American Exceptionalism: Part I

Prof. Paul Eidelberg

This report is the first of a series in which I am going to extract parts of my just-finished book America’s Unknown Hebraic Republic: A Goal for the Almost-Chosen People. The goal will be described at the end of the series. This book marks the conclusion of some fifty years of research and writing on the foundational principles and structure of the American Republic, beginning with a trilogy on the Statesmanship of America’s Founding Fathers. Allow me a personal note.

My intellectual odyssey began with my doctoral dissertation, The Philosophy of the American Constitution, which was published by the Free Press in 1968. Professors Leo Strauss and Herbert Storing of the University of Chicago were my dissertation advisers. This first book was followed by A Discourse on Statesmanship published by the Illinois University Press in 1984, which was the first theoretical work on statesmanship based on The Federalist Papers and Aristotle’s Politics. My third book On the Silence if the Declaration of Independence was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1976, the bicentennial of that foundational document.

In that year I immigrated to Israel where I taught political science at Bar-Ilan University. Israel was of course the best venue in which to study the Judaic roots of the American Constitution and the Declaration. Thus, in 2000, I wrote Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fail, a book that was translated into Hebrew and Russian. Alas, Israeli statesmanship was disheartening, even funereal. Israel’s government was not only dysfunctional; appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the government had only the veneer of democracy. For example, the absence of constituency elections in Israel compels citizens to vote for national party lists rather than individual candidates, which enables Knesset Members, indeed the government, to ignore public opinion with impunity. If this were not enough to discredit the political system, the inordinate frequency of Israeli elections—the average duration of Israeli governments is only two years­—renders government policies haphazard and devoid of Jewish vision.

This prompted me in 1995 to establish The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy, one purpose of which was to show how Israel could be made more democratic by means of Jewish principles, and more Jewish by means of democratic principles. To this end it would be necessary to import the wisdom of America’s Founding Fathers on the one hand, and to revive the wisdom of the Jewish Sages on the other.

Hence, without ignoring the great merit of the founders of modern Israel (who facilitated the in-gathering of millions of Jews to the Promised Land), I proceeded to write several books on Judaic thought and institutions. Suffice to mention the most recent: A Jewish Philosophy of History (2004); The Myth of Israeli Democracy (2007); Toward a Renaissance of Israel and America (2009), An American Political Scientist in Israel (2010), and now the final book of this intellectual odyssey, America’s Unknown Hebraic Republic.

This last book has three interrelated objectives. One objective is to revive the foundational principles which made the United States of America the greatest nation on earth: the principles embodied in America’s Declaration of Independence and original Constitution. It is widely known that America is in a state of decline thanks largely to the multicultural relativism of its college-educated elite. This situation, however, is reversible. An uncorrupted and no longer silent majority of Americans has the will and spiritual values to restore American Exceptionalism, a concept discussed in the first chapter of my latest book.

The second objective is to revive the source of American Exceptionalism, namely Hebraic Exceptionalism. Unknown to most American, Christian Hebraists in Europe regarded the Hebraic Republic of antiquity as the most just and wisest polity in history, superior to those praised by Greek and Roman philosophers. This evaluation was shared by the presidents of various eighteenth-century American universities. It is extremely important for Jews to know this because their one and only homeland, Israel, is the only nation on earth threatened with extermination. The Jewish people need to know that what a matured Israel stands for, and what was manifested in the Hebraic Republic of antiquity, remains and will ever remain the fondest hope of mankind.

The third objective is to articulate the political and meta-political convictions that bond America and Israel, convictions concerning man’s God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—rights which necessitate limitations on the powers or functions of government. Public acknowledgement of these political and meta-political convictions will fortify the will of these two exceptional nations, not only to stand firm against their common foe—Islam’s global ambitions and its “we believe in death and you believe in life” mantra—but also prompt the West to roll back Islam’s deadly threat to civilization. I have written elsewhere about this common enemy, which can only advance by the default of decent nations. Hence ponder this prophetic epigram from Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm:

“It is my purpose … to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been avoided; how the malice of wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of democratic states, unless they are welded together into larger organisms, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to humble masses; how even in matters of self-presentation, no policy is pursued for even ten or fifteen years at a time. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course, adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster.”

Now let me mention Abraham Lincoln. On his way to his inauguration in Washington in February 1861, Lincoln stopped in Trenton and addressed the New Jersey State Senate. There he voiced these remarkable words: “I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be a humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost-chosen people …” This is the source of American Exceptionalism.

American Exceptionalism is rooted in the Declaration of Independence. Ponder these words of the Prologue:

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

The Preamble affirms the existence of a Creator-God, the God of the Hebrew Bible. The Preamble also affirms that all men are created equal, alluding to Genesis, which states that man is created in the image of God. This suggests that just as God is a creator in an infinite sense, man is a creator in a finite sense. This creativity made possible the political creativity of America’s Founding Fathers and American Exceptionalism.

I have yet to say a word about the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. Viewed in the context of the Bible, the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God was deemed the “moral law.” Christian Hebraists identified the Laws of Nature with the Seven Noahide Laws of Universal Morality. We must also emphasize the “Peroration” of the Declaration of Independence, where its 56 signers appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of [their] intentions,” and whose final sentence speaks of their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” The Peroration clearly confirms that the Declaration is a theistic, not a Deistic document. The Declaration of Independence thus embodies not only a political philosophy, as is generally understood, but a political theology. This warrants our inquiry into the Hebraic roots of the American Republic from which blossomed its unknown Constitution or Hebraic Republic. God willing, I shall elaborate in next week’s report.

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