July 04, 2015

I'm grateful for the Fourth, even with American exceptionalism

Tidied up, 240 years ago, just like today, war as a "game."
First, American exceptionalism is quite real. Arguably, per the Jacobin, it's at root and branch of the American founding and the American project. Second, and just as arguably, per Michael Lind, it's another American albatross, along with love of military, love of police militarization and more, especially foisted on the country by the South. (Guess the Lost Cause wasn't so lost after all.)

But, we still do live in what is in many ways the best country in the world, even as fighting against American exceptionalism compels me to say that on things like average life expectancy, health care costs and delivery, income inequality and socioeconomic class mobility decline, it's not the best in those said areas.

Per the Jacobin, we need to remember that the American Revolution was a conservative one. In the South, it may have been driven in part by fear of abolition after the Somerset decision, which Lind also notes. And, per Dylan Mathews, yes, abolition might have come faster without the revolution. And, we might have kept parliamentary government, largely, but not entirely, for the better than our current system. So, even if we are overall the greatest nation in the world today, we might have been "even more greater" if we'd kept ties with London 240 years ago.

William Hogeland doesn't, unlike a mag like Counterpunch, take the opportunity of the Jacobin interview to jump into full-on anti-Americanism, but does turn a strong, and accurate, gimlet eye on the situation. Rather than call it a "reactionary" revolution, he cites it as a conservative one, but continuous with the status quo wherever that status quo did not involve Great Britain.

People who were "radical," Hogeland notes, were squeezed out, crushed, even, by 1787. He cites a number of names, not all of them known to me, and none of whom will be in a high school history textbook. Thomas Paine, the one radical of sorts who is known today, was living in London in 1787, but pointedly not elected by Pennsylvania or another state to come serve as a constitutional delegate.

As for the militarization that's been part and parcel of American exceptionalism, especially in the South? Hogeland points to two early, formative events, at roughly the same time: The putdown of the Whiskey Rebellion, which he hints elsewhere Alexander Hamilton may have provoked, and the first of America's Indian Wars, against tribes of the Old Northwest.

On the conservative side, including the militarization, Hogeland is finishing a new book on "Mad" Anthony Wayne, the leader of that first Indian War's battles. Sounds like it could be good.


The grateful part?

I could be living in parts of the world where civil liberties are honored less in the abstract, and the reality, alike, than in the U.S. I could be living in an economically mismanaged country.

In such cases, I acknowledge that American Coca-colonialism, along with the old-fashioned type of the Old World, was part of the problem. But, many countries have had indigenous mismanagement of their governments, their economies and more.

Certainly that's true of a China, which had relatively mild burdens of colonialism, and due to its size alone, has shucked off their remnants.

I'm also grateful that I'm educated enough to recognize American exceptionalism, and free to point it out.

So, I can critique, and criticize, American myth — including American exceptionalism — while still being glad I live where I do.


The alternative history part, since I've regularly blogged about my own "forks" between real and alternative, or counterfactual, history?

Due to America already then being one-fourth the size of Britain in population, separated by a pre-steamship Atlantic Ocean and of much larger geographic size, it's not conceivable that George III, Lord North, et al, could have put down a rebellion.

As for the causes? Had George, following John Dickenson, only raised taxes and tariffs directly associated with trade, AND done that around 1765, it might have been enough to raise additional revenue for the Crown yet stave off revolution.

But, lack of hubris was never George's long suit, and not just for him, but for those who were the "king's party," or the "city party," or proto-Tories in Parliament. Historians of the time were already wondering if Britain had gotten too greedy for spoils at the end of the Seven Years War.

Beyond this, the Quebec Act would have been gasoline on colonial fires if the tax issue had been handled with less than the utmost dexterity.

Also forget not that Highland Scots, as well as Scots-Irish, had emigrated to America — Highland Scots for whom Culloden was often not just part of memory but part of personal history.

Add in the amounts of Germans (discounting any Hanoverians who might be loyal to George's House of Welf/Hanover), Dutch, and even Swedes and Irish already in America, and George had less than full nationalistic support on this side of the pond.

Short of Britain moving halfway toward today's Commonwealth, or almost all the way toward Canadian Dominion status of 1867, by 1775 if not a decade earlier, it's hard to see how London could have kept hold of the colonies once its initial mismanagement started growing.

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