[lit-ideas] Re: All praise to JC

  • From: Eric Yost <mr.eric.yost@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 02 Jul 2010 15:15:48 -0400

America is not the shining light on the hill, that I was taught
it to be by my educators

Reacting to the Cheever quote, I think he has identified a general theme of 
dissatisfaction in human life, active in realms both large and small. It's the 
old problem of desire, that desire is not the object of desire but an 
ever-present state that has to be reckoned with as such, especially when one 
attains a particular object of desire, and the desire behind the object is not 

Looking at that in terms of the US, it's long been maintained that America is 
most itself when it has its frontiers, a nineteenth century problem that found 
some twentieth century satisfaction in the space program. I believe that space 
exploration offers most non-authoritarian, non-theocratic (i.e., civilized) 
nations a frontier that will supply general purpose, a purpose whose 
paradoxical effects may include treating its earth-bound citizens with more 

Mike's quote about "shining light" America is of course from Matthew, then from 
the Puritan settlers in MA, then from JFK. It was an ideal espoused by Jefferson and 
Adams as a way of indicating that the US was exempt from European monarchical rule and 
was the standard bearer of rationalist secularism. That's more or less true. The French 
Revolution, following Rousseau and Descartes, imploded and reverted to tyranny. The 
American Revolution, guided by Descartes and Locke, ramified. (Franklin did not march 
with a mob through the streets of Philadelphia, burning churches. There was a Lockean 
respect for property and a Lockean optimism.)

It was true in the last century as well. In 1938, Europe had appeasers in 
France and England, tyrants in Spain, Germany, and Russia; the US had FDR.

It's easy to forget that "American exceptionalism" has *some* truth in it, but 
it does. All one has to do is imagine a world with China as hegemon and the 
exceptionalist qualities appear if one is honest. Globalism tends to dilute those 
qualities, as did the Cold War, but they remain. Ask an immigrant to the US if you know 

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