American Exceptionalism and Human Rights

Michael Ignatieff
Princeton University Press
2005

"With the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the most controversial question in world politics fast became whether the United States stands within the order of international law or outside it. Does America still play by the rules it helped create? American Exceptionalism and Human Rights addresses this question as it applies to U.S. behavior in relation to international human rights. With essays by eleven leading experts in such fields as international relations and international law, it seeks to show and explain how America's approach to human rights differs from that of most other Western nations. In his introduction, Michael Ignatieff identifies three main types of exceptionalism: exemptionalism (supporting treaties as long as Americans are exempt from them); double standards (criticizing 'others for not heeding the findings of international human rights bodies, but ignoring what these bodies say of the United States); and legal isolationism (the tendency of American judges to ignore other jurisdictions). The contributors use Ignatieff's essay as a jumping-off point to discuss specific types of exceptionalism--America's approach to capital punishment and to free speech, for example--or to explore the social, cultural, and institutional roots of exceptionalism. These essays--most of which appear in print here for the first time, and all of which have been revised or updated since being presented in a year-long lecture series on American exceptionalism at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government--are by Stanley Hoffmann, Paul Kahn, Harold Koh, Frank Michelman, Andrew Moravcsik, John Ruggie, Frederick Schauer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Carol Steiker, and Cass Sunstein."

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Using the pen name of the "Ohio Farmer," the Ashbrook Center attempts to create the spirit of early Americans--both Federalist and Antifederalist--and their concerns for constitutional self-government. In this vein, the "Ohio Farmer" writes to the Members of the 112th Congress in a letter exploring the exceptional example and experiment of America.

"Unlike most of the 111 that preceded it, the 112th Congress must begin the process of restoring the national regime and civic culture the Founders bequeathed. This will require reviving the rule of law, reasserting the relevance of the Constitution and affirming the reality of American exceptionalism."

"The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 have not only widened the differences between America and the rest of the world, but have also deepened divisions within the country itself, says John Parker."

American Exceptionalism does not come from our military might or that we are some kind of super race, but comes from the limited government provided in the founding documents.

Bromund gives a modern overview of American exceptionalism, from a British perspective, arguing that American confidence, free speech tradition, and natural rights pave its exceptional nature. Importantly, Bromund also explores political language, outlining that America was originally a 'liberal' experiment, but that it now has a 'conservative' obligation to uphold its legacy of 1776 and 1787...

"For nearly four centuries, we as a people have believed that America has a special and unique role to play in the world. Here is a land of new beginnings and new promise, not merely one nation among others. But we have to ask: Do our leaders still believe this?"

Born out of revolution, the United States is a country organized around an ideology which includes a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society. Americanism, as different people have pointed out, is an 'ism' or ideology in the same way that communism or fascism or liberalism are isms.

"[T]he idea of a special, even divine, role for America can be fairly slippery. At its best, it has inspired Americans to hold themselves to a high moral standard, serving as exemplar to other nations. At its worst, it becomes a license for rationalizing away morality itself. The former demands humility and responsibility and ties us to the moral human community, making our exceptionalism...

The major issue, the elephant in the room, is that the doctrine of American exceptionalism is theological, not political.

"'American Exceptionalism' is one of those phrases that seems to get tossed around a great deal by political pundits. Often they act like everyone knows what they mean by it, but in most cases, their use of it implies it is almost a force of nature, a blessing by God. Others believe it is nothing but propaganda for American nationalism. Both definitions are what I would call Manifest Destiny,...

"Why was it that Washington was no Cromwell, setting himself up as a military dictator after leading to victory in a war against tyranny, and that the young American Republic did not experi­ence the fratricidal slaughter of its revolutionary leaders by each others’ hands and the changes in ideals that marked the aftermaths of the French and Russian up­heavals? Many reasons may be cited. But...

"If the American moment passes, or U.S. power in other ways declines, it will not be because of demography."

"In the United States, civil liberties are seen as the province of the left. The ACLU, the Bar Association, the Democratic Party, people who err in favor of procedural protections for criminals and even terrorists—this is what tends to come to mind to conservatives who condemn civil liberties as a leftist interest, and to liberals who celebrate it as a great anchor of their political...

"Robert Curry’s continuing exposition of the Scottish enlightenment’s influence on the founding of the United States looks back at a vanishing greatness in the soul of America, a greatness that is anathema to liberal-progressives."

"Some Straussians see Lincoln as the Second Founder and the abolition of slavery as the return of the West to natural rights. And it certainly seems true that in Lincoln's words and America's example, key ideas about human equality and dignity gained momentum - and you can hear those ideas today in the mouths of a new Arab generation, in a culture so alien to our own it is close to impossible...

Michael Novak retells stories from early American history to highlight the importance of religion and the influence of both Judaism and Christianity on the formation of American government. He stresses the emphasis on Old Testament language and values in order to keep the various Christian denominations united.

Rabbi Spiro provides a brief history of the impact of Judaism on the American Founding as well as the treatment of Jews in early America.

"Historians have very little use for the idea of American exceptionalism and its supporting religious rhetoric. The historical record points not to the exceptional experience of America but to its common history with other nations. America is, after all, a nation of immigrants, and it is one shaped by both transatlantic and transpacific exchanges. Apart from this historical challenge to...

While Generation Yers may have the stereotype of being self-centered, many of them not only view themselves as exceptional — they hold the same view of America as well.

"The exceptional issue may be political, but it isn't only that. The idea lies smack at the heart of how Americans view themselves, and the role of government in their lives and in the broader world. Is America exceptional or isn't she? Is there something about this country that makes us unique in the world?"

"Though the phrase 'American exceptionalism' does get tossed around a lot, confusion reigns over its actual meaning. Before deciding whether American exceptionalism is a good or bad thing, whether it’s threatened or not and whether the President actually embraces it, shouldn’t we first figure out what it actually means?"

Leftists mocking those who believe in the greatness of the U.S. is nothing new. But their bizarre insistence that it's an artifact of right-wing jingoism and xenophobia certainly isn't helping Obama.

This article dismisses the idea of American exceptionalism by arguing that the Founders and subsequent Americans copied their exceptional ideas from European nations. Lind argues, "Americans have always been proud of their republic -- but not too proud to learn from others. When America worked, Americans did not hesitate to copy the innovative ideas and best practices of other countries."

American Exceptionalism is an idea as old as our country itself. The Founding Fathers understood that the vast resources at our fledging country’s disposal coupled with our puritan roots and lack of a feudal past meant that the United States was uniquely positioned to thrive as an exception to the corruption and poverty of other countries."

"A few men who did look into 'the law of liberty' bequeathed to present-day Americans a unique heritage. They were the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In what respect were these political documents unique? First, they unseated government as the endower of men’s rights and placed the Creator in that role. Second, they more severely limited...

Cohen is gravely suspicious of American exceptionalism and points out examples in which America lags behind international averages. Cohen proposes that exceptionalism is merely a buzz word of the Christian Right.

The author takes a negative view of American exceptionalism, arguing that the misleading theory leads to militarization and conquest, imposing American ideals upon the world.

Morris takes a contrarian view of American exceptionalism, arguing that America is not endowed with special gifts by God or politics. Rather, he believes America grew up in exceptional circumstances throughout its first two hundred years, yet did an exceptional job in squandering those circumstances.

The theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters and approximately 100 percent of all U.S. politicians, although there is less and less evidence to support it.

"Despite the struggling economy and broad dissatisfaction with national conditions, the public has a positive view of the United States' global standing. But more think that the U.S. is one of the greatest countries in the world than say it stands above all other countries."

"In the course of the American revolutionary war, the New York-based lawyer and political pampleteer John Stevens observed that 'The path we [Americans] are pursuing is new, and has never been trodden on by man.' That well-founded sense of originality was accompanied by remarkable confidence in our abilities and optimism about our future. In the historian Bernard Bailyn’s words, 'The Founding...

