Despite fashionable twaddle about American decline, America’s cultural influence has never been as dominant as it is now. Indeed, the 21st century promises to be the American Century to an even greater extent than the 20th. The American attitude to life – The American Idea – is now reflected in the universal aspirations of all humanity.
Throughout history foreign observers have perceived and portrayed the dignity and majesty of the American Idea in ways that have impacted the thinking of the rest of the human race and triggered their desire to emulate the good life.
Crèvecœur, a pre-independence 18th century French immigrant to the colonies, wrote about American equal opportunity, self-reliance, ingenuity, religious pluralism and uncomplicated attitude towards life. These characteristics morphed into the aristocracy of the self-made man, the free spirited independence of the American entrepreneur and the egalitarian meritocracy of American society at large. The American Idea made a profound impression on the European mind of the 18th and 19th centuries and in the 20th century on all humanity. Would there have been a French Revolution without the American example? Would English social radicalism of the late 18th and early 19th century have evolved as it did if it hadn’t absorbed the attitude to society and politics of its own former colonies?
Recognition of America’s uniqueness has come from the most unlikely sources. The very term “American Exceptionalism” was first coined by the American Communist Party in the 1920s. They felt that “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions (italics mine), America might for a long while avoid the crisis that must eventually befall every capitalist society”. “Eventually” became forever, not only for America but also for Americanized European and East Asian capitalism. Even Stalin recognized American exceptionalism when, in an interview with the German author Emil Ludwig, in 1931 he noted....