Joseph Stalin

War of words

| At the end of his address to the nation on Syria, President Obama wrapped himself in the concept of American exceptionalism as his final argument:

America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Putin with an adorable puppy

The next day an op-ed by Vladimir Putin appeared in the NYTimes  in which Putin chastised the President for his claim that the US is "exceptional" saying "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation."

In the wake of that statment, patriots (ie zealots) by the score rushed to the microphone to issue a resounding "Are-so-exceptional" and by-the-way "mind-your-own-beeswax."

It was a display of exceptional non-maturity.

Today, Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post revealed that term originated with none other than Joseph Stalin!

...The phrase was first coined by Putin’s long-ago predecessor, Joseph Stalin. Its origins stretch back to 1927, when a prominent American communist, Jay Lovestone, suggested that capitalism was so advanced in the United States that it would preclude a communist revolution here. Stalin would have none of it, attacking “the heresy of American exceptionalism” and affirming the historical inevitability of Marx’s triumph of the proletariat.

WashingtonPost, 23-Sep-2013

Although the idea that American is somehow "exceptional" can be traced to de Toqueville, the term "American exceptionalism" did not become commonplace until after Stalin's usage. (Wikipedia).

You'll recall that one of the great charges against Obama, right after "he's not a real American" was that he didn't believe in American exceptionalism. Mitt Romney made frequent use of that canard.

Myself, I've always thought that this "we're exceptional" nonsense is one of the least attractive traits in the American character. It seems the basis of our throwing our weight around all over the world, engendering resentment and dislike.

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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