"Here’s a suggestion: Whenever you hear or read someone boasting of 'American exceptionalism,' — the notion that America has since its founding been uniquely ordained by God and its own moral character to lead the world – reach for your wallet. Because, intellectually speaking, someone is surely trying to pick your pocket."

In 1776, when America announced its independence as a nation, it was composed of thirteen colonies surrounded by hostile powers. ... Is America exceptional?

To commemorate American Independence and the nation's founding, the Heritage Foundation asks prominent libertarian and conservative thinkers to explain why they believe America is exceptional.

After prompting a debate over the possibility of American exceptionalism, National Review Online engages in a symposium, showcasing the differing opinions of Yuval Levin, John O'Sullivan, and Matthew Spalding.

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Among white Americans who say God has granted the U.S. a special role in history, a majority (52%) say the best way to ensure peace is through military strength rather than through diplomacy, a rate twice as high as among white Americans who do not affirm American exceptionalism.

"Americans widely agree that the United States has a unique character because of its history and Constitution that sets it apart from other nations as the greatest in the world. This view, commonly referred to as 'U.S. exceptionalism,' is shared by at least 73% of Americans in all party groups, including 91% of Republicans."

The country is exceptional in more profound ways [than military capacity alone]. It is more strongly individualistic than Europe, more patriotic, more religious and culturally more conservative. Al-Qaeda's assaults stimulated two of these deeper characteristics.

Young people are less likely than older Americans to say that the U.S. stands above all other nations.

"Despite the struggling economy and broad dissatisfaction with national conditions, the public has a positive view of the United States' global standing."

In opinions about whether the American people can solve major problems, the typology groups split mostly on economic, rather than partisan, lines.

Among the eight major typology groups, Staunch Conservatives -- who are strongly anti-government and pro-business -- are the only one in which a majority (67%) says that the U.S. stands above all other nations.

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"Most Americans think...that the United States is an exceptional country that differs sharply from the rest of the world and that must therefore have its own laws and Constitution."

"In this essay, Bruce Thornton first shows that, merely on practical grounds, many of these EU ideals have been ineffective if not dangerous. He then demonstrates that the EU model is predicated on philosophical assumptions about human nature and the human good that are diametrically opposed to those that underlay the American Founding."

Noted political scientist James Q. Wilson argues here that the observations Tocqueville made about America's uniqueness remain true today.

"Americans across the political spectrum embrace individualism, skepticism about government, and a faith in social mobility. Other developed nations, in contrast, have often embraced socialism and a strong state. Two new books document the advantages of this 'American Exceptionalism.'"

"This article is about the concept of American exceptionalism. The term has a long history and has been applied to a whole range of features that are unique to US society, particularly its history, identity, and culture."

American exceptionalism has been repeatedly dismissed by the academy, yet recent historical schools and trends continue to take it up as a topic of discussion, whether in a positive or negative light. Dale Carter takes a look at exceptionalism's role in modern intellectual debates such as New Left historiography.

"American political forms are unique, partially be­cause of the great opportunities which America has enjoyed on this continent and partially from what Daniel Boorstin has described as 'a peculiar and unrepeatable com­bination of historical circum­stances.'"

"America’s Founders sought to define a national good that transcended local interests and prejudices. The national good included the common benefits of self-defense and prosperity.... But it was only with the constitutional rule of law that the higher purpose, or true national interest, of America could be realized."

"No form of government devised in history was so careful to avoid the dangers of concentrated power and so favorable to letting the citizen go as far and as fast as his individual capacity would carry him, without state coddling, state regulation and state domination, which always go hand in hand."

"The era of the American Revolution was the greatest and most creative age of constitutionalism in American history. During the last part of the eighteenth century Americans established the modern idea of a written constitution. There had been written constitutions before in Western history, but Americans did something new and different."

This essay focuses on the great prevalence and influence that religious ideas had on America's founding. Michael Novak gives a variety of fascinating anecdotes and quotes from the founding fathers which demonstrate their familiarity with the Bible and other Christian and Judaistic elements of faith.

"To this day, Douglass endures unequalled as the invincible adversary of racial despair and disaffection—the preeminent exemplar and apostle of hopefulness in the American promise of justice for all."

