Tuesday, May 10, 2011

America, the Exceptional

A provocative quote from Richard Cohen's essay in the Washington Post: "Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter. And yet clearly America must change fundamentally or continue to decline. It could begin by junking a phase that reeks of arrogance and discourages compromise. American exceptionalism ought to be called American narcissism. We look perfect only to ourselves."

It's a tough point to sell. What politician would cop to being unexceptional, let alone unamerican?  But exceptionalism is a problematic concept -- particularly when it's applied to justify unilateral action or arrogance, or when it limits diplomatic negotiation. There's nothing wrong with celebrating national values and characteristics, but there is a problem with overlooking the benefits of collaboration, cooperation and compromise.

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