Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

"Americanism" as religion

Here’s an extended case for American exceptionalism. The argument, in a nutshell, is that "Americanism" is essentially what became of Puritanism:

Americanism is the end-stage of political Puritanism, which in turn was the yearning to live in contact with God as a citizen of God’s new Israel.

The author, David Gelernter, a Yale professor of computer science who is a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, marshalls some interesting evidence but admits that "[t]his is an unprovable proposition."

Here is perhaps Gelernter’s most provocative point:

To sum up Americanism’s creed as freedom, equality, and democracy for all is to state only half the case. The other half deals with a promised land, a chosen people, and a universal, divinely ordained mission. This part of Americanism is the American version of biblical Zionism: in short, American Zionism.

I leave it to those more learned than I am to evaluate thoroughly the evidence. That various and sundry American political figures have appropriated the rhetoric of covenantalism is undeniable. That they actually confused their city of man with a city of God is another proposition altogether. I don’t put it past all of them, either for reasons of theological-political fanaticism or of "secular humanism." But Lincoln, who is one of the central figures is Gelernter’s narrative, is careful to say only that Americans are an "almost chosen people." Gelernter notes this in passing, but does not give it the at least slightly ironic force I think it demands.

President Bush, who is often accused of taking precisely the line Gelernter seems to adopt is himself more careful, more Lincolnesque, if you will.

If you’re interested in more on this subject, go here.

Hat tip: HobbsOnline.

Discussions - 2 Comments

The Puritanism/Americanism link is also explored in Spengler at Asia Times online

David Gelernter is an exceptional thinker. His idealist tome on the culture of the 1930s, The Lost World of the Fair falls along these same lines of a belief in American exceptionalism, and where we stand today using what he found about the 1930s as a benchmark.

Certainly, whether where "almost" or not, the monicker of "chosen people" does not apply to Americans as it has to past nations or peoples. Chosen does not imply we are a "race," set apart for some devine mission at all. How could it be, as we so easily welcome all to our doorstep or to share in the plurality that is the nature of republican democracy?

Reagan like to talk about Winthrop’s "city on a hill," and did so eloquently in his farewell address. It is America’s vision of free individuals striving in a competitive world: a difficult world wherein there will always be thieves, tyrants and slavemasters seeking to steal your dreams, that makes us a "chosen people." Freedom is hard work, and it is ultimately a difficult choice. America has chosen to remain free, and will remain a chosen people until that day we decide to price just isn’t worth paying anymore. God forbid.

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