This piece discusses the Declaration of Independence and its unique role in history. According to Spalding, the Declaration was "a statement of the conditions of legitimate political authority and the proper ends of government."

"We conclude that claims of exceptional U.S. external behavior have been exaggerated, although more research is needed to determine whether other dimensions of U.S. foreign policy that have been widely discussed, such as its presentation to domestic audiences, are indeed highly atypical."

"I propose first, to unpack precisely what we mean by American exceptionalism; second, to clarify both the negative and the overlooked positive faces of American exceptionalism; and third, to suggest how we, as American scholars and lawyers, should respond to the most negative aspects of American exceptionalism in the wake of September 11."

Daniel Bell's famous 1975 essay declares American exceptionalism dead. He emphasizes that for a radical experiment like the American Revolution to be indeed radical, it must lack a history. Revolutions must be fresh and future-oriented. But after over 200 years--particularly in the wake of Vietnam--Americans can not look forward, only back.

"There are three dimensions of the Declaration of Independence which should be carefully considered for a clear understanding of it. The first is the contemporary context within which it was written, adopted, proclaimed, and served its purpose....The second dimension is its past....The third dimension is its future."

"Republics had been notoriously unstable, fiscally irresponsible, subject to being pulled hither and yon by foreign influences, divided and laid open to civil commotions by partisan conflicts, and rent by contests over succession to leadership. No fact troubled the more thoughtful of the Founders of the United States more than this one."

"This Article critically evaluates the widely held view inside and outside the United States that American constitutional rights jurisprudence is exceptional. There are two dimensions to this perceived American exceptionalism: the content and the structure of constitutional rights."

This essay discusses "what it means to base democratic government on the notion of natural rights, what these rights are, and what they mean for public policy" by comparing "three revolutions' theories of natural rights: the English Glorious Revolution of 1688, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution."

"In the following excerpt, the authors examine the major factors, real and imagined, that contribute to this growing alienation between America and other countries, both friends and foes, around the globe."

If it is merely a neutral characterization for 'uniqueness' or 'distinctiveness,' however, the question then arises why the notion of 'exceptionalism' needs emphasizing at all.

"The key to the uniquely successful story of American immigration is its deliberate and self-confident policy of patriotic assimilation: America welcomes newcomers while insisting that they learn and embrace its civic culture and political institutions, thereby forming one nation from many peoples—e pluribus unum."

"Today, the United States is a country of fifty states covering a vast continent. Its military forces are the most powerful in the world. Its economy produces almost a quarter of the world's wealth. The American people are among the most hard-working, church-going, affluent, and generous in the world. Is America exceptional?"

Americans are more individualistic, more religious, more patriotic, more egalitarian, and more hostile to unions and Marxism than are the people of any other advanced democracy. This positive account of the ways in which the United States truly is exceptional will call into question the practicality and wisdom of our Supreme Court imposing foreign ideas about law on us.

Video/Podcast/Media

"Matthew Spalding discusses American exceptionalism and why it's still important today."

"In Episode 23, Chris Gondek speaks with Eric J. Sundquist about the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 'I have a dream' speech, and Godfrey Hodgson about the history behind America’s notion of its exceptionalism and the consequences for foreign policy today."

At the ISI regional conference, "America in the Clash of Civilization," Professor Thorton explores the Western building blocks of American exceptionalism.

"Americans across the political spectrum embrace individualism, skepticism about government, and a faith in social mobility. Other developed nations, in contrast, have often embraced socialism and a strong state. Two new books document the advantages of this 'American Exceptionalism.' In It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary...

"This panel examines the question whether there is an American ideology of exceptionalism that is deeply rooted in 400 years of our history. Have Americans from John Winthrop to the Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan believed that we are a shining city on a hill – a beacon of liberty and democracy for the rest of the world? How has the idea of American exceptionalism changed...

"On this edition of Peter Lavelle's CrossTalk, he asks his guests whether American exceptionalism is a self-serving myth."

