The cultural civil war in which America is engaged is, in large measure, about American exceptionalism. Conservative America generally believes in the concept; liberal America generally finds it chauvinistic and dangerous.
What is American exceptionalism? The belief that America often knows better than the world what is right and wrong. This belief drives most of the world's opinion-makers crazy. And it particularly infuriates the American Left, that part of America that trusts what is called "world opinion" more than it trusts the American people.
And from where does this belief in American exceptionalism derive? Mostly from the religious beliefs that underlie American values. That is a major reason the current culture war is about the place of Judeo-Christian values in American life. Those who believe that America must remain a Judeo-Christian nation (in terms of values) are far less respectful of international institutions than those who wish to make America a secular nation.
Judeo-Christian America -- American exceptionalism America -- loves John Bolton, has contempt for the United Nations, mistrusts the World Court, regards Amnesty International as another morally confused leftist organization, thinks little of the world's media and academic elites, and regards "world opinion" as morally confused and left-wing media manipulated.
On the other side are those, like the ACLU, who regard even the smallest cross on any county or city seal as a religious threat to the secular republic, who think it America's fault that this country is not highly regarded in public opinion polls from Canada to Germany to South Korea, who passionately opposed John Bolton becoming ambassador to the U.N. because he is highly critical of that institution, and who believe that other nations' laws should be cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Particularly significant is the difference between the two sides' views of law, especially international law. For the Left, i.e., the opponents of American exceptionalism, law is the highest good; for the Right, especially the Judeo-Christian Right, morality is higher than law. This difference is easily observed in the way the two sides view the war in Iraq. For the opponents of American exceptionalism, generally the secular Left here and abroad, the greatest sin of the war is that it allegedly violates international law. Had it been authorized by the United Nations Security Council, as was the first war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it would have been considered legal and not have elicited nearly as much opposition as it has. But because the U.N. Security Council did not authorize this war, it is deemed illegal and therefore deemed wrong.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”