American Exceptionalism, American Decline

by Matthew Sitman

Martin Amis writes about leaving England for America, and what a remarkable haven for writers he's found his adopted country to be – juxtaposing his praise, unsurprisingly, with a touch of sadness at our impending decline:

The phrase “American exceptionalism” was coined in 1929 by none other than Josef Stalin, who condemned it as a “heresy.” (He meant that America, like everywhere else, was subject to the iron laws of Karl Marx.) If that much-mocked notion still means anything, we should apply it to America’s exceptionally hospitable attitude to outsiders (and America has certainly been exceptionally hospitable to me and my family). All friends of the stars and stripes are pained to see that this unique and noble tradition is now under threat, and from all sides; but America remains, definingly, an immigrant society, vast and formless; writers have always occupied an unresented place in it, because everyone subliminally understood that they would play a part in construing its protean immensity. Remarkably, the “American Century” (to take another semi-wowserism) is due to last exactly that long—with China scheduled for prepotence in about 2045. The role of the writers, for the time being, is at least clear enough. They will be taking America’s temperature, and checking its pulse, as the New World follows the old country down the long road of decline.

Previous Dish coverage of Amis's fascination with decline here.