"With the emergence of democracies in Europe and the New World at the beginning of the nineteenth century, political philosophers began to re-evaluate the relationship between freedom and equality. Tocqueville, in particular, saw the creation of new forms of social power that presented threats to human liberty. His most famous work, Democracy in America, was written for his French...

"The 'Judaism: A Way of Being' author makes the case for Judaism as the most important intellectual development in Western history."

After today’s forum, Princeton professor Robert P. George spoke with reporters. Below are his excellent remarks on 'what distinguishes American exceptionalism from nationalism.'

History professor Rob McDonald of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point gives a lecture on the conflict between the ideals of the American Revolution, such as individual liberty, and unfortunate realities of the time, such as slavery.

"Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood presented a series of essays that examines the underpinnings of the American Revolution. Mr. Wood explored the origins of American exceptionalism, the Founders' belief in the universality of the revolution, and the radicalism of republicanism in the 18th century. Gordon Wood discussed his essays in conversation with author and historian Jay Winik...

"In a world of moral confusion, and of arbitrary and unlimited government, America's founding principles are our best access to permanent truths and the best ground from which to question the current direction of our nation. Join Matt Spalding, author of We Still Hold These Truths and an authority on American political thought and religious liberty at The Heritage Foundation, as he...

"What makes some laws worth obeying, while others demand to be overturned? In Part 4, Bill examines the difference between Natural Law and Political Law."

Primary Document

Before this reaches you, the resolution for finally separating from Britain will be handed to Congress by Colonel Nelson. ... I put up with it in the present form for the sake of unanimity. ’Tis not quite so pointed as I could wish.

Written aboard the Arbella in 1630, John Winthrop's most famous sermon cites the Book of Matthew and man's logical nature as the source of a civilization that is new, unique, and divine. Preparing his Puritan followers for the society they must forge amidst difficult odds, Winthrop spoke of "A City upon a Hill" in their New England community.

As the title suggests, this sermon was delivered in commemoration of the American rule of law under the Constitution. Cooper emphasizes the greatness of liberty established by the founding of America, pointing out a variety of biblical support for the nature of its republican government.

At the beginning of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history, and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny, General Eisenhower delivered this moving address to his forces.

Arguing for the annexation of Texas to the United States, this piece by John O'Sullivan coined the phrase "manifest destiny." The concept of manifest destiny has sometimes been equated with the concept of American exceptionalism.

Walt Whitman's poetry is often cited for its innovative free-verse and celebration of America. Here is a selection from Specimen Days, in which Whitman questions if any accomplishment of old Europe can rival America's 'peculiar' beauty.

At the age of 77, I begin to make some memoranda and state some recollections of dates & facts concerning myself, for my own more ready reference & for the information of my family.

"It was during those Republican years that the thrust of Communist imperialism was blunted. It was during those years of Republican leadership that this world moved closer, not to war, but closer to peace, than at any other time in the three decades just passed. And I needn't remind you - but I will - that it's been during Democratic years that our strength to...

"We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. That coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation.

Thomas Paine's famous and radical 1776 pamphlet made a bold case for American Independence from Britain, at a time when the notion of Independence was still contested among the colonists.

Predominantly written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence formally and eloquently justified the independence of the United States from British monarch King George III.

Tocqueville's famous analysis of the American economic and political system, as he observed during his travels of the country in the 1830s.

Finally, we gather on this Fourth of July--as our forefathers did at Independence Hall--more than 9 score years ago--to emulate them as they pledge their common adherence to basic principles, and their common obligation to uphold these principles regardless of differences of opinion, even of policy.

One hundred fifty years ago tonight, thirty-eight weary delegates to a Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. Four handwritten sheets of parchment were enough to state the terms on which thirteen independent weak little republics agreed to try to survive together as one strong nation.

On this Fourth of July, 2001, a great anniversary of our Nation's birth and a great anniversary of religious liberty, we remember the ideals of America and the things of the spirit that sustain them.

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.

TWO HUNDRED years ago we, the people of the United States of America, began a great adventure which stirred the imagination and quickened the hopes of men and women throughout the world. The date was July 4, 1776; the occasion, the signing of our Declaration of Independence.

