Monday, May 6, 2013
Jewish and American Exceptionalism
We have the facts, as best we can have them from the world media, about Israel's bombing inside Syrian terrirory of Iranian shipments of missiles bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. But, we may wonder, dear readers, not what but why. Why? We know that Barack Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu are not real friends,but logic demands that Obama and the American military both knew and approved of the Israeli airstrike. And perhaps the answer has its roots much deeper in the Jewish and American psyches than we consider. Throughout history, various groups of people have considered themselves as chosen people by a deity for a purpose, often to act as the deity's agent on earth. In monotheistic faiths, like Judaism, references to God are used in constructs such as "God's Chosen People." Modern anthropologists consider these claims as a form of ethnocentrism. Religious authorities would argue that this is unfounded. In the Hebrew Bible, (or the Tanakh) called the "Old Testament" by Christians, the "Treasured People" is the exact phrase used, referring to the Hebrews/ Israelites. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God, Yahweh, proclaims the Nation of Israel, known originally as the Children of Israel, as his "treasured people out of all the people on the face of the earth." The Book of Exodus says the Hebrew people are God's chosen people and from them will come the Messiah, or redeemer of the world. The Israelites also possess the "Word of God" and/or the "Law of God" in the form of the Torah as communicated by God to Moses. In Judaism, chosenness is the belief that the Jews are a people chosen to be in a covenant with God. This status carries both responsibilities and blessings as described in the Biblical covenants with God. While other groups since the Biblical Hebrews have considered themselves special, it has mostly been for political domination or territoriality - think the Roman Empire, Charlemagne, the British Empire, the Soviet Communists. But,American exceptionalism is the proposition that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy. It is not a notion that the United States is quantitatively better than other countries or that it has a superior culture, but rather that it is "qualitatively different." In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what has been called "the first new nation," and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire economic values. This observation can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as "exceptional" in 1831 and 1840. Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the Biblical shining " City upon a Hill" and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries. The ideas that created the American Revolution were derived from a tradition of republicanism - the idea that sovereignty is derived not from privileged classes and kings but from the people. Republicanism had been repudiated by the 18th century British philosophical establishment. The ideas really came out of the Revolutionary era. So too did our idea that Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy." Thomas Paine's Common Sense for the first time expressed the belief that America was not just an extension of Europe but a new land, a country of nearly unlimited potential and opportunity that had outgrown the British mother country. These sentiments laid the intellectual foundations for the Revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism and were closely tied to republicanism. The American Puritans believed God had made a covenant with their people and had chosen them to lead the other nations of the Earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop, was the first to metaphorically express this idea as a "City upon a Hill"—that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world. This metaphor is often used by Americans, including President Reagan who has become closely associated with the phrase. Puritan deep moralistic values remained part of the national identity of the United States for centuries, remaining influential to the present day. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, the end to my short history is that it could be that America and Israel feel a deep compatability that may not even be consciously felt -- the idea that they have been called to do special things for good in the world and that the only people who can understand and help is their friend and counterpart. America. Israel. Exceptional. Democracies. Republics.