May 24, 2012 at 10:21 am #14714solidstatesmanMember
I hear the term American Exceptionalism thrown around a lot, but honestly I have no idea what it means, where it came from, and if there is anything to it.
So my question is,1, could someone define it, 2, where did this term come from, and 3, is there any truth in it?
Jamie HoffmanMay 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm #14715gutzmankParticipant
The most interesting thing about the current use of this term is that while it has come to be associated with today’s “right,” it has nothing conservative about it. The idea underlying it is that America should endeavor to spread its form of government around the world by intervening in other countries’ affairs. Claes Ryn has rightly noted that this is a Jacobinical idea reflecting impulses from the French, not the American, Revolution — one that was universally rejected by the Founding Fathers. Funny how the W administration perverted our language.May 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm #14716cboyackKeymaster
I think the following Romney quote defines in greater detail the idea of American Exceptionalism:
“This century must be an American century … In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.”
The idea itself posits (to boil it down to the basics) that America is exceptional – exceptional in the sense of “best, greatest, above everyone else”, etc. It’s rooted in nationalism and draped in the flag. Proponents of American Exceptionalism are often seen trying to impose The American Way on others (WW1 Wilsonianism through to forcing “Democracy” on Iraq) for their own good, because if it’s not American, it’s not right.May 27, 2012 at 7:19 pm #14717gutzmankParticipant
Romney is not alone in finding support for this idea in a peculiar American religious tradition, whether Protestant, Mormon, or some other.May 27, 2012 at 10:22 pm #14718Brion McClanahanMember
Jamie, Kevin, et al. I would highly recommend this book, not yet released, by Richard Gamble, professor at Hillsdale College and a former Clyde Wilson student, like myself. I think it would answer the OP quite nicely.May 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm #14719cboyackKeymaster
Kevin, you’re definitely right – Romney is by far not the only proponent of American Exceptionalism – I just singled him out because his quote puts the idea into a nutshell quite nicely.
Question for everyone, really: Do the majority of Americans seem to fall behind exceptionalism/nationalism in whole or in part, or is it just that the ones that do make the most noise about it?June 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm #14720levijacksonMember
American Exceptionalism popped up right at the the end of the 19th Century, and really picked up steam with the Spanish-American War. It’s the idea that America is a unique bastion of freedom and goodness in the world, and it carries with it a kind of altruistic imperialism. America is said to have some mandate to spread freedom and democracy around the world. When it comes to foreign policy, the US always has good intentions, but might have made some mistakes when carrying out those benevolent plans.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History and Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism are both satisfying critiques of this idea.June 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm #14721woodsParticipant
I second Brion’s recommendation of the book by Gamble. I haven’t read that particular title, but I suspect it’s an expansion of chapter 1 of The War for Righteousness, Gamble’s book on the American clergy and World War I. That chapter traces the American exceptionalism idea throughout U.S. history.June 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm #14722woodsParticipant
I second Brion’s recommendation of the book by Gamble. I haven’t read that particular title, but I suspect it’s an expansion of chapter 1 of The War for Righteousness, Gamble’s book on the American clergy and World War I. That chapter traces the American exceptionalism idea throughout U.S. history.September 24, 2012 at 2:38 am #14723jonstreeterParticipant
My experience with this term boils down to a simple observation. Any time you hear a politician invoke ‘American Exceptionalism’ check the context carefully. It invariably is used to justify some foreign policy that we would find threatening or reprehensible if done by another country to us.
The term has at it’s heart the idea that America’s morals are superior and it’s motives are pure – therefore it’s actions are beyond reproach. It is how we solve the dilemma of our national conscience. If we would be inclined to feel guilt for effecting the overthrow of a sovereign foreign nations government – American Exceptionalism tells us that we are justified because in our piety – we have no designs on claiming the territory for our own. If we sense the tinge of self doubt as to our status as the only nation that has employed a nuclear weapon of mass destruction, American Exceptionalism comforts us with the reassurance that our impeccable character and humane values justified our use of force then and reinforce our natural moral superiority as a nuclear superpower today.
The list could go on. Any aspect of American history which would be monstrous if done by another country to us will be whitewashed in our minds behind this concept that America is an exception among the world’s self interested and immoral nations.
While she is unique in her founding and nature, I am not certaIn that this gives her this form of license.
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