"Perhaps the most famous battle of the Civil War took place at Gettysburg, PA, July 1 to July 3, 1863. At the end of the battle, the Union's Army of the Potomac had successfully repelled the second invasion of the North by the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia. Several months later, President Lincoln went to Gettysburg to speak at the dedication of the cemetery for the Union war dead......

You have come to the Nation's Capital to visit its monuments and to look at the basic documents on which our Government was founded. Many people come to Washington to do these things, but you have come here for a special purpose. You have come here to emphasize the fact that this Nation was founded on religious principles.

Perhaps one of the most well known and rhetorically powerful speeches on civil rights, King's speech calls for racial equality and an end to discrimination. His dream of a color blind society specifically resonates with conservative thinkers.

On July 4, 1976, we joyfully celebrated the 200th anniversary of our Nation's independence. Now, on September 17, 1977, we commemorate the 190th anniversary of a quieter but equally momentous event: the signing of the Constitution of the United States, at Independence Hall, Philadelphia.

But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.

"I am aware of the force of the observations you make on the power given by the Constn to Congress, to admit new States into the Union, without restraining the subject to the territory then constituting the U S.

A Frenchman living in American, Crevecoeur expounded upon the wonders of farm life and its benefits to the American culture.

"In the critical year of 1944 a vast 'I Am an American Day' ceremony was held in Central Park, New York City, on May 21. Many thousands of people were present, including a large number of new citizens. Learned Hand’s brief address was so eloquent and so moving that the text immediately became the object of wide demand. It was quickly printed and reprinted and also put into anthologies. The...

This famous speech at Lincoln's Second Inaugural, known for its phrase 'with malice toward none', calls for a forgiveness between the American North and South, a sense of common charity, and a retribution for the horrors of slavery.

When it was determined that they would be settling further North in the New World than originally anticipated, the Pilgrims of Plymouth County entered into a social contract. They consented to rules by which they would survive, proclaiming a sense of liberty, but also allegiance to the King.

The transcript of President Obama's interaction with a French journalist over American exceptionalism. The President famously replied, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

The Bishop George Berkeley was a well-regarded philosopher and theologian of the 19th century. This poem speaks of Berkeley's fondness for the West and American promise and later inspired settlers in Berkeley, California.

If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.

why is America a great country? Sometimes the quick answer to that, 'Why, we are great because we are the strongest country in the world.' We are. And others say we are great because we are the richest country in the world, and that is true, too. But the secret of America's greatness goes far beyond its wealth and far beyond its strength.

The calendar can't measure America because we were meant to be an endless experiment in freedom—with no limit to our reaches, no boundaries to what we can do, no end point to our hopes. The United States Constitution is the impassioned and inspired vehicle by which we travel through history.

Then Governor Ronald Reagan delivered a moving summary of America's exceptional roots to the First Annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

In seeking for methods by which I might communicate what I have observed in my travels, without offering any pretension to teach the English, or judge the Americans, two expedients occurred to me; both of which I have adopted. One is, to compare the existing state of society in America with the principles on which it is professedly founded

In attempting to find a way for both Parliament and the American colonies to have their demands met, Burke notes that while the Parliament may indeed retain the right to legislate for the colonies, they do not need to exercise that right. This allows the colonies some measure of de facto autonomy (which would be pleasing to the increasingly riled American colonists), but still maintains Parliament’s superior position.

Scarcely any one has looked at the United States with any other apparent purpose than to find arguments for and against popular government. America has been discussed, as if she were nothing but a democracy: a society, differing from other human societies in no essential point, except the popular character of her institutions.

"In Democracy in America (1835) the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville interpreted American society through the lens of democratic political theory. A half-century later the Scotsman James Bryce examined 'the institutions and the people of America as they are.' Bryce presented his findings in The American Commonwealth, first published in London in three volumes in 1888. This new Liberty Fund two-...

A collection of 16 pamphlets, written between 1776 and 1783, whereby Thomas Paine rallied everyday colonists to embrace American Independence.

