Home | About Leighton | Rhondda map | Rhondda links | Advice surgeries | Get in touch | Cymraeg

Leighton's Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    17 February, 2005

    American Exceptionalism

    Yesterday, the historian Tristram Hunt argued how Americans were getting an increasingly narrow view of their own history, with an agenda that reflected the moral certainties of the Republican right. He said in the Guardian:

    the bookshelves of Borders and Barnes & Noble are dominated by a very specific reading of the 18th century. This does not, in God-fearing America, represent a new found interest in the secular ideals of enlightenment and reason. Rather, an obsessive telling and retelling of that great struggle for liberty: the American Revolution.

    What he rightly calls 'heroic biography' has become the mainstay of US historical publication. He goes on :

    As Simon Schama rightly puts it, this is history as inspiration, not instruction. Instead of critical analysis, the public is being fed self-serving affirmation: war-time schlock designed to underpin the unique calling, manifest destiny and selfless heroism of the US nation and, above all, its superhuman presidents.

    What his article underplays, I think, is that this has been a significant part of the intellectual agenda of the American Right since the mid-nineties. I think it really started with Lipset's book American Exceptionalism. This description of the book from the Amazon website sums up its contents: (click read more below)

    A major political analyst explores the deeply held but often inarticulated beliefs that make up the American creed. Is America unique? One of our major political analysts explores the deeply held but often inarticulated beliefs that shape the American creed. "American values are quite complex," writes Seymour Martin Lipset, "particularly because of paradoxes within our culture that permit pernicious and beneficial social phenomena to arise simultaneously from the same basic beliefs." Born out of revolution, the United States has always considered itself an exceptional country of citizens unified by an allegiance to a common set of ideals, individualism, anti-statism, populism, and egalitarianism. This ideology, Professor Lipset observes, defines the limits of political debate in the United States and shapes our society. American Exceptionalism explains why socialism has never taken hold in the United States, why Americans are resistant to absolute quotas as a way to integrate blacks and other minorities, and why American religion and foreign policy have a moralistic, crusading streak.

    I can remember, in the final months of the Major administration, how some of the younger Tory apparatchiks were taken with this analysis, and asking whether there wasn't also an English exceptionalism that might be relevant to their own philosophy. We are seeing some of that now of course in the calls by Tim Collins and others for a different approach to history teaching.

    Since the 1970s, the right has always been stronger at providing an intellectual and ideological grounding for its arguments. We need to watch this and counter it.

    No comments:

    Rhondda TV
    The Labour Party

    Recent comments



    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.