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American Exceptionalism Declining

A Pew study finds that there are fewer Americans who believe America stands apart from all other nations:

As Americans prepare to celebrate the country’s birthday, a clear majority considers the U.S. to be one of the greatest countries in the world. But the view that the U.S. is exceptional — standing above all other countries in the world – has declined 10 points since 2011.


About three-in-ten (28%) think that the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world,” while most (58%) say it is “one of the greatest countries in the world, along with some others.” Few Americans (12%) say there are other countries in the world “that are better than the U.S.”

Three years ago, 38% said the U.S. stood above all others, while 53% said it was one of the greatest nations and 8% thought some others were better than the U.S.

The decline in the view that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world has occurred across most demographic and political groups, but it has been particularly acute among Republicans.

I think this is good news, actually, but not quite as good as it might be. The decline in Republican belief in American exceptionalism is probably tied to their political feelings about President Obama. My guess is that they understood the question to mean “does America currently stand above other nations,” rather than understanding it in a more philosophical sense.

I am against American exceptionalism, and not because I “hate” America, or am ashamed of my country, or anything like that. I’m against it because it is based on pride. If you asked me if life is better here than in most countries in the world, I would say yes, it probably is (though I’ve not been to most other countries in the world). But the concept of American exceptionalism has been too often used to convince ourselves that we, acting on the world stage, are not motivated by the same things that motivate other nations. We dress our hegemony up with the language of democracy and universal rights. I’m certainly not saying these are necessarily bad things, only that the ideology of American exceptionalism leads us to believe that we are obviously correct, and only driven by pure hearts. And that’s how we get into trouble.

Besides, it’s not clear to me why love of one’s own country requires elevating it morally above all others. I love my own mother more dearly than anybody else’s mother, because she is my own, but what sense would it make to say that she is a more morally worthy and pure person than all other mothers on earth? If Mrs. Cleaver were shown to be just as kind as my mom, but to bake better cupcakes and give young Theodore a bigger allowance than my mom gives me, would I be justified in loving my mom less, or considering her inferior to other moms? That strikes me as low-down. But I digress. Anyway, I think this entire question hinges on the difference between a patriot and a nationalist.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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