This article traces the ethos of the United States to a Mediterranean setting. Founded as a Roman-like republic, the country has also understood itself as a “second Israel” throughout its history. This combination has proved itself to be anything but problem free: while Americans wished to become republicans according to the Roman model, they could not ignore Rome’s corruption and decline. On the other hand, if they were to be the new Israel, what did it mean to be a God-chosen republic?
One way to make sense of this tension is by better understanding a “Mediterranean Synthesis” in American history. If Rome excited Americans but also demonstrated that a republic would necessarily become corrupt, Jerusalem promised that the American Rome could escape the historical pitfalls that ensnared republics for millennia. Americans thus made sense of the meaning of their national experience in light of two ancient Mediterranean entities, a classical polity and a biblical nation, hence becoming a chosen republic. The outcome was Americans’ paradoxical ability to perceive theirs as an exceptional polity, one that would not necessarily follow the universal rules of history.