In Federalist #10 James Madison wrote of the peculiar nature of the federal republic he was proposing. A student of history, Madison learned the foremost lesson of history, a lesson that eludes most people to this very day. What Madison learned was the answer to the question of why we should study history.
This question today lowers thoughtful men to espouse drivel and speak in obfuscating platitudes. The secret Madison understood is that the study of history is a pointless exercise unless we accept that human nature does not change. Time, place, situations, and circumstances change. If man too changed, than history would be nothing but a collection of stories. Alas, it is more.
Man, rooted by his nature to an endless struggle between sin and virtue, compelled by impulses of jealously, envy, and ambition, fueled by fear, pride, and love, has ever been the same. The nature of man is true and constant over time and regardless of place. Thus understood, history became a mine from which Madison could retrieve the lessons of failed societies.
Other men discovered this secret, but where they may have attempted to do the impossible, namely change or curtail human nature, Madison took to embrace it. Rather than control, Madison sought balance. In Federalist #10 the challenges of faction are expounded and managed. Here, Madison defines faction as a group committed to a shared idea which may be adverse to the rights of others in the community. This faction could comprise a minority or a majority. No matter. Factions exist and will exist, for any number of ideas, in many forms, with many more dispositions. The reason is that the “latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man,” wrote Madison.
Taking direct aim Madison encapsulates what will become one of the defining precepts of all American government.
“It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.”
Owing to our natural rights, man, as embodied in the American, is the architect of his own fate. No leader, no matter how smart, well-intentioned, and blessed in vision, can know what is best for all, or even for most. It is likely that Madison would have extended that continuum further to declare that no man can know what is best for any other man, be they peasant or prince.
The solution becomes apparent. Government, should not try to shape or control the fates of men, but permit men to pursue their own destiny. As man is apt to voluntarily form factions to enhance his ability to achieve, factions must be made to play off against one another. To do so in such as way as to maintain such a delicate balance the republic must be large enough and diverse enough to encourage many factions, and factions that will share the loyalties of a man, be he committed to his region, profession, faith, or other motivating factor.
Through Federalist #10 Madison because the first American to “celebrate diversity” long before the notion drove the impulses of the 21st century do-gooder or grievance monger.
It is an exceptional notion.
Taken differently, here we have a declaration from James Madison that there is nothing inherently exception about an American. The American is a man, or woman, like every other man or woman that ever lived or would ever live. The American is no member of a master race, or a citizen of a universal center. The American is extraordinarily common. Yet, Americans stand as an exception to the fate of most men and societies. This great contradiction is the seed of American Exceptionalism.
Unfortunately it has become necessary to address the reality of American Exceptionalism. It would be impossible for critics to claim that important figures in the American pantheon did not accept Exceptionalism, so instead they charge that people such as Madison only believed in a myth.
The existence or myth of American Exceptionalism is not a mere academic debate. Whether or not American Exceptionalism is real is of vital importance to all Western Civilization and thus to the wide world.
Correlated to the reality of Exceptionalism is the question of whether or not it should exist. If it exists and is being torn down, as some charge, massive consequences present for American policy. If there is no truth in Exceptionalism, should it be created? Rather, if it is a myth is it a useful myth that ought to be cultivated? Again, our answers have huge implications.
In the following pages I will prove the existence of American Exceptionalism, and its many manifestations. I will also argue that its existence serves the common good of all mankind, and thus, deserves to be wholly mythologized and defended. Exceptionalism deserves a place in history, in the world, and in our imagination.