The Federal Constitution did not deal with the question of religious liberty. The rules for the election of the president and for that of the vice–president proved a failure. Slavery was deplored, was denounced, and was retained. The absence of a definition of State Rights led to the most sanguinary civil war of modern times. Weighed in the scales of Liberalism the instrument, as it stood, was a monstrous fraud. And yet, by the development of the principle of Federalism, it has produced a community more powerful, more prosperous, more intelligent, and more free than any other which the world has seen.

"President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared 'that all persons held as slaves' within the rebellious states 'are, and henceforward shall be free.'

Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states...

The famous "Turner Thesis" remarks upon the unique American character that arose from the frontier experience. The notion of an ever-continuing frontier line captured the American imagination and instilled a sense of confidence, explaining an important American difference from Europe. However, when the U.S. Census Bureau declared in 1890 that the American West had been officially "closed",...

After Tocqueville retired from public service, he wrote this political commentary on his own nation. He discusses how the French Revolution came about and what its effects were, concentrating on the intellectual influences.

Locke's Second Treatise develops his descriptions of the state of nature along with natural law. His work was extremely influential in the founding of America and its Constitution.

The Constitution of the United States established the federal governmental system currently in place with three branches of government. The premise of executive privilege developed from the separation of powers clause.

Thomas Jefferson's last written letter, just before his death, remarkably touches upon the 50th anniversary of American Independence.

The new president’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, captures his belief in America as a shining example of liberty.

We have seen a world passion spend its fury, but we contemplate our Republic unshaken, and hold our civilization secure. Liberty--liberty within the law--and civilization are inseparable, and though both were threatened we find them now secure; and there comes to Americans the profound assurance that our representative government is the highest expression and surest guaranty of both.

George WashingtonPreparing to leave office, Washington wrote his now famous "Farewell Address" to placate American concerns that a country without his leadership could not survive. Washington stresses the importance of unity, the supremacy of the...

Let me begin my American impressions with two impressions I had before I went to America.

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Okay, so your friends and family keep telling you to jump on the social media bandwagon, but you have no idea what the fuzz is about. Here’s the deal: The Internet gives liberty-loving folk like us an opportunity we have never had before: to make the case for individual liberty, limited government and free market economics instantly and globally. But with the vast amounts of information...

