Roger Scruton helpfully distinguishes “national loyalty” from “nationalism” in his 2006 book, A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism. The distinction is clearly as much of moment today as it was in 2006, if not more so.
American exceptionalism may be disappearing. American exceptionalism posits that the United States is fundamentally different from other nations, particularly those in Europe. The United States was founded on a commitment to principles whereas other nations were founded on ties of blood. Moreover, our principles were those of the Enlightenment, embracing individual liberty and the rule of law.
One of the results, as Seymour Martin Lipset noted, was that the United States has never had a serious socialist party. But in this election cycle a serious socialist has come close to winning the Democratic nomination. Indeed, Sanders would be winning except for the loyalty Clinton enjoys among African American voters. But as the votes of the congressional Black Caucus show, African American voters are the most left-wing bloc economically. Next time they would be likely vote for the socialist candidate who imitates Sanders.
We have also never had a major nationalist party, like the National Front in France. Such parties run not only on protectionism and xenophobia but on preserving an unreformed entitlement state. But Trump’s platform is a somewhat paler version of such virulent European parties.
The combination of Trump’s and Sanders’ rise shows that the candle of liberty by which American exceptionalism glows may be flickering out.
In my last post, I argued that “We the People of the United States” is best understood as referring to a single people consisting of separate states. It is not a single people in a single undifferentiated nation like France, but instead is a country that consists of individual states that are united together.
This interpretation of the preamble views it as adopting an intermediate view between the nationalist view of a single people in an undifferentiated nation and the states rights view of multiple peoples in multiple states.
If the preamble adopts an intermediate view, does it fit with the remainder of the Constitution and what specifically is that view? The intermediate view of the preamble accords with the analysis of the Constitution adopted by James Madison in Federalist 39. In that number, Madison was responding to critics who argued that the Constitution was a national document and should have been a federal one. Madison wrote:
What is wrong with America? It does not seem to work anymore. Low employment, static wages, burdened business, persistent poverty, destructive lifestyles, exploding debt, threatened entitlement bankruptcy, and stagnation generally seem to be its future, following the path to decline set by Old Europe the century before.
It may seem peculiar that a peace treaty signed in 1648 might hold the answer.