The Long March Toward the End of Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism has been engendered by our nation's unique balance of private and government interests and of the ideals of economic and personal freedom, as embodied in our Constitution. While exceptionalism is not necessarily synonymous with superiority, in this regard America has stood out in contrast to other nations.

Alexis de Tocqueville reflected deeply on American exceptionalism in the early 1800s. It consists of four pillars:

  1. Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, formed the moral framework for the ethical practice of government. As John Adams observed: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
  2. Common Law, which arises from God - meaning that Common Law or Natural Law is superior to Civil Law, which originates via the diktats of an emperor or cabal over their subjects.
  3. Sanctity of Private Property.
  4. Free market capitalism.

In his insightful and still highly relevant 2000 essay, Why There is a Culture War, John Fonte contrasts the philosophies of twentieth-century Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and the nineteenth-century French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville. Gramsci expanded on Marx's ranks of the "oppressed" into categories that persist today. Fonte writes:

Gramsci believed that it was necessary first to delegitimize the dominant belief systems of the predominant groups and to create a "counter-hegemony" (i.e., a new system of values for the subordinate groups) before the marginalized could be empowered. Moreover, because hegemonic values permeate all spheres of civil society - schools, churches, the media, voluntary associations - civil society itself, he argued, is the great battleground in the struggle for hegemony, the "war of position." From this point, too, followed a corollary for which Gramsci should be known... that all life is "political." Thus, private life, the work place, religion, philosophy, art, and literature, and civil society, in general, are contested battlegrounds in the struggle to achieve societal transformation...

All of Gramsci’s most innovative ideas - for example, that dominant and subordinate groups based on race, ethnicity, and gender are engaged in struggles over power; that the "personal is political"; and that all knowledge and morality are social constructions - are assumptions and presuppositions at the very center of today’s politics...

Indeed, what is called "critical theory" - a direct descendant of Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist thinking - is widely influential in both law and education...

Socialist student activist Rudi Dutschke coined the phrase "the long march through the institutions" in 1967 to describe the radical left's strategy to change the political system by becoming part of it. In this manner, Communism would gain control over the masses, the culture, and the government - without the need for armed revolution. Herbert Marcuse wrote about Dutschke's concept in his 1972 book. Counterrevolution and Revolt.

Opposing Gramsci: Tocqueville

Fonte writes that:

The primary resistance to the advance of Gramscian ideas comes from an opposing quarter that I will call contemporary Tocquevillianism. Its representatives take Alexis de Tocqueville’s essentially empirical description of American exceptionalism and celebrate the traits of this exceptionalism as normative values to be embraced...

Americans combined strong religious and patriotic beliefs with dynamic, restless entrepreneurial energy that emphasized equality of individual opportunity and eschewed hierarchical and ascriptive group affiliations. The trinity of American exceptionalism could be described as (1) dynamism (support for equality of individual opportunity, entrepreneurship, and economic progress); (2) religiosity (emphasis on character development, mores, and voluntary cultural associations) that works to contain the excessive individual egoism that dynamism sometimes fosters; and (3) patriotism (love of country, self-government, and support for constitutional limits)...

The Tocquevillians, then, emphasize "renewing" and "rediscovering" American mores, suggesting that there is a healthy civic and moral core to the American regime that needs to be brought back to life.

Fonte conntinues, describing how Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist assumptions increasingly influenced society and government, observing that:

The slow but steady advance of Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist ideas through the major institutions of American democracy, including the Congress, courts, and executive branch, suggests that there are two different levels of political activity in twenty-first century America. On the surface, politicians seem increasingly inclined to converge on the center. Beneath, however, lies a deeper conflict that is ideological in the most profound sense of the term and that will surely continue in decades to come, regardless of who becomes president tomorrow, or four or eight or even 20 years from now.

A turning point occurred with Barack Obama. A protagonist of "fundamentally transforming the United States of America," Obama has been referred to as the first post-American president who once derided American exceptionalism by saying, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." In many ways, his administration marked the visible deflection from American exceptionalism.

Fonte described over two decades ago how Gramscian tactics to undermine schools, the media, churches, voluntary associations, and civil society itself were being implemented. Today we are witnessing the culmination of this "long march through the institutions." Fonte concluded:

The ultimate triumph of Gramscianism would mean the end of this very "exceptionalism." America would at last become Europeanized: statist, thoroughly secular, post-patriotic, and concerned with group hierarchies and group rights in which the idea of equality before the law as traditionally understood by Americans would finally be abandoned. Beneath the surface of our seemingly placid times, the ideological, political, and historical stakes are enormous.

Today the political scene is no longer placid, and society has been fragmented perhaps past the point of redemption. The battle of paradigms continues in full view of even the most timid of observers. Yet the future is not cast in stone. America as an exceptional nation is not lost and many still believe it is worth preserving. As John Paul Jones, the "Father of the American Navy," proclaimed in battle:

I have not yet begun to fight!


Tocqueville on Liberty, Inequality, and American Exceptionalism - No one affords a greater understanding of American exceptionalism - what it is and what it is not - than Alexis de Tocqueville, by David A. Eisenberg, Public Discourse, 21 May 2019.

Book Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835.

Through The Looking Glass - American Exceptionalism - Common Law 9/2/1012, by Dave Dougherty.

Why There is a Culture War - Gramsci and Tocqueville in America, by John Fonte, Hoover Institution, 1 December 2000.

Long march through the institutions, Conservapedia.

Book: Counterrevolution and Revolt, by Herbert Marcuse, 1989.

Book: American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, by Diana West, 2013. Also: The Red Thread: A Search for Ideological Drivers Inside the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, by Diana West, 2019.

How Has American Exceptionalism Fared under Obama?, by Michael Barone, National Review, 15 January 2016.

Atheism can't equip us for civilisational war, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Unherd, ;11 November 2023.

Cultural Marxism, Political Correctness, and Critical Theory

Intersectionality - stacking levels of perceived discrimination

Leftism - a Hegelian spiral toward Marxism


The Left's War on American Values