Video: American Exceptionalism

posted at 2:15 pm on November 26, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Bill Whittle concludes his excellent “What We Believe” video series for Declaration Entertainment with a look at American exceptionalism, and why it remains a powerful force not just in American politics but in real, practical terms for the world. Bill walks through the ways in which America leads the world and has for much of the last century not for the sake of brag (or at least not much for the sake of brag), but to make a more basic point.  For a nation with only 5% of the world’s population, these results cannot have come by accident.   We have achieved leadership in military, economic, scientific, and cultural arenas because of the environment fostered by the American state — a state that allows its citizens the widest latitude for creativity and innovation, where success gets rewarded without government approvals and bureaucratic interference.

That environment is in danger of disappearing, which is why the Tea Party has arisen: to stop the trend towards nanny-state stagnation and the inexorable erosion of the very freedoms that have put the US into the position of global leadership.  The conclusion pulls this all together into one final argument:

As Bill notes, this is the final entry in this series — but that doesn’t mean it has to come to an end.  The video series can be purchased through Declaration Entertainment, and it would make a great stocking stuffer this Christmas season.


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He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother…

bobnox on November 26, 2010 at 2:23 PM

This is a fantastic series. Makes a poor country boy from Texas proud my Republic joined the union!

cartooner on November 26, 2010 at 2:33 PM

That should be required viewing in all schools.

xplodeit on November 26, 2010 at 2:42 PM

The obvious truths presented in this video make Liberal hatred of the US so egregious.

anXdem on November 26, 2010 at 2:49 PM

O/T: Breaking: Pick-up basketball game leaves President and late-night talk-show host —IN STITCHES!

Rovin on November 26, 2010 at 2:51 PM

That should be required viewing in all schools.

xplodeit on November 26, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Did you miss the part where he says that this isn’t the responsibility of schools?

Count to 10 on November 26, 2010 at 2:57 PM

Yet Islamic Supremacism has America cowering and flailing helplessly in a fog of ignorance stinking of hubris. Go figure.

BL@KBIRD on November 26, 2010 at 2:59 PM

Rovin on November 26, 2010 at 2:51 PM

There is a God…!

d1carter on November 26, 2010 at 3:03 PM

d1carter on November 26, 2010 at 3:03 PM

Jus’ kiddin’…I couldn’t help myself. I am sure the POTUS had ample ObamaCare.

d1carter on November 26, 2010 at 3:11 PM

O/T: Breaking: Pick-up basketball game leaves President and late-night talk-show host —IN STITCHES!

Rovin on November 26, 2010 at 2:51 PM

12 stitches in his lip. Hummm.

Electrongod on November 26, 2010 at 3:14 PM

Jus’ kiddin’…I couldn’t help myself. I am sure the POTUS had ample ObamaCare.

d1carter on November 26, 2010 at 3:11 PM

Except he no longer has any tonsils.

Electrongod on November 26, 2010 at 3:16 PM

Brilliant…just brilliant! All Americans should watch this series!

stonemeister on November 26, 2010 at 3:20 PM

You know what Obama’s B-ball opponent said? “Don’t give me any lip!”

stonemeister on November 26, 2010 at 3:21 PM

I think he’s missing the point regarding culture. The anti-American charge is that America is culturally shallow. Saying that we provide the most popular movies and music wouldn’t address this if the movies and music in question are shallow and base (as I think they are, at least more often than not).

In my opinion, the problem with this charge is that America was planned, while most other countries grew. The difference in culture between a planned society and (forgive the term) an organic one could easily mislead one to think that the latter is automatically deeper than the former. I live in Europe, where the cities and towns slowly grew out from a central place, usually a church, with streets curving all over the place, changing names every few blocks, etc. But I’m from southeast Portland, which was planned incredibly well: most of it is in a checkerboard pattern with the streets running directly east-west or north-south. So again, one could see the charm in the European cities where the streets have no rhyme or reason to them and think a well-planned city like Portland lacks this charm. I respectfully disagree. Charm or depth or “culture” are not quantifiable terms. Different places simply have different charm. If you like the charm in Europe better than the States, by all means, come on over. As for me, I’m looking forward to the day I get to return to civilization.

