American Exceptionalism

Super American Exceptionalism ManCaptain American ExceptionalismPatriots who are experts on the matter, including members of Congress and the corporate oligarchs for whom they toil, believe that all of us who are fortunate enough to live here in the greatest country on Earth benefit from a magical phenomenon known as American Exceptionalism.

What this means, according to those who have made a study of our glorious history, is basically this: America is different than every other country on the planet. We’re exceptional.

Are we better than every other republic? That’s not for modest Americans to say. All we wish to claim is our exceptionalism, our uniqueness.

And not just the obvious stuff: our ongoing experiment in democracy, our astonishing standard of living, our respect for abstract concepts like human rights, civil liberties, and privacy. We’re talking about the subtler things, the dozens of qualities and conventions that collectively comprise our character. That which makes us American is that which makes us truly exceptional.

Over the long July 4th weekend, we found signs of American Exceptionalism everywhere, confirming our unspoken (yet deeply longed for) hope that American Exceptionalism wasn’t just some encouraging-sounding nostrum, a cynical excuse that politicians use as a blanket apology for whatever unilateral policy they wish to implement. No, American Exceptionalism is real.

We looked around and saw that Americans are exceptional in so many ways! Americans are exceptionally fat; Americans are exceptionally entertained by violence, simulated and American Exceptionalism has its costsactual; Americans are exceptionally disproportionate consumers of the planet’s resources; Americans are exceptionally militaristic, with more spending on their war machine than the next ten countries combined; Americans are exceptionally addicted to comfort and convenience; Americans are exceptionally reliant on the benefits of slave labor, whether from Mississippi cotton plantations or Bangladeshi stitching factories.

Also, Americans are exceptionally prone to the belief that every other country in the world would be a lot better off if they stopped complaining, started cooperating, and gracefully accepted our American Exceptionalism.

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5 Responses

  1. Pecora, Vincent P.. 2011. American exceptionalism redux. The Immanent Frame. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2011/10/18/american-exceptionalism-redux/ (accessed July 12, 2013).

  2. It is also important to realise that there is a “negative” version of exceptionalism, i.e. that the US has been exceptionally bad, racist, violent. While this is less a part of the common myths about American history, the attempt to compensate for American exceptionalism by emphasising unique American evils is equally distorting. We need to think more about this matter, especially when we deal with racial divisions and gender prejudice. Is the US experience a variant on wider racial and gender patterns? While social history has provided new perspectives on the role of women, African Americans, and ethnics in the making of American history, has that new history discredited or qualified ideas of American exceptionalism?

  3. Liz O. Oneil says:

    “Exceptional” can mean the very best; we’d love our kids to have teachers describe them as exceptional students. And that is the way some people on the right mean that American is exceptional. When Fox News’s Sean Hannity says, “The U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the earth,” that’s his way of saying it is exceptionally super. This sense of exceptional as meaning superior has led many academics on the left to disparage studies of American exceptionalism. To them it seems like chest-pounding rather than scholarship and they’d like to bury the term.

  4. It is also important to realise that there is a “negative” version of exceptionalism, i.e. that the US has been exceptionally bad, racist, violent. While this is less a part of the common myths about American history, the attempt to compensate for American exceptionalism by emphasising unique American evils is equally distorting. We need to think more about this matter, especially when we deal with racial divisions and gender prejudice. Is the US experience a variant on wider racial and gender patterns? While social history has provided new perspectives on the role of women, African Americans, and ethnics in the making of American history, has that new history discredited or qualified ideas of American exceptionalism?

  5. Get Smart says:

    It is also important to realise that there is a “negative” version of exceptionalism, i.e. that the US has been exceptionally bad, racist, violent. While this is less a part of the common myths about American history, the attempt to compensate for American exceptionalism by emphasising unique American evils is equally distorting. We need to think more about this matter, especially when we deal with racial divisions and gender prejudice. Is the US experience a variant on wider racial and gender patterns? While social history has provided new perspectives on the role of women, African Americans, and ethnics in the making of American history, has that new history discredited or qualified ideas of American exceptionalism?