This week, America celebrated Constitution Week, which commemorates the decision on September 17th, 1787 to report out of the Congress and (11 days later) submit the draft Constitution to the states for ratification. This magnificent document, which became the blueprint for creating a functioning United States of America, was ratified by nine states (the minimum number required for adoption) the following June.
It is within this single document that the true meaning of “American exceptionalism” is to be found.
The term “American exceptionalism” has been bandied about with frequency since September 11, 2001. Often, the term is employed in conjunction with references to America’s military might, especially in the context of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. To other pundits, the term invokes visions of God’s hand in creating and preserving our nation. To still others, American exceptionalism is personified by the capitalism that permitted American businesses and manufacturers to bring American products — from earth-moving machines and automobiles to chocolate bars and soft drinks — to the most remote corners of the globe.
Yet all these and other tangible measures of America’s exceptional strength have one thing in common: they owe their existence to the one principle embodied in our Constitution, something found in no other national governing document.
Our Constitution created a government of limited power and — even more important — created enforceable mechanisms that empower the people to ensure the government remains one of limited power. This profound concept, in which those forming a government deliberately limited the powers it would enjoy, was unique in 1787 and is unique today, 224 years later.
But what a difference 224 years can make.
For most of those 224 years — in fact, for every one of those 224 years — our federal government has relentlessly sought to gain the powers our founders fought so hard to keep from it. This reflects the very nature of government so well understood by our founders: that government invariably seeks to increase its power and control over those it governs.
Distressingly, with only occasional exceptions, government has won this battle and the people have lost. Which is why today we have a government that regulates everything from commodes to light bulbs, and criminalizes untold thousands of actions by individuals and businesses. It also accounts for our massively bloated federal bureaucracy and nearly $15 trillion national debt.
This situation is precisely the reason why we should never slacken efforts to roll back unconstitutional government actions, and not permit ourselves to be distracted by appeals to false patriotism or craven politics. American exceptionalism is embodied within the Constitution of the United States, not in the outward and tangible evidence of our nation’s strength. In order to preserve what is left of American exceptionalism, this effort must be undertaken every week, not just one week each year.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.