JS on November 26, 2010 at 3:25 PM

I’m sure England, Greece and Rome (during the Holy Roman Empire) also believed they were exceptional.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:33 PM

Great video but this guys voice reminds me of Harry Reid.

brewcrew67 on November 26, 2010 at 3:35 PM

I’m sure England, Greece and Rome (during the Holy Roman Empire) also believed they were exceptional.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:33 PM

They were, then… he addresses that.

cartooner on November 26, 2010 at 3:39 PM

I’m sure England, Greece and Rome (during the Holy Roman Empire) also believed they were exceptional.

Well that’s probably because they were. Ancient Rome and Greece were two of the most exceptional civilizations that ever existed; just look at their literary and philosophical output, and their continuing effect after they collapsed. The British Empire was pretty high up on the list too. That doesn’t negate Whittle’s point that America is even more exceptional than the other exceptional civilizations.

JS on November 26, 2010 at 3:40 PM

12 stitches in his lip. Hummm.

Electrongod on November 26, 2010 at 3:14 PM

With any luck, they stitched the upper lip to the lower lip.

IrishEi on November 26, 2010 at 3:44 PM

I’m sure England, Greece and Rome (during the Holy Roman Empire) also believed they were exceptional.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:33 PM
They were, then… he addresses that.

cartooner on November 26, 2010 at 3:39 PM

He really doesn’t. And he’s just wrong about the US being, on a relative basis, the greatest military and economic power in the world in history if you are using as a basis the known world at any time.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:54 PM

I’m sure England, Greece and Rome (during the Holy Roman Empire) also believed they were exceptional.
Well that’s probably because they were. Ancient Rome and Greece were two of the most exceptional civilizations that ever existed; just look at their literary and philosophical output, and their continuing effect after they collapsed. The British Empire was pretty high up on the list too. That doesn’t negate Whittle’s point that America is even more exceptional than the other exceptional civilizations.

JS on November 26, 2010 at 3:40 PM

I believe that countries come into dominance and then lose that dominance in the course of time almost as a matter of fact. It takes the right mix of resources and opportunities and people able to exploit them. But no country has a lock on those things.

Companies don’t stay at the top of their industries for very long–look at the largest and most profitable companies 50 years ago and compare that list to the largest and most profitable companies today. Why should countries be different?

Sorry; I think anyone who believes that the US is and will stay exceptional is just not familar with history.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Sorry; I think anyone who believes that the US is and will stay exceptional is just not familar with history.

Being exceptional and staying exceptional are two different issues. The only one being argued here is the first.

JS on November 26, 2010 at 4:14 PM

That was amazing. I want to show it to all of my liberal friends.

I want a copy of the DVD for Christmas. How much do they cost?

Theophile on November 26, 2010 at 4:22 PM

Sorry; I think anyone who believes that the US is and will stay exceptional is just not familar with history.

I believe Whittle’s point is that we expect to stay exceptional, we need to make it happen. If you just let things happen, good things usually don’t. Entropy aside, when you have forces actively trying to tear down the good thing that we’ve as a nation built up, you must actively support and defend it. If you’d like to argue that eventually all civilizations crumble, go right ahead, perhaps they do and we’re eventually doomed. Personally, I agree with Whittle that we need to put that possibility (or eventuality if you prefer) off for as long as humanly possible.

Bob's Kid on November 26, 2010 at 4:27 PM

I believe Whittle’s point is that we expect to stay exceptional, we need to make it happen. If you just let things happen, good things usually don’t. Entropy aside, when you have forces actively trying to tear down the good thing that we’ve as a nation built up, you must actively support and defend it. If you’d like to argue that eventually all civilizations crumble, go right ahead, perhaps they do and we’re eventually doomed. Personally, I agree with Whittle that we need to put that possibility (or eventuality if you prefer) off for as long as humanly possible.

