves to be pure white stock have at least one black ancestor from the slave era.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Karabekians

      I understand what you are saying Daniel. This wasn't an exceptional country to start off with. Peikovianyi it is true that it is a worldwide norm, but we are suppressing the fact that it happened. Our country exists as it does today because of a mixture of great and horrible acts and events. What Daniel is saying is that we suppress the horrible aspects of our countries creation. We have created a mythology of what really took place.
      Some of these horrible acts happened not to long ago. The 1950s were only 60 some years ago. We didn't allow Native Americans to practice their culture until the 1970s.
      I am happy to be born and live in the US. It is a great place to be. If we ignore the lessons we have learned or should learn from than we are back at square one.
      Now, if we want to restore what makes this country great we will repeal the Patriot Act. What is freedom if you don't truly have it.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    I love to tell people that Atheism is not healthy, but it's only because I worship Lord Satan! Lord Satan will take over this country and finally conquer Jesus...the weak, pathetic man....

    July 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Atheism is not children for living and other healthy things

      Things change prayer

      July 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • NativeBornUSA

      He might be your false lord but in the end you will find out how good a choice you made..........in that warm climate you are headed for

      July 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Mark Twain

      Heaven for the climate.

      Hell for the company!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  7. Russian Federation

    USA is laughing stock of the world – ROFLMAO – USA only country that allow middle and low-class people to drop dead in streets before providing any healthcare. USA is solely run by greed and power of Wall St. It is very laughable here in Moskva. USA capitalism makes former Soviet communism look like a cake-walk in Gorky Park – ROFLMAO

    July 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Boris Badenov

      Is because of moose and squirrel!

      July 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Gaunt

      Somewhat ironic post as, while indeed the US is not perfect and lags behind many of its first world peers in many ways, Russia is not one of those first world peers. A second-ratre state with a GDP per capita similar to middling African states, ruled by a kleptocracy worse than anything the Koch brothers could plan. Yes, America isnt perfect. But on its worst day, by any measurable standard, its better than Russia on its best day.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • NativeBornUSA

      Drop dead in the streets??? How many you see today dropping dead where you live? In your life? Answer zero. Fact more people die in the streetsi n almost any European country. Some like Russia and China do not even keep stats on such. And newsflash they both have universal health care..hahahah you are the laughable one. Your messiah is why we no longer have a triple A rating and he sure kept that unemployment under 8%........what you will find is this universal healthcare is not universal or deficit neutral........and when you also figure out we do not even have enough doctors due to lawyers you might actually wake up from your crack pipe.l

      July 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Natasha

      Why you drink vodka so early in morning, Moronski?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • ME II

      No one can be refused life saving, or emergency, medical care, by law.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      July 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      And you must only pray to Lord Satan! Bow to Lord Satan!!!!

      July 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Joe

      Its a placebo.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • HeavenSent

      My alter ego Just Sayin' and I repost this spam every few pages like a good troll should. My ego's need stroking from the attention.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • NativeBornUSA

      Hey Zeus who is not Jesus person prayer works but you forget God is in charge, all things happen in his will and if he allows us free will sometimes our prayer is not answered but you explain nothing of medical miracles, visitations by non believers .......sometimes thousands of people ..........scary part is when you die you will have to prove yourself all over and it wont be fun. And it might be sooner than you think....

      July 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • 13monkees

      I always thought you couldn't be for real! Well played.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  9. Jack

    Hello. Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  10. mikrik13

    Exceptionalism WAS a powerful force in America. Now, it is all American propaganda.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Melvin Painter

      Actually it is the social program office.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  11. Argo

    Right now, as I sit in the psychiatric unit, with my diagnosis of megalomania and borderline personality disorder, I realize that the posts that I put on here irritate other people. Sure, I believe in god because I think god talks to me personally. I feel like I am his personal messenger and that everything I say is right and everything that someone else says is wrong. Ok, so that means I'm kinda crazy. In fact, I do realize that I like to make things up and that I really know, deep down inside that Christians don't do anything for anyone except cause emotional, physical and spiritual harm.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  12. Yep!

    "Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal savior?"

    "Yes, Yes, I do! I believe!"

    :Okay, as soon as I remove my boot from your neck and rifle from your forehead, arise to new life as a fellow Christian, redskin!"

    July 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • M.F. Luder

      "Teach the children quietly, for someday sons and daughters will rise up and fight while we stood still."

      July 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  13. dantx94

    There's a fine line between a belief that our society is "exceptional" and an arrogant nationalism that starts insisting that the rest of the world does everything our way. We should be cautious that we don't become another Roman Empire, convinced that we will rule forever, "just because we"re #1". Study history.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • LIberalsSux

      We already have become that "Roman Empire" and we are now falling. Only, the difference is America wasn't an Empire as long as Romans. Move over America here comes China.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  14. ArthurP

    There is no proof that the Bible is not a creation of the Devil, except of course from passages within the pages of the Bible itself. Which is what you would expect if the Devil was trying to hide its true origins.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Joe

      There is no proof that a 'devil' exists... other than x-wives...

      July 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Joe, sounds like the ex's knew what they were dealing with and left.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Is that why you're all alone, HS?

      July 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • NativeBornUSA

      There is no proof you are of the devil except the smell of sulphur about you and the little horns creeping out of your skull.......

      July 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  15. Smitty77

    We've always been taught that sel praise is no recommendation!

