Much is made of American “exceptionalism,” most recently by Vladimir Putin in his recent opinion piece in the New York Times.
It’s a bit of a fuzzy term, used variously by different commentators. It may apply only to our great expanse of natural resources. Some point to a distinct system of civil liberties and rugged individualism. Others see a religious aspect.
New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg adds a bit of history I did not realize. Let him tell it:
“But there’s a nice wrinkle. Back in 1927, Jay Lovestone, then a bigwig in the Communist Party U.S.A. (and later the guru of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s anti-Communist activities abroad), tried to explain to the Comrades in the Kremlin that there were reasons why America was stony ground for Bolshevism. You know, things like the safety valve of the frontier, the siren song of America’s egalitarian civic religion, the relative prosperity of American workers, and the vitality of U.S. capitalism. Lovestone argued that it might be better to try building opportunistic coalitions with “bourgeois” reformers than to go directly to violent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Comintern was not pleased. On Stalin’s orders, Lovestone was expelled from the C.P.U.S.A. for what was termed, as translated from the Russian, “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” This was the phrase’s coinage, its first known use.
“’American exceptionalism’ was Moscow’s idea. So quit complaining, Vladimir.”
Not sure how long Hertzberg’s commentary will stay available: