New Book: Charles Murray on American Exceptionalism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 11, 2013
CONTACT: [email protected], 202.862.5829

In a new book aimed at college students, best-selling political scientist Charles Murray distills what American exceptionalism means. Murray explains what has made America unique in the last two centuries and what has changed since its founding.

In "American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History," Murray notes that the concept of American exceptionalism is often associated today with emotions and value judgments: patriotic for some, jingoistic for others. But instead, Murray explains, American exceptionalism was a concept recognized not just by Americans, but also by foreigners at the time of the founding. Rather than implying excellence or superiority, the concept is a historical fact.

The idea refers to qualities first observed at the beginning of America's history, and whether it still applies today is an empirical question. But understanding its meaning is indispensable when thinking about the future of our country.
Murray outlines that America was exceptional from the founding through the 1800s because of:

  • An exceptional geographic setting with the Atlantic Ocean as a buffer, peaceful neighbors to the north and south, and available lands in the West-all of which contributed to the characteristics of the American ideal, as people making the arduous journey to America and then to the frontier self-selected as uniquely courageous and hardworking.

 

  • An exceptional ideology that was both optimistic, because the founders assumed that all humans possess birthrights that cannot be given or withheld by the state and acting in their own best interest will serve the public good, and pessimistic because the founders believed that humans acting in the political realm tend to be resourceful and dangerous. This produced our system of checks and balances.

 

  • Exceptional traits. The American civic culture made our country exceptional, specifically four elements of our culture: industriousness, egalitarianism, religiosity, and community life.

 

  • Exceptional politics. Unlike Europe, Americans never developed a worker's party. The country has never experienced class warfare. Murray notes that, ironically, the term "American exceptionalism" was first coined by Stalin.

Is America still exceptional? Murray writes that America still attracts more immigrants than any other country, and our economy remains the largest in the world. America has a democracy that grants its citizens more direct power to affect government policies than other countries do.

Yet that exceptionalism has eroded. Murray encourages the reader to ask: What changes have diminished American exceptionalism? Which are for the good? Which are to be mourned? Only in thinking through those answers can we determine America's future.

Click here to view a video about Charles' new book.
 
Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. One of his latest books, "Coming Apart," (2012) was a New York Times best-seller. Please e-mail [email protected] or call 202.862.5829 with interview requests.

This monograph is part of the Values & Capitalism initiative at the American Enterprise Institute. Intended primarily for college students, the series of 13 books is devoted to the study of the moral and material nature of competition and a free-market economy. The project's goal is to engage Christian students in a discussion of the compatibility of their faith and the system of free enterprise.

 

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