Bob’s Kid on November 26, 2010 at 4:27 PM

You’re (and Whittle’s) assuming that to do that is significantly within our control. That takes the actions of other countries mostly out of the equation. Does that make sense to you?

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

Sorry; I think anyone who believes that the US is and will stay exceptional is just not familar with history.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Clearly we live in a Pax Americana. You don’t dispute that do you? I agree that it is not fated to last forever.

The city-state Athens discovered self-government and the rule of law, unleashing a creative period in the 5th century unmatched in history. Leaders like Themistocles took on the might of Persia at Artemisium and Salamis and smashed much larger forces.

Athens tragic mistake was taking the defensive Delian alliance of independent Greek states and transform it into an empire to serve Athenian whims.

Rome ascended as a republic of free citizen farmers, disciplined and devoted to protecting their republican liberty. Once they defeated Carthage, foreign policy became conquest for conquest sake. The army of volunteer militia was overwhelmed by the task of offensive wars and imperial defense. The rise of the permanent army and strong-men generals spelled the end of the republic in substance. Welfare for ex-farmers and increased economic controls spelled the end of the Pax Romana.

England rose to prominence in the 17th century as a constitutional monarchy or commercial “republic.” It respected private property. Its merchants, bankers, and merchant marine helped create a global capitalist empire. Technologically Great Britain led the world from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries. Its embrace of welfarism and socialist planned economy after WWII marked the end of its exceptionalism.

If the United States can return to its limited government, natural law-individual rights roots as Whittle mentions, it will be the dynamic torch of liberty it has been: an “empire” of free peoples. There is no expiration date on fundamentally true and sound ideas.

AshleyTKing on November 26, 2010 at 5:02 PM

Clearly we live in a Pax Americana. You don’t dispute that do you? I agree that it is not fated to last forever.

The city-state Athens discovered self-government and the rule of law, unleashing a creative period in the 5th century unmatched in history. Leaders like Themistocles took on the might of Persia at Artemisium and Salamis and smashed much larger forces.

Athens tragic mistake was taking the defensive Delian alliance of independent Greek states and transform it into an empire to serve Athenian whims.

Rome ascended as a republic of free citizen farmers, disciplined and devoted to protecting their republican liberty. Once they defeated Carthage, foreign policy became conquest for conquest sake. The army of volunteer militia was overwhelmed by the task of offensive wars and imperial defense. The rise of the permanent army and strong-men generals spelled the end of the republic in substance. Welfare for ex-farmers and increased economic controls spelled the end of the Pax Romana.

England rose to prominence in the 17th century as a constitutional monarchy or commercial “republic.” It respected private property. Its merchants, bankers, and merchant marine helped create a global capitalist empire. Technologically Great Britain led the world from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries. Its embrace of welfarism and socialist planned economy after WWII marked the end of its exceptionalism.

If the United States can return to its limited government, natural law-individual rights roots as Whittle mentions, it will be the dynamic torch of liberty it has been: an “empire” of free peoples. There is no expiration date on fundamentally true and sound ideas.

AshleyTKing on November 26, 2010 at 5:02 PM

I don’t dispute that we’re in Pax Americana.

I would dispute that England’s embrace of welfarism and socialism after WWII is what caused its downfall. England was giving up, or in the process of giving up, territories well before WWII.

I also think Whittle is inconsistent: he thinks that American mass media is one of the things that we are exceptional in, yet wants to change some of that by producing movies with different values than have generally been produced by Hollywood.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 5:29 PM

You’re (and Whittle’s) assuming that to do that is significantly within our control. That takes the actions of other countries mostly out of the equation. Does that make sense to you?

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

Yes great civilizations do not fall from foreign attack, until it has fallen from internal rot. It was Bread and Circus that brought Rome down, not barbarians.

