Stay in the Loop
BSR publishes on a weekly schedule, with an email newsletter every Wednesday and Thursday morning. There’s no paywall, and subscribing is always free.
I had made my students restless as I explained the singular nature of American Literature (false theology in the 17th Century, politics in the 18th, and no belles lettres to speak of until writers like Emerson, Whitman and Mark Twain showed up in the middle of the 19th). The Puritan theology, contending we were God’s special people, was the worse falsehood America ever subscribed to.
What the undereducated Putin doesn’t recognize is that almost all the European powers followed the same shabby faith as they expanded to rule the underdeveloped world: Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium all exploited the Third Worlders. Russia itself was on such a prowl at least since Peter the Great.
Putin has already forgotten the exceptionalism that Karl Marx wished on European culture but only Russia embraced so recklessly for three generations— say, from 1919 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Asian and Eastern Europeans are still trying to follow Putin’s exceptionalism, except that mostly their efforts are a flop, like the horrifying Assad-induced national suicide we’re observing in Syria. Such slow suicides have corrupted the world since its human beginnings, but today’s means are infinitely more damaging.
In such a hectic century— when exceptionalist Israelis bomb Syria because they fear an atom bomb and fantasize about doing the same against Iran— we must congratulate both Russia and America for reducing their atomic hoards. Exceptionally civilized, I’d say.
We need more of such responsible discourse. It makes you want to believe we will survive if exceptionalism finally becomes passé.♦
To read a related commentary by Robert Zaller, click here.
To read responses, click here.
Sign up for our newsletter
All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.