Was America ever exceptional?
This country suffers because we can’t distinguish between strength and power
America was exceptional once – but not for the reasons we Americans commonly think of. America was exceptional from independence until 1890 when the country’s immense westward expansion was underway. Land seemed limitless then. For roughly a century, then, there was such a thing as exceptionalism – of the land, not the people.
Either way, for well over a century, Americans were indeed able to reside outside of history – or at least pretend they did. But it is key to understand that this entire period, paradoxically, was no more than a circumstance of history.
STRENGTH VERSUS POWER
How the American penchant for clinging to exceptionalism even today actually hurts our nation becomes visible if one examines the most crucial distinction for any large nation – the distinction between a strong nation and one that is merely powerful.
The difference between the two was plain to Americans of the 18th century. But then, the United States gradually left the ability to distinguish between the two behind.
Power is a material capability. It is a possession with no intrinsic vitality of its own. It has to do with method, as opposed to purpose or ideals. It refers to sheer means, and the deployment thereof. Power tends to discourage authentic reflection and considered thought, and, curiously, produces a certain weakness in those who have it.