Slowburn on November 26, 2010 at 5:41 PM

I would dispute that England’s embrace of welfarism and socialism after WWII is what caused its downfall. England was giving up, or in the process of giving up, territories well before WWII.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 5:29 PM

True. Wanting to be brief, I picked a date. Britain was at the front of the “give Hitler a chance to prove he is a man of peace” movement until Churchill was finally elected, almost too late.

True, all those are not necessarily great or good movies. But Bollywood has a way to go just to have a fraction of the global impact.

Personally, I believe in exceptionalism because I believe the Declaration is exceptional. I don’t care for bases all over the world or Eminem either.

AshleyTKing on November 26, 2010 at 5:45 PM

Sorry; I think anyone who believes that the US is and will stay exceptional is just not familar with history.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 3:59 PM

I think the previous empires either failed to realize what it was that made them exceptional or failed to continue it.

A while back, some conservative accused Øbama of wanting to make the US into Norway. The Daily Show sent a correspondent to Norway to ask people on the street what it was like to live there. Of course, they all said it was great.

The US will lose its exceptionalism if we fall into the trap of envying the socialism of other countries and not realizing it is capitalism and small government that made us better than them.

Kafir on November 26, 2010 at 6:02 PM

Jimbo, you wanna make those same comments in China, Russia, or any number of other countries where speech is controlled?

Rejoice, then in America. And support her.

Caststeel on November 26, 2010 at 6:21 PM

I would dispute that England’s embrace of welfarism and socialism after WWII is what caused its downfall. England was giving up, or in the process of giving up, territories well before WWII.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 5:29 PM

Giving up territories aside, socialism is the end of the line, for Britain or for us: please check your human potential, creativity, dynamism, and wealth at the door.

AshleyTKing on November 26, 2010 at 6:34 PM

Whittle/Palin 2012

mizflame98 on November 26, 2010 at 6:45 PM

He forgot the number one reason why America is great…we elected Barack Hussein Obama…mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm.

OxyCon on November 26, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Jimbo, you wanna make those same comments in China, Russia, or any number of other countries where speech is controlled?

Rejoice, then in America. And support her.

Caststeel on November 26, 2010 at 6:21 PM

I support her. I won’t lie for her.

Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 11:24 PM

America is wounded, cut by the thousand snips of nanny-statism. Yet the people can reverse this trend and reestablish an aura of free will. I am not a believer in predestination, either for good or evil. The individual choices we each make can affect the final outcome, particularly if we band together and express our wishes.

“The future is not fixed; it is what we make of it.”

GnuBreed on November 26, 2010 at 11:49 PM

The moment the bread and circuses kick in, there goes your exceptional advantage. The Chinese have made the gains they’ve made only by shaking off their commitment to bread and circuses. While our leaders are still committed to same, we are hobbled in pursuing said exceptionalism. We penalize exceptionalism with higher taxes and lower benefits. It will therefore leave here and go elsewhere, absent some countervailing influence.

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM

I support her. I won’t lie for her.
Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 11:24 PM

In what way do you support her? And who is lying? Is a difference of opinion a lie? Seriously, I’d like to know.

Mae on November 27, 2010 at 3:34 AM

Sounds like a lot of people here on the site are trying to be the smartest person in the room. Take Whittle’s message for what it simply is: What We Believe. The “we” he speaks about is a number that needs to be increased– hence his video series. This is not a treatise on how to correct the obvious challenges that face American culture. Instead, it is a needed statement of the obvious to inform the ignorant (read Obama) about what makes America great. I enjoyed the series very much, and plan to buy copies for a few of my friendly liberal acquaintances.

gajaw999 on November 27, 2010 at 4:45 AM

The cultural part is very poorly argued. Of his list of top-grossing movies, many are adaptations from British literature and many are terrible. “Gross” is an economic indicator. He’d have been better off using the American Film Institute’s Top 100. However cultural dominance is not cultural exceptionalism. The fact taht everyone in the world is prepared to watch bad films produced in American studios tells us precisely nothing.

