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American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been seen as different, even peculiar, to people around the world.1 I am thinking of qualities such as American industriousness—not just hard work, but the way that Americans have treated their work and their efforts to get ahead in life as a central expression of who they are. There is American neighborliness. Many cultures have traditions of generous hospitality to guests, but widespread voluntary mutual assistance among unrelated people who happen to live alongside each other has been rare. In the United States, it has been ubiquitous. I am thinking also of qualities such as American optimism, present even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it; our striking lack of c ...
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 30 January 2012, on page 22
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