Last Wednesday, I was asked to speak, by a student, to professor Jonathan Zimmerman's multiculturalism class at New York University here.
During my remarks, one of the students asked me if I believed in American exceptionalism. My response is at minute 35:25 in the video of my remarks. Watch it.
Today, Professor Zimmerman penned a piece on this very thing, American exceptionalism, for The LA Times: "Exceptionalism and the left," here. His title is a contradiction. Read it.
Instead, the president should invoke America's long tradition of left-wing exceptionalism. The great warriors for social justice in our history all insisted that America had a providential destiny. Unlike present-day conservatives, however, they also indicted the nation for abandoning this mission. They used American exceptionalism to critique America's vices, not just to sing its virtues.
"The Socialist Labor Party of the United States … reasserts the inalienable right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the party's 1896 platform declared. "With the founders of the American republic we hold that the purpose of government is to secure every citizen in the enjoyment of this right; but … no such right can be exercised under a system of inequality."
Finally, and most famously, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would quote the Declaration in his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, calling on America to "live out the true meaning of its creed." And that creed, King made clear, was both distinctively American and divinely inspired.
But America doesn't have a monopoly on it.
Of course, King was on the right, he was a Republican, but let's not split hairs. America does have a monopoly on it. She was the first moral country, founded upon individual rights, and our fidelity to that principle ensured our exceptionalism.
Zimmerman writes a lot to say very little.
Consider Zimmerman's ideas juxtaposed to mine. Of course, socialism, statist and communism are anathema to American exceptionalism. "American exceptionalism" is "individual exceptionalism" -- individual rights is what made and makes America exceptional, noble and magnificent.
The most profoundly revolutionary achievement of the United States of America was the subordination of society to moral law. The principle of man’s individual rights represented the extension of morality into the social system—as a limitation on the power of the state, as man’s protection against the brute force of the collective, as the subordination of might to right. The United States was the first moral society in history. All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself. The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means to the peaceful, orderly, voluntary co-existence of individuals. All previous systems had held that man’s life belongs to society, that society can dispose of him in any way it pleases, and that any freedom he enjoys is his only by favor, by the permission of society, which may be revoked at any time. The United States held that man’s life is his by right (which means: by moral principle and by his nature), that a right is the property of an individual, that society as such has no rights, and that the only moral purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights. Ayn Rand