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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 and evolved from John Winthrop’s Biblical vision of the country as an exemplar of Protestantism to the Framers’ vision of us as an exemplar of liberty and democracy? Do we still believe in the creed affirmed by the Statue of Liberty that America is the light of the world and the natural home of all who are oppressed? Many historians have claimed that the belief that Americans are special people with a special mission in a special place is a recurrent theme in our history. In the words of President Reagan’s Farewell Address, we are “still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places are hurtling through darkness toward home.” Is the United States a country organized around an ideology of belief in freedom, democracy, social equality, and individualism and, if so, is that a good thing? Has America in fact been a revolutionary force for liberty and democracy in the world or has the shining city on the hill become, as critics on both the left and the right claim, just another fallen Sodom and Gomorrah?
9:30 a.m. - 11:15 a.m.
Showcase Panel I: Beacon of Freedom: Does America Have a Special Mission?
- Mr. Michael Barone, U.S. News and World Report
- Prof. Richard A. Epstein, University of Chicago Law School
- Prof. Charles Fried, Harvard Law School
- Prof. Gordon S. Wood, Brown University
- Moderator: Hon. James Harvie Wilkinson, III, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit