Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Kevin: Again, nowadays one can turn on talk radio, this current show excepted, virtually any day of the week and hear Limbaugh and Levin and so on complaining that the United States isn’t intervening directly in Syria, isn’t sending an army back to Iraq, isn’t doing anything about what happened in Crimea and so on. Again, Limbaugh often says: President Obama doesn’t want America to be a superpower, as if that were a bad thing. I don’t want America to be a superpower either. What has it led to? It’s led to your wife being groped at the airport and all your emails being read and another $3 trillion in debt. I’ve had several students who had been to Iraq and had PTSD. And, of course, the Middle East is full of people who would be perfectly happy to come blow themselves up as long as they could kill you in the process. Mike: I asked Professor Gutzman to come on the program today and talk about his latest at NomocracyInPolitics.“ Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: In today’s Pile of Prep is the following “American Exceptionalism, Anyone?” authored by Kevin Gutzman, 30 June 2014. I asked Professor Gutzman to come on the program today and talk about his latest at NomocracyInPolitics.
Kevin Gutzman: Generally when one hears the term “American exceptionalism” it’s because somebody is unhappy that, as Limbaugh likes to say, Obama is opposed to the idea, that he doesn’t want America to be a superpower. Of course, the implication here is that one element of American exceptionalism is that America is a superpower. As I show in the essay, actually the idea of being a superpower would be America can go along as not American exceptionalism. It would just show that the United States had entered into the great power game like everybody else. There’s nothing notably exceptional about that at all.
I point out in the essay that there’s a great book by Hendrickson called Peace Pact in which he demonstrates that one of the chief motivations, if not the chief motivation, for creating the U.S. Constitution was to make the United States an exception to the general rule that countries competed with each other militarily to see which could be the great power. Essentially the current neocon-influenced impulse in the Republican Party to continue to have the U.S. intervene everywhere in the world whenever anything happens would be unexceptional. It would be essentially a betrayal of the idea that the United States should be exceptional. I think most people who use the term American exceptionalism nowadays, Charles Krauthammer for example, who’s been talking about it very loudly in the last couple of weeks, are doing so in a way that really is completely contrary to the original idea of American exceptionalism.
The bottom line is, America was supposed to be exceptional in one major way, and that was that it would not be playing the great power game, it would not be competing with France and Austria, Prussia, Russia, Britain to see which could be the most important country militarily. The reason for that was that if you got into that game, you’d have more taxes, more centralization of authority, more power in the executive, more secrecy in government, more dead soldiers, more death, more taxes, the whole gamut of negative consequences that we’ve seen flow from, oh, I don’t know, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the last 15 years.
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Murray, unfortunately, although his essay, pamphlet, little book, whatever you want to call it, is really outstanding in showing what the traditional elements of the idea of American exceptionalism were, it does, in a kind of throwaway line toward the end of the book, say: Of course, America is exceptional still in a couple of ways. One is that it’s still the greatest military power. Another one is that Americans generally accept what the Supreme Court says about the Constitution. These, it seems to me, are errors in Murray’s book. Of course, when it comes to the Supreme Court’s role, yes, America was going to be exceptional in having a written constitution that would limit the power of people in government. Of course, what that has morphed into in our day is that Americans are exceptional in their willingness to accept that federal judges could negate republican statutes regardless of their relationship to the Constitution. This is completely contrary, as is the military element of what he describes. This is completely contrary to the original idea of American exceptionalism.
Mike: It certainly is. I actually caught that part of Murray’s book at the end. Then I got to the end and was looking at the end notes and realized he had written it under the guidance or using the publication arm of the American Enterprise Institute, of which John Bolton is one of their premier members. Maybe Murray had his arm twisted. They went: Hey, there’s nothing in there about military supremacy at the end. Add that, Charles. Maybe Krauthammer actually wrote that chapter and Murray just kind of turned it in.
As you pointed out, he does a pretty good job of setting out the terms, as you did in your essay, of we were going to be exceptional because we were actually going to write down a constitution and we were going to take oaths to it and try to limit what our governments could do by saying we were going to pledge obedience and live under the ratified intent, not only of the U.S. Constitution, Kevin, but the constitution of the State of Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia. They all had written constitutions. Each member would not only take a vow to the U.S. Constitution but to that state constitution as well.
So the experiment was that we’re going to give this a go. We’re not going to have an aristocratic chain, as you pointed out, and titles of nobility and what have you. We’re just going to try to have the rule of law as it is written. We’re going to try to limit the power of government, which they knew throughout history had been abused, and still is abused today. We’re going to try to limit it by saying this is what’s going to make this particular attempt here exceptional. It’s sad.
As I pointed out earlier today, Kevin, one of the few people that we can point to in the early days of the 21st century that actually took that idea seriously and was just pilloried for it, and he’s still pilloried today, Congressman Ron Paul. He actually said we have a written constitution. We’re not supposed to print medals of freedom. There’s nothing in the Constitution that authorizes us to do that so I’m going to vote against it. He is still, as I said, pilloried and ridiculed for it. Even when we have an instance where we can say: Okay, if you want to live under the founders’ constitution, you ought to be a devotee of Congressman Paul. The first thing that comes up is, [mocking] “What about the foreign policy? He’s a kook and a quack.” As you point out, there are two great pieces of written documentary evidence that we can turn to when it comes to foreign policy and the drafters’ and framers’ view of that. I’ll let you run with what those two are and what we ought to take away from them.
Gutzman: Of course, the chief illustrations of the foreign policy of the people who led the country in the earliest days are George Washington’s farewell address and Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural. Although by that point it was generally accepted that Washington was the leading Federalist and Jefferson was the leading Republican, the two of them agreed in saying, as Washington said, that the United States should stay out of foreign broils, shouldn’t have foreign friends because if you had foreign countries as friends, you got all their enemies and ended up in all their wars. The way Jefferson put it in his first inaugural was that we should have peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none. This is what would make America exceptional. This actually was American foreign policy down to World War II.
Again, nowadays one can turn on talk radio, this current show excepted, virtually any day of the week and hear Limbaugh and Levin and so on complaining that the United States isn’t intervening directly in Syria, isn’t sending an army back to Iraq, isn’t doing anything about what happened in Crimea and so on. Again, Limbaugh often says: President Obama doesn’t want America to be a superpower, as if that were a bad thing. I don’t want America to be a superpower either. What has it led to? It’s led to your wife being groped at the airport and all your emails being read and another $3 trillion in debt. I’ve had several students who had been to Iraq and had PTSD. And, of course, the Middle East is full of people who would be perfectly happy to come blow themselves up as long as they could kill you in the process. Why is that? Well, it’s because we haven’t followed the exceptional foreign policy that Washington and Jefferson had in mind.
Again, Murray, in his booklet, does not make this the sole element of American exceptionalism. In fact, virtually everything he says about American exceptionalism I agree with. It just happens that at the end he makes this big mistake. I had to point it out. I would say generally, however, in case people are getting the wrong impression, I think Murray is one of the two or three most brilliant people writing about public affairs in the last 30 years. He’s definitely worth reading, anything he’s written. Losing Ground was a brilliant work that was central to the debate about welfare in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, ultimately leading to the abolition of federal welfare when Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Anything you want to read by Charles Murray is worth reading, including this pamphlet, despite the fact that he makes this major error at the end.
Mike: We’ve had Dr. Murray on the program and talked to him about Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010. It’s just chock full — you could spend an entire year reading that and then going back over the footnotesand reading some of the works that he drew from. His statistical research, the way he presents it in Coming Apart is irrefutable. The only way you can refute it would be to say: I agree with it, but I still think we ought to do it. That’s not really a refutation. The case that he presents is very solid. The manner in which he presents it, as you point out, is compelling. It’s compelling reading, kind of like James Madison and the Making of America is compelling reading.
Gutzman: I appreciate the comparison. I’m not sure I would make that comparison myself….
Read the rest in Pt II of my interview with Kevin Gutzman on American Exceptionalism HERE
End Mike Church Show Transcript