Recently a publication we admire began to send emails inviting donations for a “Hipster Rehabilitation Project” to develop their readership among a younger generation via “enhanced investment in Facebook and Twitter.” As a card-carrying hipster (see my tagline below, however) and regular reader of The American Spectator in both digital and print form, I welcome this development. @AmSpec is working toward the future, and not just by adopting the technology of the present: they are actually paying attention to the real challenge of bringing up a new generation of conservative writers, readers, and, eventually, donors. Too many conservative organizations concentrate their appeal on my grandparents’ generation: a great and patriotic generation to be sure, and a good donor base—but one that unfortunately is dying out. The American Spectator is trying to be different. Their writing is both timeless and relevant, avoiding irrelevant controversy over Hawaiian birth certificates, Super Gulps, or First Lady junkets. Continue reading Introducing the “Old Fogey Rehabilitation Project”
“…there was one people in the world which would fight for others’ liberties at its own cost, to its own peril and with its own toil, not limiting its guaranties of freedom to its neighbours, to men of the immediate vicinity, or to countries that lay close at hand, but ready to cross the sea that there might be no unjust empire anywhere and that everywhere justice, right, and law might prevail.” 1
These words weren’t written about America. They weren’t even written since the rise of modern democracies. They were written over 2000 years ago by Titus Livius (commonly known as Livy), a renowned historian employed by Augustus Caesar to vindicate his family’s transformation of the former Roman Republic into an empire. Continue reading Roman Exceptionalism
The idea of a “divine mission” excites adherents and worries skeptics, and, like any religious belief, becomes more controversial the more people understand it to be other than a mere private conviction. In the recent inaugural issue of the journal American Political Thought, James Ceaser examines a uniquely American species of political thought which is, if not explicitly religious in all its manifestations, is at least tinctured with religious excitement. The idea of “American exceptionalism” has agitated American political discourse on the left and right–but unlike other American ideals, it appeared only recently and is very difficult to define.
One way to describe American exceptionalism is to observe the many ways in which the United States differs from other nations in its origins, institutions, and national character. It is, arguably, unique among liberal democracies in that it was actually self-consciously founded as a new political entity where none had existed before, at least on the national level. Most revolutions change regimes but retain old geographies and ethnic identities; America assumed its geography and national identity gradually and subsequent to its founding. America is both more liberal and more conservative than other Western nations. Its institutions more perfectly reflect a purely liberal republican structure, retaining no vestigial monarchy, hereditary ranks, or established church. At the same time it is among the most religious of Western republics and the most suspicious of socialism. Capitalism finds the fewest restraints in the United States–although we also have the world’s highest corporate income tax. These are only a few of the objective measures by which America is an exception among world powers. Continue reading Exceptionalism Symposium: The elusive American mission
Ceaser quickly outlines the competing factions in any discussion of “American exceptionalism” being that of the conservative defender of the concept and the liberal anti-exceptionalist who wants to “take America down a notch” to the level of any other civilized nation.
Somehow or another, conservatism has found itself defending the notion while liberals are free to reject it. I am tempted to note the ironic reversal, laugh to myself, and point out that the latter position is the one for responsible adults, the former being the province of juvenile imaginations clouded by ideology (“I will not apologize for America…”). Yet, the devil is somewhere in the liberal’s position, just as it is in the conservative’s; it is as if rejecting exceptionalism means shunning the particularities of America. There needs to be another way. Continue reading Exceptionalism Symposium: I take exception to the term
James Ceaser tries to flex some historical muscle in “The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism.” Like most modern scholars, he goes about as an intellectual iconoclast, assailing the solely religious roots of American exceptionalism. Only a shrewd or sarcastic mind can write, “A few in the realist camp lament this result, regarding it as a loss for America and for the world, but many applaud it, although usually concealing their glee beneath a veil of detached analysis. Realism is a cover for ‘triumphalist declinism’: blessed is the nation that is declining, it shall disinherit the earth.” Nevertheless, I still think he is wrong when he tries to downplay the study of religion in the exceptionalism debate (despite his many qualifiers). I grant that Hegel, Darwin, Descartes, Bacon, and Schleiermacher have all had their day in court, providing the European seeds to yield the fruits of Bancroft, Strong, Paine, Jefferson, and the Social Gospel in American soil. As a conservative and orthodox Christian, I rather like how he delineates traditional Christianity from the religious movements that encouraged American exceptionalism (especially since the former existed a good 1600 years before the latter). I agree that nonreligious elements contributed to the formation of the concept in question.
Ceaser does have vision. He foresees the question of exceptionalism as an expansive field of inquiry. I think the rate of articles addressing the subject will increase in the coming days as historians, theorists, and political thinkers wrestle over American identity and its meaning for policy. I agree with him that students of the past must explore all avenues, not simply religion, when researching exceptionalism. Nevertheless, I think the issue finds roots in matters theological, not simply scientific, historical, and philosophical. Continue reading Exceptionalism Symposium: Religion holds a central place
Douglas Haddow writes in Adbusters Magazine, “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.” Conservatism often inspires similar spite from modern liberals, technologists, and neo-conservatives. In The Future and its Enemies (1998), Virginia Postrel characterized people of a conservative disposition—“reactionaries” and “stasists” she calls them—as opposing the increase of knowledge and improvement of human life (“progress”).
Postrel, while critical of conservatives, made a number of surprising observations in which she was ahead of her time. We hipster conservatives can only turn green as we imagine how soon we might have hopped that bandwagon, if only we had not been in middle school at the time. Postrel observed various instances of individuals on the political Left finding common cause with others usually considered “right-wing.” Continue reading The Hipster Conservative and the Future