As for “Small Government” and “Legal Immigration” – America is not distinguished by these things so much as by their absence. How can somebody say with a straight face that America is special because of the way people only immigrate there legally? America is exceptional, historically and contemporarily, in its blanket allowance of illegal immigration – with bipartisan support for open borders ideology. Get a clue, Bill.

aengus on November 27, 2010 at 8:54 AM

Sounds like a lot of people here on the site are trying to be the smartest person in the room. Take Whittle’s message for what it simply is: What We Believe.

Whittle casts too wide a net. If he wasn’t broadly aiming for the belief that America is greater in every single way than every other country in history he wouldn’t fall flat on his face. Next up he’ll be even be claiming that America leads the world in modesty and humility.

aengus on November 27, 2010 at 8:59 AM

Bill Whittle always hits it out of the park, even back in the days when it was all just text on ejectejecteject.com.

It takes some time to read through, or listen to entire articles/videos of his, but he makes very good points, and articulates those things that many of us believe without being able to explain.

NavyspyII on November 27, 2010 at 11:04 AM

I support her. I won’t lie for her.
Jimbo3 on November 26, 2010 at 11:24 PM
In what way do you support her? And who is lying? Is a difference of opinion a lie? Seriously, I’d like to know.

Mae on November 27, 2010 at 3:34 AM

I think he’s factually wrong on the US being the greatest military nation ever (if you use the known world at the time as the basis). I also think he’s factually wrong on the US having the greatest relative GNP ever.

Jimbo3 on November 27, 2010 at 11:58 AM

I think he’s factually wrong on the US being the greatest military nation ever (if you use the known world at the time as the basis). I also think he’s factually wrong on the US having the greatest relative GNP ever.

Jimbo3 on November 27, 2010 at 11:58 AM

Ok, who is the greatest military nation ever, and who did have the greatest relative GNP ever. Let’s see your analysis of what is a subjective statement.

For military power, I offer that the United States could defeat the Roman Empire with one nuke and zero men lost. And if you want to go down to the human level, one United States infantry soldier could defeat an entire legion of Roman infantry. The Romans wouldn’t even be secure in their camp at night.

As for GNP, I submit that one American worker is worth, in terms of goods produced, several thousand Roman workers, even if that single American worker used 1930′s technology.

Of course, we have this from Wikipedia with a claim, without analysis, from an economist of the World Bank, that the Byzantine Empire, at its greatest economic extent, may have had a GNP greater than that of the United States (after currency and inflation adjustments).

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2010 at 2:02 PM

GNP is not an objective measure of national utility. For instance you can increase your GNP by going into debt but it’s not a good idea.

For military power, I offer that the United States could defeat the Roman Empire with one nuke and zero men lost.

The US could defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan with one nuke and zero men lost.

aengus on November 27, 2010 at 2:21 PM

Ok, who is the greatest military nation ever, and who did have the greatest relative GNP ever. Let’s see your analysis of what is a subjective statement.

For military power, I offer that the United States could defeat the Roman Empire with one nuke and zero men lost. And if you want to go down to the human level, one United States infantry soldier could defeat an entire legion of Roman infantry. The Romans wouldn’t even be secure in their camp at night.

As for GNP, I submit that one American worker is worth, in terms of goods produced, several thousand Roman workers, even if that single American worker used 1930′s technology.

Of course, we have this from Wikipedia with a claim, without analysis, from an economist of the World Bank, that the Byzantine Empire, at its greatest economic extent, may have had a GNP greater than that of the United States (after currency and inflation adjustments).

unclesmrgol on November 27, 2010 at 2:02 PM

That’s like saying that the South could have defeated the North if it had gone forward in time and brought back a nuclear weapon.

“Relative” is relative to the conditions and economy that then existed.

Jimbo3 on November 27, 2010 at 2:34 PM

Fantastic.

12thman on November 27, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Jimbo3 on November 27, 2010 at 2:34 PM

I admire your patriotism and candor.

Inanemergencydial on November 27, 2010 at 7:18 PM