Charles Murray on ‘American Exceptionalism’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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As you might have gathered from Jamie Weinstein’s post this morning, Charles Murray, famed and controversial social scientist and author of Losing Ground, The Bell Curve, and Coming Apart, is out with a short new book on American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History.

In the book, he argues that four traits were “central” to the evolution of our culture: Industriousness, egalitarianism, religiosity, and “an amalgam of philanthropy and volunteerism…” Murray and I chatted about these traits and more, recently (listen streaming audio of our full conversation here).

Egalitarianism, Murray explained, has been perverted to mean equality of outcomes. But the fact that America has never had an official class system — that we lacked “the paraphernalia of class” and “distinctive modes of dress” — was of huge importance. This belief in social mobility led Americans of differing economic levels to embrace the American dream. And that, in turn, made America less susceptible to socialism and Communism, etc. (as Murray notes, the term “American exceptionalism” was first coined by Joseph Stalin, who rejected the concept.)

In terms of philanthropy and volunteerism, Murray draws a key distinction between hospitality and neighborliness. Other nations are known for their hospitality to strangers, he explains, but neighborliness is something altogether different and more uniquely American. As Murray writes, “widespread mutual assistance among unrelated people who happen to live alongside each other has been rare.”

Listen to streaming audio of my full conversation with Charles Murray here or click the player below. And make sure to download the podcast on iTunes.

Matt K. Lewis