Saturday, February 27, 2010

Or just another country

This week's National Review cover story by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru -- which amounts to the claim that Barack Obama likes furriners too much -- has generated a lot of web commentary. One issue has escaped notice. Consider the following paragraphs --

To find the roots of American exceptionalism, you have to start at the beginning — or even before the beginning. They go back to our mother country. Historian Alan Macfarlane argues that England never had a peasantry in the way that other European countries did, or as extensive an established church, or as powerful a monarchy. English society thus had a more individualistic cast than the rest of Europe, which was centralized, hierarchical, and feudal by comparison.

It was, to simplify, the most individualistic elements of En­glish society — basically, dissenting low-church Protestants — who came to the eastern seaboard of North America. And the most liberal fringe of English political thought, the anti-court “country” Whigs and republican theorists such as James Harrington, came to predominate here. All of this made Amer­ica an outlier compared with England, which was an outlier compared with Europe. The U.S. was the spawn of English liberalism, fated to carry it out to its logical conclusion and become the most liberal polity ever known to man.

This is an elemental confusion of "England" with Britain and Ireland, the actual countries from which the USA's intellectual inspiration and a big chunk of its early European population came. When you miss that distinction, you miss the role of established church vs the others, the forced emigration from Scotland and Ireland, the anti-Catholicism and the Catholicism, the republicans, the puritans, the peasants, the escape from feudalism. In short, you miss a whole lot about America. But they're the ones saying that Obama is not American enough.

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