    July 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  16. Peikovianyi

    Alternatives to Classical Liberalism: (1) You think no one should have property rights and no govt should protect or defend property rights. You're an anarchist. (2) You think men are caught in historical forces, self-sacrificing for class warfare. You're a socialist. (3) You think history is a revelation of the cosmic mind. You're a mystic. (4) You think the cosmic mind, which is reality itself, is unknowable. You are insane.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Please explain point 4.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • One

      What makes you believe that political ideology is the guiding force for our nation's exceptionalism?

      July 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Peikovianyi

      Kant argued that mankind is imprisoned by the limits of our senses and our minds, and we can never know reality, or any particular "thing-in-itself", but only a reconstruction of our own thinking. This psychological trap has dominated philosophy for over 200 years. Hegel explained that our shared perceptions come from the same source, another consciousness of a universal nature. Marx said it created the ages of history and we must fight to advance the millenial age. Proudhon said the new age would not require and would not permit private property. It's all secular mysticism and worse, incoherent.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  17. GG1000

    I've lived in 4 countries and every single one of them believed in their own exceptionalism. The UK used to rule a large part of the world and was the major influence in the world's industrial economy. We'd do well to look at history very closely – rise and fall is the pattern. The Romans would never have believed at the height of the empire that they were destined to fall.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Madtown

      Yes. But, I think those in power are too blinded by the notion of our exceptionalism, they ignore the abundant historical lessons that should be obvious. Or, they don't care about those historical lessons.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • One

      The great thing about our current situation for the U.S. is that our current seat at the top is mostly due to control of the blue water and ability to guarantee or restrict sea trade at will. America is exceptional today because it's insulated by distance, and can control every inch of that insulation with her navy. The insulation has historically allowed us to win independence from a much more powerful nation due in large part to the cost and logistical difficulties involved in fielding forces so far away, fight a civil war that drained much of the country's resources yet do so with only minor interference from other nations, and be involved in 2 wars that leveled European population and industrial capacity, with only one instance where home territory was attacked. The latter war was what gave us our ascendency to complete control of the world's oceans (something not even the British had completely) and left us as the workshop to rebuild much of the war torn world allowing our wartime industry to sustain itself. I suppose our political ideology and the makeup of our people is important in this equation somewhere, but I think that geography is the more important factor.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  18. Peikovianyi

    Classical Liberalism was and is the foundation stone of this republic. It is secular, democratic, rational, and includes all groups and individuals who deal fairly with each other, volunatrily and through compromise. The alternatives have always been the initiation of force. America is exceptional, and has inspired other nations to follow our example.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Agree 100% with the first statement, but it doesn't exist any more.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Peikovianyi

      You are correct. The past 100 years in America (the Trust Busters, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, Nixon's wage-and-price controls, a generation of Keynesian spending and now Romney-and-Obamacare) have left nothing that resembles capitalism except a straw-man argument to be attacked when newer and more lethal socialist programs are inaugurated.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  19. Argo

    In every third-world country, you will find American Christians distributing food, helping at orphanages, clothing the poor and defending the weak.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • hippypoet

      you will find Americans sure....not all are christian...not even half!

      make some more sh-it up!

      July 2, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Doesn't make their delusions any more true.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

      PEOPLE are doing these things ... not religion. Take credit where credit is due.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Joe

      In other countries american are murdering and maiming the children and innocent, are ripping off banks, and destroying the environment... so its a washout.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  20. tibs

    What made us exceptional was free market capitialism and limited government.

    Today, without either, we are not exceptional. We are burning our own treasures and poisoning ourselves with the fumes.

    A return to the standards of a truely free society will return us to our former glory and beyond.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Scott

      Very well said. I believe 3 major factors worked together to provide us with the highest standard of living the world has even known (I've been all over the world, and no one is even close to living how the average American lives). Those things are our system of government, our geogrphic isolation from European powers during our growth, and free-market Capitalism. We can all argue about how to spend our tax dollars, but let's agree that no one can get what they want without a strong economy. Rule 1 in economics is Capitalism, guided by the "invisible hand", will always find the most efficient means for operating a business. Rule 2 is that everything the government touches is by default inefficient and wasteful. Socialism and Communism cannot succeed unless everyone is playing under the same system. The less intrusive government is in business, the better off we'll all be, and the greater our collective abilty to fund all of our pet projects, be they liberal or conservative.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Scott,

      I agree with your opening, but not rule 1 and rule 2. The 'invisible hand' is greed. Capitalism left to it's own devices leads to monopolies no less tyrannical than kings and events like the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. Balance is essential. Enough, but not too much, government remains essential.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Scott

      @ I'm not a GOPer..., Please re-read points 1 & 2. I know it's an emotional subject for some, but you have to look at it without emotion. You're welcome to your opinion that profits = greed (it's true in some cases), but points 1 & 2 are not subject to agreement or disagreement – they're indisputable fact when considered at large. Capitalism DOES = efficiency and Government DOES = inefficiency. Greater efficiency leads to lower cost deliery of goods and services, which equals success in business, which leads to a stronger economy. Some "for profit" businesses believe it's "good business" to not pay it's execs tons of money, but a free market supply and demand system works that out. In the long run, strong paychecks (for anyone) are the result of strong profits, which are acheived by the best run / innovative companies. Government involvment, on the other hand, leads to an enormous waste of precious capital, which we all need. Therefore, it should only be applied where needed. Again, we can all argue about where it's needed the most, but none of us will get what we want without a strong economy.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.