February 26, 2003


Americans are the chosen people (Clifford Longley, 23/02/2003, Daily Telegraph)
The first settlers to go to America from England were Protestants. They took with them the conviction that God had a unique role for England in world history. England was to be the site of the New Jerusalem, and the English stood in the steps of the ancient Israelites as God's instrument, his Chosen People. The Old Testament was not just their guide to morality. It was God's side of the bargain, telling them for instance that they could take whatever land they wanted (even if that meant turfing out the original occupants) just as the Israelites were told in the Bible they could have the Land of Canaan, and never mind the Canaanites.

By the time of the War of Independence, most Americans saw Britain as their oppressor, just as the Egyptian Pharaoh had oppressed the Israelites at the time of Moses. So the break with Britain was exactly like the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, the working out of God's will for his new Chosen People. America was their Promised Land. "Americanism" is the belief - exactly as George W Bush displayed in his inaugural address - that God is still in charge of America's "manifest destiny". Whether we lesser mortals like it or not, the domination of the world by America, and American values, is what God wants.

The modern and more inclusive form of all this is often called "American exceptionalism". That makes it less off-putting to Jews, Italians, Irish and other non-Protestant immigrants. But it is still that original English Protestant nationalism in disguise. It has crossed the Atlantic and been given an American accent.

Now I freely admit that, even as a Catholic, many of the things America stands for, I approve of. When I was writing a book on the Chosen People phenomenon last year, I felt increasingly ambivalent - both repelled and attracted - for I belong to the generation that saw British and Americans working side by side to rescue Europe from Nazi tyranny. Without this conviction of being a nation with a unique calling from God, would America have made the enormous sacrifices? I doubt it. Without it, would America be bothering with Iraq? I doubt that too.

Whether you like what America is doing or not, it helps to know where they are coming from. America believes it has a divine mandate to lead the world. Just about oil? I don't think so.

Well, like The Man said:

Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, “We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” Well, we have not dealt falsely with our God, even if He is temporarily suspended from the classroom.

When I was born my life expectancy was 10 years less than I have already lived – that’s a cause of regret for some people in California, I know. Ninety percent of Americans at that time lived beneath what is considered the poverty line today, three-quarters lived in what is considered substandard housing. Today each of those figures is less than 10 percent. We have increased our life expectancy by wiping out, almost totally, diseases that still ravage mankind in other parts of the world. I doubt if the young people here tonight know the names of some of the diseases that were commonplace when we were growing up. We have more doctors per thousand people than any nation in the world. We have more hospitals that any nation in the world.

When I was your age, believe it or not, none of us knew that we even had a racial problem. When I graduated from college and became a radio sport announcer, broadcasting major league baseball, I didn’t have a Hank Aaron or a Willie Mays to talk about. The Spaulding Guide said baseball was a game for Caucasian gentlemen. Some of us then began editorializing and campaigning against this. Gradually we campaigned against all those other areas where the constitutional rights of a large segment of our citizenry were being denied. We have not finished the job. We still have a long way to go, but we have made more progress in a few years than we have made in more than a century.

One-third of all the students in the world who are pursuing higher education are doing so in the United States. The percentage of our young Negro community that is going to college is greater than the percentage of whites in any other country in the world.

One-half of all the economic activity in the entire history of man has taken place in this republic. We have distributed our wealth more widely among our people than any society known to man. Americans work less hours for a higher standard of living than any other people. Ninety-five percent of all our families have an adequate daily intake of nutrients -- and a part of the five percent that don't are trying to lose weight! Ninety-nine percent have gas or electric refrigeration, 92 percent have televisions, and an equal number have telephones. There are 120 million cars on our streets and highways -- and all of them are on the street at once when you are trying to get home at night. But isn't this just proof of our materialism -- the very thing that we are charged with? Well, we also have more churches, more libraries, we support voluntarily more symphony orchestras, and opera companies, non-profit theaters, and publish more books than all the other nations of the world put together.

Somehow America has bred a kindliness into our people unmatched anywhere, as has been pointed out in that best-selling record by a Canadian journalist. We are not a sick society. A sick society could not produce the men that set foot on the moon, or who are now circling the earth above us in the Skylab. A sick society bereft of morality and courage did not produce the men who went through those year of torture and captivity in Vietnam. Where did we find such men? They are typical of this land as the Founding Fathers were typical. We found them in our streets, in the offices, the shops and the working places of our country and on the farms.

We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the return to the dark ages, Pope Pius XII said, “The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind.”

We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2003 3:32 PM

I disagree with the very last sentance, that the United States is " the last best hope of man on earth".

It may be the best hope, but it certainly is not the last, for other "cities on the hill" will inevitably be built. But these future generations, of all peoples, will build upon the example set by the United States. They will be guided by the American experience, both good and bad, and spurred on to greater things. It is ever a hope that they might even discover the means to improve on the magnificent achievements of the United States. And it is truly the last best hope of mankind that they succeed.

Posted by: Biased Observer at February 27, 2003 9:53 AM


Recall that Reagan was haunted, truly haunted, by the specter of nuclear annihilation. His presidency, especially Star Wars, is impossible to comprehend without noting that fear.

Posted by: oj at February 27, 2003 1:20 PM