Essay — American Exceptionalism

In commemoration of Ronald Reagan, as we celebrate is 100th birthday.
An exceptional leader who believed in the American ideal.

I was riding in a bus between Mozyr and Honiki though a mostly uninhabited area, due to the radio active fallout from the Chernobyl disaster. When we did stop at a small village we were surprised to be violently confronted by an elderly lady prepared to take on the world. Stick in hand, she told us to go back… When we explained we were not orange shirt Ukrainians here to overthrow the government, but Americans, the stick came down, and she welcomed us openly.

I sure was glad I wasn’t from the Ukraine right then, I didn’t yearn for a beating from an elderly Belorussian any more than you would. But it meant more than just that. It was a history we were touching. Another elderly woman we met there was freed from a concentration camp by American soldiers during the second world war and implored us to thank a soldier at home. They admired America.

So what gave so many all over the world such respect for our nation? It all started with that group of men in Philadelphia over 200 years ago.

One of our founders, Jonathan Whitherspoon, recognized how different America was from the rest of the world and warned that: “A republic, once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.” (Congressional Record.)

To understand what made America Exceptional I must answer two questions: What is virtue? And: Where does it come from? Virtue is literally means moral excellence. (Virtue – Definition.)

Now what is moral has been perplexing and vexing philosophers and theologians for centuries. A commonly accepted understanding of morality is an absolute framework of right and wrong. Things such as murder, theft, and vandalism, are inherently immoral. But one thing that has been questioned even more is, where do we get our understanding of morality? Do we define it, or is there a supernatural God?

Atheists find the question of moral origin troubling. Charles Darwin attempted to explain morality by saying that it came about out of a social construct. That we are moral because we looked for approval from others for our own self interest (Darwin, Charles.) Yet even this explanation fails by its own standards. You see, the idea that we look for approval assumes that we already consider having the approval of others better than not having the approval of others. This implies good and bad. In other words, morality. Charles Darwin used circular reasoning to explain morality.

Yet morals have no true worth in themselves. Asking what morals are is kind of like asking, what is money? Money represents something of value. Morals work in a similar way. If there is nothing behind morals they are worthless. If Darwin was right and morals were just invented by us for our self interest, then morals would be inherently worthless.

But morals are worth something. We all know that inside. We see daily examples of immorality in the news and around us constantly, we know those things are wrong. The most basic morals are instilled in each of us.

In order for us to have morals, there must be a moral law and in order for us to have a moral law, there must be a moral law giver who is transcendent and all-knowing in order to give them any worth. God gives morals worth. God instils inside of each of us a keen sense of right and wrong. Charles Darwin does not. Just as the image of US presidents are put on the dollar, God’s image is stamped on us. Fortunately, we are not made in the image of Darwin, otherwise we would have big long beards and… never mind.

Therefore, morality is a the framework by which we determine whether an action is right or wrong. And that framework is provided by the transcendent God.

The reason America is great is because of the moral principles that founded it. Such as, the right to life, religion and freedom in general.

One of the most common things that makes America exceptional, is its foundation of freedom. After all, freedom is the reason why our founders left their homeland to start a new country in the new world. But, unfortunately we often misunderstand what freedom really is. Christian apologist and moral philosopher Michael Ramsden explains, “Freedom is not doing whatever you want whenever you want however you want to. That’s not freedom, that’s anarchy. If you want to live in a free world you must live in a world where there are various moral principles in effect, otherwise there is no freedom.” (Ramsden, Michael.)

Freedom is a moral concept. Freedom only truly works when we accept and obey the moral framework set up by God. Anarchy only seems like freedom for a short amount of time, and soon we find ourselves in the societal chains of abuse, theft and other immoral acts. Freedom was founded by morals, and freedom is preserved through morals.

Unfortunately, America in recent years has been drifting from those moral principles which founded it. Arthur Guiterman points to the heart of the matter in a witty yet convicting poem:

First dentistry was painless,
Then bicycles were chainless,
Carriages were horseless,
And many laws enforceless.

Next cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless,
And coffee caffeineless.

Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy was hatless,
The proper diet fatless.

New motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religion — godless.” (Guiterman, Arthur.)

If we are to preserve America and all that it stands for, we must preserve morality and the ideas that made America great.

A question was recently posed to me about whether or not America’s greatness is getting in the way of returning to moral principles. And I have come to the conclusion that the reason America is great is because it held those moral principles dear for so long. Now that we are drifting away from those principles, we are drifting away from the exceptional nation we are. Many of our problems today can be credited to diminishing morality in our nation.

Prince Hans-Adam II – the ruler of Lichtenstein – was recently asked: “If you could offer one sentence of advise to Americans, what would you say?” And the prince responded: “The world still needs you how you are.” (Robinson, Peter.) We must preserve America for the good of the world.

Those Belorussians think so too. If Americans stop believing in America we will cease to be exceptional. If we see our principles fall to their certain death, the American dream will go down with it.

But there is hope still if we preserve our virtue. I believe in America because I believe the next generation should live a better life than my own. I believe in America because I believe that the founding fathers had God guiding them. I believe in America because I believe its transcending principles can be the shinning light to the rest of the world. I believe in America because I believe in dreams past, present, and future. I believe in America because I believe.

We must either preserve our virtue or loose our liberty.

Works Cited

“Congressional Record – 110th Congress (2007-2008).” THOMAS (Library of Congress). 5 Nov. 2007. Web. 03 Jan. 2011. < /query/z?r110:H05NO7-0054:>

Darwin, Charles. “The Decent of Man — Chapter 5.” – The Online Literature Library. 1871. Web. <;.

Guiterman, Arthur. Gaily the Troubadour,. New York: E.P. Dutton &, 1936. Print.

Ramsden, Michael. “Calvary Chapel Q&A (Part 1 of 2).” Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Web. 03 Jan. 2011. <;.

“Virtue – Definition of Virtue by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.” Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus – The Free Dictionary. Web. 03 Jan. 2011. <;.


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