Recently, I heard on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show a statement that american hubris is a serious problem for America. Her guest, Godfrey Hodgson, had recently written a book entitled “The Myth of American Exceptionalism” where he explains that the U.S. is not as exceptional as it often believes. As Mr. Hodgson was being interviewed by Ms. Rehm, the word “hubris,” as applied to America, was discussed with some detail.
I don’t know about you, but the word hubris is not a word that I use regularly. According to my dictionary, hubris is excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance. Well, I do agree that often times when listening/watching certain radio and television shows, usually the ones that are considered conservative, there does seem to be a “bit too much” pride or self-confidence expressed. Perhaps one general example of such “hubris” is when a politician says “God Bless America.” Though on the surface, there is nothing wrong with that for those who believe in God, it is often stated in a media that will be offered to the world. Wouldn’t it be better to at least say, “God Bless America AND the Rest of the World?”
Another statement that is often said is, “America has the best …”, where you can fill in the … with almost anything. Examples are “best education”, “best health care”, “best military”, “best life-style”, etc. I don’t know about you but I don’t think we have the best educational system. On almost all measuring instruments our educational system, especially when you consider education before college, is not the best. I really don’t believe our health care system is best when we have so many without healthcare insurance. And the list goes on and on and on….
What do you think?
Hi Ron –
First off, congratulations on the blog. I really appreciate what you’re doing here and admire your willingness to share your thoughts online. Your poem about your parents, posted on your website, was incredibly touching. I strongly suggest anyone reading this blog take a moment to view this poem. It’s extraordinary. Ron – please post more poetry.
Anyway, I felt compelled to comment on this posting.
Unfortunately, I think you are correct that we, as a society in the United States, have a tendency to believe in this myth of American Exceptionalism. There are a lot of people in this country whose worldview is comprised of America and (or even more frightening “America versus”) the rest of the world when, in my opinion, a more appropriate worldview is America as one nation in a larger global community. To me, an even more disturbing observation is that many people who espouse this belief in American Exceptionism have never traveled overseas or experienced anything more than their native country. Frankly, if one has never been abroad, one is unable in my mind to adequately opine on this subject. While America is great in many ways, there is so much more to this world of ours. One is really only able to understand and appreciate this by seeing it for one’s self.
More broadly, I really don’t understand the notion of being proud of what is essentially a biological accident. In other words, I see bumper stickers, t-shirts and like that display quotes like “Proud to be Irish”, for example. That notion always confuses me. If someone is proud of earning a PhD or their child’s achievement at school, as an example, that’s understandable. Presumably, this person worked word towards the achievement of said accomplishment. Accordingly, the sense of pride and joy at an accomplishment is understandable to me. But, being Irish (by the way, I’m partially of Irish decent) or being American is in some ways, the equivalent of winning the lottery. So, my question is where does the pride come into play?
While there’s no doubt that we live in a truly great country and I am extraordinarily happy (especially on this Inauguration Day) to live in a place where an African American like Barack Obama can come from nowhere to be elected President of the United States, I still struggle to understand this concept of American Exceptionalism. This may be the only country in the world (certainly one of a handful) where the “American Dream” of a man like Barack Obama is possible. However, in my mind, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we, as a people, are entitled to such an inflated view of ourselves (this hubris you mentioned).
Ultimately, I am both confident and hopeful that President Obama will pursue a more multilateral policy in our global village. May we see our global neighbors with new eyes starting today, show a willingness to listen to and respect the other great nations and peoples around the world, and put the hubris of American Exceptionalism in the dustbin of historic failures, where it belongs.
To this new day in an even better America,
Thank you Jesse for the well thought-out and well-written comment. I respect what you have written. R2
God Bless America!
God Bless America and may that blessing be shared throughout the world!