Thursday, September 12, 2013

National Exceptionalism is True of Every Nation, and Dangerous

This is taken from CNN's account of today's minor dustup over national exceptionalism:

It was a reference to President Vladimir Putin's address Tuesday night, in which he said that while Russia can't be a global cop, it ought to act when in certain situations.

"That's what makes us exceptional," Putin said. "With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth."

Obama's answer to that?
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," he wrote.

He concluded with the line, "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
This seems to me to be true and not really that controversial. As a sociologist I have to object to equating God creating all individuals equal with all nations being equal. Likewise, I object to conflating nations with the governments of those nations.

The main point, though, holds.  All nations are exceptional in some way.  But when a government thinks that its policies are justified because our nation is better than other nations, that is dangerous.  It is dangerous for everyone, most especially for the nation imagining that it is above the laws that affect other nations. 

The United States as a state, and the American people as a nation, have some distinctive virtues.  I celebrate and promote them often. But we also have the same kind of self-serving temptations that all states do to see our interests as justifying acting unilaterally, and claiming it is for the common good.

Now, as you have probably realized, I did amend CNN's account of the kerfuffle slightly: I swapped "Putin" and "Obama," and substituted "Russia" for "America."  But the same principle holds.  And it would hold if any other leader were swapped for "Putin" and any other country swapped for "Russia."

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