America is no longer the exceptional country it once was, says famed libertarian social scientist Charles Murray.
“The American personality is still recognizable around the world, but in most other ways we are becoming just another social democracy, obsessed with security, fearful of risk, and highly regulated,” Murray told The Daily Caller in an interview about his new monograph, “American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History.”
Murray, who is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of several influential and controversial books, says a”good case can be made” that America began to falter with the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
“The usual suspect, FDR, obviously began the American welfare state,” Murray said.
“But a good case can be made that the United States was still exceptional in most of the original ways at the time Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency. I continue to hold the views I expressed in ‘Losing Ground.’ The reforms of the 1960s disastrously changed the course of our civic culture, and in doing so destroyed much that made America exceptional.”
Though Murray says “[r]ace relations and the role of women in society are just two of the advances” that have coincided with the decline American exceptionalism, he argues that the two did not need to be associated.
The advances “did not require that we subvert the American project,” Murray said. “Actually, they represented, or should have represented, a more complete implementation of the American project. The way that we have bound even those improvements up in a suffocating web of government oversight needn’t have happened.”
In 2009, President Obama responded to a question about whether he believes in American exceptionalism with a much criticized answer. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” he said while at a NATO Summit in France.
Murray says Obama’s answer suggests he is ignorant of the meaning of American exceptionalism.
“American exceptionalism is not something you can choose to ‘believe in,’ any more than you can choose to ‘believe in’ the Oregon Trail,” Murray said. “It is a fact of American history. From the Founding through the 19th century, the ways in which America was exceptional, good and bad, were observed and written about by Europeans every bit as much as by Americans.”
See TheDC’s full interview with Murray below about his new monograph, the Stalinist origin of the term “American exceptionalism” and much more.
Why did you write the book?
It’s a monograph, actually, which the powers that be at AEI asked me to write as part of the “Values and Capitalism” series that AEI is producing for college students. A lot of the material in my book “Coming Apart” dealt with the ways in which America was historically exceptional, so I was a natural choice to write this monograph. And I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Where does the term American exceptionalism come from and what does it mean? I read recently that Josef Stalin was actually the first to ever use the term “American exceptionalism.” Is that true?
Yes. An American communist had argued that America’s peculiar civic culture made it exempt from Marx’s laws of history, which Stalin denounced as the heresy of “American exceptionalism.” But the idea that America was exceptional had been around since the Revolution.