Who Cares About American Exceptionalism?

A rhetorical device that I’ve had just about enough of is the one where a leftleaning person mentions that by “world standards” America is right-wing.  Which usually more-or-less means that by European standards, America is right-wing.

It’s mostly true (the left and the right are a bit different in Europe than in America).  But it’s also not very interesting.  What’s the implicit claim here?  That the US is such an outlier that we can judge its politics to be prima-facia incorrect?  Because it has been judged by the collective wisdom of so many people?

But it’s not a huge outlier.  The US has half the population of Europe.  It’s hard to make a principled case that there is a huge wisdom differential in a 2:1 ratio.  Like, if 100 people believe one thing and 1 person believes another, okay, there’s at least a case to be made that the one person’s belief should be examined more closely.  But 2:1?  Does anyone apply such a principle whenever it’s not a convenient rhetorical trick?

And besides, China has a higher population than the US and Europe put together, and its politics are fucking nuts.  By global standards, it’s not that the US is right-wing, it’s that the US and Europe are both weirdly devoted to things like individual rights, not killing the shit out of people who disagree with you, and democracy (even with India on board).

There are plenty of institutional problems with the US political spectrum.  But there are also plenty of institutional problems with the European political spectrum, and there’s no particular reason to imagine that Europe has fundamentally more wisdom than the US.  So let’s knock it off and come up with less lazy criticisms for the politics we hate.


2 thoughts on “Who Cares About American Exceptionalism?

  1. I suppose you’re correct that some do present that as a criticism. I just regarded it as one indicator out of many, without seeing it as either implicitly negative or positive. Historically and culturally, the USA is more heavily influenced by Puritanism, which is more “right wing”. After WW2, much of Europe began experimenting with different levels and kinds of democratic socialism, which is by definition more left wing. Though I don’t expect to live to see it, my guess is that both regions at some future point will evolve beyond the artificial right vs left construct, into a more nuanced model of politics.

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