An Exceptional Paradox

I have always had the feeling that extreme, right wing, ideology made no logical sense at all, but I never actually had the evidence to prove it. So I set about to find a well-respected source of information, perhaps a think tank, that promoted those beliefs. The Heritage Foundation, which describes itself as “a conservative think tank (…) at the forefront of the pro-globalization perspective”, seemed like a good place to start. It is a perfect sample of conservative beliefs, the cream of the crop, if you will, of right wing ideology in the United States. By analyzing its stance on key issues, one can come to a good understanding of the beliefs held by the conservative right. But in researching the Heritage Foundation and the ideology they uphold, I found that it is an ideology corrupt with contradictions. So heavily reliant on bias that many of its principles cannot coexist with each other. An ideology that by its very nature requires its followers to be ignorant of its true meaning, because only through ignorance can it survive.

Lets take a report by Matthew Spalding, in which he explained to us why America is exceptional. He declared that it was because “its military forces are the most powerful in the world. Its economy produces almost a quarter of the world’s wealth. The American people are among the most hard-working, church-going, affluent, and generous in the World”1. One might see this statement as slightly conceited, but that aside, it is also irritating because it happens to clash with several other key beliefs held by the Heritage Foundation itself.

Spalding goes on to say that “The United States is a nation founded on universal principles…. Liberty does not belong only to the United States. The Declaration of Independence holds that all men everywhere are endowed with a right to liberty”1. Now, besides the obvious arrogance of one nation including the rights of the entire world in its own constitution, this isn’t an entirely ignoble goal. The Founding Fathers discovered the beauty of democracy and freedom and wanted everyone in the world to share its benefits – fine. But then why is it that the foundation also believes that any global organization should be resisted? In a report published by the Heritage Foundation, Steven Groves says that “our sovereignty faces new threats”2, due to organizations such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International summits in Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2010). In another commentary, Marion Smith condemns the ICC as “ever-reaching”3 and “ever-presumptuous”. He worries that the ICC fosters “little respect for the local rule of law”. Groves shares his belief, firmly stating that “The demand that the United States bow to this ‘global consensus’ does not respect American sovereignty”2.

So while Spalding boasts that the US is exceptional because it aspires to promote the values of freedom and liberty across all borders, Smith complains when an International institution works to promote an equal justice system throughout the world. While Spalding says that “all nations are answerable to this principle, and it is this principle that makes the United States a truly legitimate nation”1, Smith argues that “Americans should not be tried by illegitimate courts outside of or unaccountable to their government”3. For Smith, the ICC is clearly illegitimate because it is not a local court. But for Spalding, the United States is a legitimate nation precisely because it applies its local vision of democracy to the rest of the world.

In another report released by The Heritage Foundation, Israel Ortega makes yet another case for American Exceptionalism. Like Spalding, Ortega believes that America is exceptional because it “was founded on a set of ideas”4. The ideas on which he claims it was founded: “consent, equality and liberty” – claims similar to Spalding’s. Like Spalding, he praises the fact that the United States have managed to stay true to those principles. Although he concedes that “we [the US] haven’t always been able to live up to these lofty ideals”, he concludes that “America’s overall commitment to them has seldom wavered”.

But in the next paragraph Ortega invites us to “look to the countries we left behind”4. He realizes that “throughout Latin America, democracy is under attack”. Ironic – because it is largely America’s involvement in Latin America during the Cold war that quashed freedom and democracy in the region. And America’s involvement in Latin America was largely due to men like Kissinger, a man almost worshipped by rightist ideologues and whom the Heritage Foundation often quotes as an authority. Yet Henry Kissinger once told the leadership of the brutal Argentine military dictatorship, “we would like you to succeed. (…) The quicker you succeed the better”5. He had also previously defended a corrupt government and human rights abuses in Chile, telling then Assistant Secretary for Latin America, Jack Kubisch, “I think we should understand our policy – that however unpleasant they act, the government [Pinochet’s] is better for us than Allende was”6. Hernán Buc, in another report for the Heritage Foundation, also praises Pinochet for his “radical transformation of the country’s economy”7, forgetting to mention the human rights abuses that came with this “transformation”. The ‘government’ had come to power through a military coup, and had overthrown the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. It seems like the one thing Spalding got right was that “America has not always been successful”1.

It is interesting, then, that Ortega assures us that the United States’ overall commitment to promoting democracy throughout the world has been pretty much constant. And Spalding too, who tells us that America, “more than any other nation, (…) has a special responsibility to defend the cause of liberty at home and abroad”1. It is reasonable to assume that both Spalding and Ortega, like Hernán Buc and the rest of the Heritage Foundation, are firm supporters of Kissinger and his policies. And yet one cannot deny that Kissinger’s repressive actions do not conform to their idealistic rhetoric.

I don’t think it’s America that’s exceptional. It’s the idea of American Exceptionalism that is exceptional. Because unlike most other ideologies that are so strongly supported by millions, it makes no sense at all. It’s fine to be patriotic, to love your country. But it’s another thing entirely to believe in an exceptionally arrogant ideology. And even worse to believe in one that contradicts itself, an ideology that can only be fuelled by ignorance and misinformation. An ideology that will always, by its very nature, have to fight knowledge and understanding. Because with knowledge and understanding would come the realization that it is a false ideology with no place in the world today.

September 11, 2011 / Julian Modiano / Download PDF

7 thoughts on “An Exceptional Paradox

  1. Pingback: Opinion: An Exceptional Paradox | The Open Wall

  2. Really good point, i remember watching a documentary in which an American represented defended the killing of innocent people in Latin America by saying ‘well if we didn’t come, then the soviets/communists would have killed more people in a revolution’. Another interesting juxtaposition is of the republican eras and dictatorships in Pakistan, where Nixon and Yahya Khan, Reagan and Zia ul Haq, Bush and Musharaff come into light. Love the ox-moronic image btw.

  3. Important topic to consider. We can witness the consequences of ‘American Exceptionalism’ on a daily basis yet it rarely gets questioned. If you ever get the chance, check out the work of Michael Parenti. It seems like I read something by him in which he talked about this issue. Also, Mark Twain hit on this over a hundred years ago.
    Anyway, I am a fan of the open wall!! Keep on writing!

    • Mr. Basnight!
      Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it. I have to say that it was probably inspired by your classes, you did mention American Exceptionalism a lot. I have already looked up Michael Parenti, he seems like a very interesting guy. I’ll try to find one of his books in the library as soon as I start university.

  4. This is an especially good piece. I’d like to see you expand on it — go into their positions one-by-one, on domestic issues as well as foreign, and not focusing on just Kissinger. It would make a great long article, or even a book.

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