A recent posting by Newt Gingrich on this subject inspired me to write something about why I think America appears to be an exceptional nation and what it means.
The most obvious thing that makes America seem exceptional has been its status as the “Land of Opportunity.” People from all over the world have always flocked to America seeking economic opportunity they could not find in their native lands. England and European countries often had rigid class structures that locked people into certain kinds of jobs and locked them out of others. The idea of your economic opportunity being limited by class or race or political affiliation is oppressive, and a land where you are only limited by ability, drive, and luck is exhilarating. America has never been perfect in this regard, but the fact that it has always been seen as much better than most other nations is reflected in our history of immigration, which continues. So the top-level characteristic that makes America exceptional is economic opportunity founded on private property, freedom of contract, and free enterprise.
This top level rests on our form of government, which is a Constitutional Federal Republic. This system constitutes a government of law, rather than a government of men, and embodies an elaborate set of checks and balances making it difficult for a faction to gain control of the governmental power for their economic benefit. It is not a monarchy, dictatorship, or democracy. This form gives people security in their property and freedom to compete economically, and has resulted in a level of prosperity and liberty seldom seen.
Because of their success, these top two layers have been copied in many countries with varying degrees of success. We have even tried to impose them on other countries following wars, again with varying success. Furthermore, we see these features of our country eroding at home. Arbitrary government grows and economic opportunity shrinks under both political parties. Why is this?
The reason has to do with the third layer, which is the foundation to the systems of government and economics, the religious layer. The top two layers were built on a Biblical World View owing to the strong Protestantism of the Founders. In this view, God is above all human institutions and man is individually accountable to God. God’s moral law is known and applicable to both the individual and government. This makes collectivist ideas of society and unlimited government untenable. We would like to think that limited government and free enterprise could be built on any religious foundation, but this goes against both reason and experience. If America continues on her path of religious apostasy she will lose both her political liberty and economic prosperity as we plainly see happening today.
In the larger picture, America is but one link in the chain of Christianity, whereby God is unfolding His plan in history. Italy, France, Germany and England have been “exceptional” links in the past as America still is today. If America falls it will be a nightmare. But the plan of God will continue to unfold in another exceptional nation.