At heaven's command: An argument for belief in the exceptionalism of one’s nation

At heaven's command: An argument for belief in the exceptionalism of one’s nation
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"Make America great again!” is the war cry of the Trump era, but belief in the exceptionalism of one’s nation is a concept perfected by England’s great Queen-Empress, Victoria. In fact, The Telegraph reports: “She took a possessive personal pride in Britain and its empire, and her subjects across the globe.”

As the old queen lay dying in her Scotland home 117 years ago this Jan. 22, she could look back upon a remarkable 63-year reign during which her nation flourished as a world power and greatly expanded to the benefit of the globe, thanks in large part to her championing of British exceptionalism.


Victoria’s almost religious belief that it was her nation’s destiny to not only lead, but to spread British values and beliefs to every corner of the world is both logical and desirable. While it should go without saying that the head of state of a supreme world power would hold this posture, we are now threatened by a troubling tendency, as we experienced under the Obama presidency, to bow to a world order rather than pursue our own global potential.


The Victorian Age provided a moral imperative to strive for greatness that resulted in the most prolific Empire modern history has witnessed. At its center was Queen Victoria, whose ethics and values stemmed directly from her Protestant faith and belief that Britain represented the most advanced and compassionate society, bar none. Her convictions, ethics and determination were driving forces behind Britain’s becoming a leading world power.

Because of the example they set, underpinned by religious conviction, the queen and Prince Albert were able to win over an English people whose view of the monarchy had been declining. Victoria’s forebears, as well as the revolutionary spirit in Europe, left a bad taste in the mouths of the British people with respect to the value of monarchy. Notably, her grandfather, George III’s loss of the American colonies and her uncle, George IV’s disastrous domestic life and wasteful spending, meant a very low popularity for the English monarchy when she acceded to the throne.  

Furthermore, the 19th century witnessed the doom of monarchies throughout Europe — France, Germany, Austria and Italy. But owing to their own devotion for one another, deep faith and belief in Britain’s exceptionalism, she and Albert effectively saved the monarchy and regained the respect and even devotion of the nation.

Albert can be credited with many of Victoria’s successes. It was he who recognized that the world was on the brink of great change and progress and reasoned that, from a public opinion standpoint, it was far better that the monarchy was seen to improve the lives of the greatest number of people. Hence, Victoria adopted his interest in encouraging all people — not just the privileged — to share in the advantages of new technology and innovation that were changing the lives of her expanding dominions in every corner of the globe.

In addition to the great technological advancements fueled by her reign, Victoria’s sense of who she was and her belief in Protestant Christianity and its elements of hard work, thrift, and its emphasis on the sanctity of the family, were central to her miraculous leadership. Like the current queen, Victoria took seriously her role as the Christian queen of a Christian nation, and her example inspired her people, including her military, that it was God’s edict that they needed to fulfill in their various missions.  

Furthermore, the exceptionalism instilled by the queen bridged the class gap, so that both rich and poor, and even her non-British subjects throughout the Empire, were invested in climbing to ever-greater heights.

There are so many lessons to be learned from Queen Victoria’s life and reign. Fortunately the United States has President TrumpDonald TrumpWendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Senate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Former acting Defense secretary under Trump met with Jan. 6 committee: report MORE who, unlike his predecessor, has fully taken on, to great success, Queen Victoria’s spirit of the exceptionalism of her nation and its values and beliefs. Indeed, the queen would not have stood for the kicking-around of the United States during the Obama years, and Trump so far has made progress in restoring competitiveness, security and prosperity that would have impressed the queen.  

So, too, would Victoria have approved of Britain’s bold choice to regain its lost sovereignty through European Union disentanglement. One has to imagine that she would have bristled that it has had to bow to the whims and laws of Brussels in recent decades.  

Queen Victoria, who lived at a time when the monarchy had more sway over politics, no doubt would have endorsed a more Thatcher- and Reagan-like approach to the divorce from Europe than has transpired so far. She would have been thrilled at the Thatcher-Reagan collaboration, which was based upon an almost divine manifest destiny to govern strongly but compassionately. Though her life ended over a century ago, it shaped so much that came after it and should be used as an example of good leadership today and always.

Lee Cohen spent years advising the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on WesternEuropean affairs, and was founding executive director of the House United Kingdom Caucus.