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Know your rights with Flex Your Rights guide to the "10 Rules for Dealing with Police."
In a highly regulated society such as ours, it's very easy to get yourself in trouble with the law. Learn more about how to protect yourself with the 5th Amendment and how to interact with the police.
Let's face it, most of us love to watch TV and movies. A wonderful way to spread ideas is to embrace our love of the cinema by hosting a movie night with friends and family.  There are numerous documentaries that do a fantastic job of sharing the ideas of liberty. You can pull a small group of friends together at your house or even consider asking a local restaurant or tavern to let you...
Watch "Waiting for Superman" to learn about the problems with the public education system.
Another movie that tells the story of the failing public school model in the United States is “The Lottery”. It takes its own unique look at the systems by focusing on the use of lotteries to choose which children will be plucked from failing public schools and put into more successful public charter schools. Here’s the trailer:  You can watch the whole movie right now with the help of Hulu...
While there are a variety of really good documentaries about the failing public school systems in America, "The Cartel" stands alone in its frontal assault on the teacher unions, particularly those in New Jersey. If you'd like to get an inside look into how some teacher unions operate and the effects they have on education, you'll want to watch "The Cartel."From the movie's website: "This movie...
Curiously, not a few individuals are realizing that their education (K-12 and even college) neglected to provide them with as much understanding of the world as they would like. At Intellectual Takeout, we believe that however you feel about your education, there is still much to be learned. To that end, we'd like to refer you to one book and a collection of "study guides" that serve as...
Are you concerned your child isn't getting the education necessary to compete in the global economy or even, perhaps, to carry on the lessons and learning of Western Civilization? If so, you have a number of choices. You could, of course, consider changing schools to a charter school, private school, or even homeschooling. If that's overwhelming for you right now, you can always supplement your...
Sure, the idea of homeschooling is likely overwhelming. Indeed, homeschooling is a big commitment and a lot of work. That said, there's a reason why more and more parents are turning to homeschooling as the best option for their child(ren)'s education(s). Perhaps you are starting to realize that the public school system has changed a lot since you last attended it. Maybe you can't afford private...
Looking for an internship? If so, Intellectual Takeout has an opportunity for you. We have plenty of work to do as well as ideas to spread, and we need your help to get it done. If you're interested in an internship with Intellectual Takeout, you likely share our passion and you're excited about the possibility of working for a great cause. That said, you might have a few questions about what "...
How often do you hear conservatives being called a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals? Here's the reality: Conservatism, classical liberalism, and libertarianism have a rich, intellectual heritage reaching back many millennia. Our ideas are not just some historical relics from bygone eras; they are the very foundation of Western Civilization in general, amd the United States in particular....
Sadly (or happily for some), life goes on after college. So does the fight for freedom. Building friendships, networking, and growing the movement is critical after college. If our ideas are to be preserved and promoted, you need to stay involved. Plus, in a time when the individual seems to be ever more isolated and adrift, these groups can help plug you into social networks you can use....
Okay, so we don't expect you to drive a wooden stake into your flat screen. Plus, we're total hypocrites since we watch some TV. But here's the point: People waste a ton of time watching TV. If you're cool with government taking over your future, than keep watching Dancing with the Stars. If you consider yourself to be a free man or woman and want to live in a free society, then watch what you...
A great way to make a difference on your campus by spreading the ideas of individual rights, limited government, and free markets is to tutor. Plus, you can occasionally make a little bit of money. Depending on the subject matter, you will be discussing a variety of ideas, key thinkers, and theories. As anyone who has tutored knows, there are almost always opportunities to expand upon a topic....
The Association of American Educators (AAE) advances the teaching profession through personal growth, professional development, teacher advocacy and protection, as well as promoting excellence in education so that our members receive the respect, recognition and reward they deserve.

On Campus

We've built Intellectual Takeout to provide you with quick, easy access to information. In time, we hope to become your one-stop-shop for the ideas of freedom. If your professor allows you to bring your laptop to class (if not, you can use an iPhone), we recommend keeping a tab open to Intellectual Takeout. As we continue to generate new content on the site, you will be able to fact check the...
When it comes to campus life injustices, student fees rank high on any list. On most campuses across the country a mandatory student fee is assessed to each student at the beginning of the year. A portion of this fee, which may be several hundred dollars, will go toward funding various political, religious, and interest groups.  A college requiring you to support groups espousing ideas which...
If you're not happy with the direction of the country and you want to take back your future, at some point you will have to do something. It's not enough to just know that we're going in the wrong direction. You actually have to step out and get involved. Most college campuses have conservative and libertarian student groups. Find one of them to join. Below is a list of some of the larger non-...
Now that you're at college and the initial excitement has worn off, maybe you're thinking that the course selection is a bit biased and you'd like some options. So how do you (the consumer) get the college (the business) to change up its offerings? It certainly won't be easy. Nevertheless it's something that should be done--particularly since you're footing the bill. A good, education in a free...
Whatever activism you choose to do on campus, you need to get your story out. A popular tactic used by the Left is to isolate and intimidate freedom-loving students. You're not alone and there are a lot of people in your city, state, and country that can probably support your efforts. They just need to know what is happening. Whenever you can, record in-class bias, discrimination against...
The reality is that most students (and people for that matter) won't speak out. It's called human nature and it was recognized in the Declaration of Independence: "...all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." While you might feel alone when debating a teacher,...
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, speech codes are a particularly odious example of politically correct repression on many a college campus. In some ways, college campuses are the least free places for thinking and speech in America. Your best friend for fighting your school's repressive speech codes is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Here's a short clip...
Running for office isn't easy, even in college. Not everyone is cut out for it, either. For those of you who are, this completely non-partisan section is for you. If you are inclined to pursue student government, we're not going to spend time on telling you how to get elected. A good place to go for ideas and training is CampusReform.org. Rather, we want to help you in office, as a believer in...

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