And that’s the logical flaw in American exceptionalism. We can’t be both an example and an exception. How can we say, with Hamilton and Lincoln, “You can be like us,” while we also say, “We are exceptional – we are an exception”? Do we believe with Stephen Douglas that certain nations or certain regions of the world need our political oversight and even the exercise of our military power to establish liberal institutions and republican government? Do we see some other nations as, in Hamilton’s words, “forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force” – destined to depend, perhaps, on our own force?
. . . Evangelical Christians in our own day have lost sight of natural law. In a related development, their relation to the federal government has become fundamentally antagonistic. America to many evangelicals is like the Roman Empire before Constantine – before it made Christianity its official religion. But we’re also a democracy in which over ninety percent of the population believes in a monotheistic God. Consequently, our politicians rarely throw Christians to the lions.
Toulmin’s broadening of the notion of reason to include moral and practical concerns mirrors similar efforts by Locke and by Montessori, the latter of whom in discussing the Western world’s “moral paralysis” states that “reason today is hidden under a dark cloud and has almost gone down to defeat. Moral chaos in fact is nothing but one side of the coin of our psychic decline; the other side is the loss of our powers of reason. The pre-eminent characteristic of our present state is an insidious madness, and our most immediate need a return to reason.”
Jefferson doesn’t encourage us to retrace his thinking in writing the Declaration of Independence. He writes copiously during his long retirement, but when someone asks him about the origins of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and the rest of the Declaration’s more epistemological lines, he claims only to have “harmonized” views contained in […]