American Exceptionalism: Fair and Balanced.

Off the top of my head anyway, “American Exceptionalism” seems to be a justification for admitting or omitting certain things from school curriculums, among other things.

Well, is American Exceptionalism a bare assertion, or is it worthy of the fair-and-balanced treatment? What are the best arguments, for and against?

Works about as well as “God is an American”.
I can’t see why you can’t believe in both, but there’s scant empirical evidence either is true.

You Americans think you’re so special - I’ll have you know that *every *country has its own version of “exceptionalism”. Everyone believes, to one degree or another, that the same rules that apply to the rest of the world, don’t apply here. It’s just the way people are.

Americans are people who either moved to America, or happened to be born in America. Nothing inherently exceptional about it at all.

American barbecue is, like, totally exceptional.

Well, America is #1 in quite a few things, plus there are some unique things about our country that we’re pretty proud of. I don’t think that’s a justification for leaving things out of school curriculums, but American exceptionalism isn’t based on just nothing.

Any nation which can inspire a movie scene like this gets my vote:
"KKK fat man: Ok, I’m confused. Are the bags on or off?

KKK man: I think, we all think the bags was a nice idea, but not pointin’ any fingers (pause), they could’ve been done better, so how about no bags this time, but next time, we do the bags right? And then we go full regalia!

KKK leader: Wait a minute, I didn’t say no bags.

KKK fat man: But nobody can see.

KKK leader: So?

KKK fat man: So, it’d be nice to see.

KKK leader: Goddamn it, This is a raid. I can’t see. You can’t see. So what? All that matters is can the fuckin’ horse see?! That’s a raid!"

It’s just a patriotically correct fairy tale. There’s nothing particularly exceptional or non-exceptional about Americans. We just happened to settle in a continent with abundant resources and, at least in the east, favorable climate and soil for agriculture. The fact that westward expansion happened in the early days of the Industrial Revolution made for enormous opportunity and it would have been difficult not to have built a prosperous nation. The US is not without its sins, such as slavery, genocide of the native Americans, and today’s Republican Party. Today the US is no better nor worse than most industrial nations, except most don’t have a batshit crazy political party.

America is the most powerful country in the world, militarily, economically, and culturally. Apart from that, we’re nothing unusual.


They all have batshit crazy political parties. We are just exceptional in that we give ours the keys to the kingdom. :smiley:

Other nations have been able to say the same. I’d argue that power comes from the uniqueness of the nation, not the other way around.

Of course the US is unique. Every nation is. Its particular uniqueness put it in the position to become a superpower and cultural hegemon. But I feel that the term “American exceptionalism” has been so thoroughly entangled in conflicting ideologies as to render it essentially useless in conversation.

Hey, we did that once! And the HRE. And Rome. And China.

You know, these things seem to happen a lot. I mean, it’s a judgement of contrasts. There has to be a most powerful country in the world. Even if everyone was only armed with pointed sticks, there’d be a guy with the pointiest one.

The big problem with execeptionalism is that we won’t really know the answer until the end of history. All we can do in the meantime is debunk, and not prove.

The Texas Freedom Network pays attention to Education, among other things. Not long ago, they had an SMU professor head a review of proposed (Texas, US & World) History Textsrecommended for our public schools. (It’s a pdf, for those of you still using dial-up.) From his introduction:

“American Exceptionalism” is something the Republican majority of our State Board of Education specifically wants taught in our schoolsy. This exhaustive report shows how it’s handled–with various levels of success One example:

Sure, teach what’s good about our country. But don’t stop there. We can always improve.

Don’t forget rock song lyrics. American rock songs are beyond exceptional; nothing can compare with such masterpieces as:

Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Oh, how to do now
Well, I been waiting a long long long time.
Well, I’m gonna make you you you you mine.
Well, I don’t know how how how how to say.
Well, I’m gonna make you you you you mine today.
Well, I don’t know how how how how to do.
Hey girl, I’m gonna put the make make make on you.
Well, that will do that will do that will do.

  • The Monks

And of course:

*Na, na-na na-na
Na-na na-na
Na-na na-na na-na
Na-na na-na
Need somebody help me say it one time!
Na, na-na na-na
Na-na na-na
Na-na na-na na-na
Na-na na-na

You know I feel alright?

  • Wilson Pickett

Ain’t no Israeli rock songs that come remotely close.

Well, there is the fact that the US isn’t merely exceptional right now in a variety of categories but is actually the best the world has ever seen—the most influential economically, politically, culturally, and militarily. If that isn’t exceptional, I don’t know what is.

Besides, it doesn’t seem to me like the fact that other nations have been exceptional means that its useless as a descriptor. It isn’t particularly unreasonable to say that anyone who is substantially more powerful than every competitor is exceptional.

American exceptionalism isn’t about outcomes, like military prowess or economic dominance, it’s about cultural and institutional behaviours that supposedly naturally lead to those outcomes.

You see it in statements that America has the best constitution, it is the best hope for mankind, no one else has freedom. Others can’t possibly understand the unmatched dynamic of America etc etc etc.

Those of us in other Western countries tend to roll out eyes at these things.

Isn’t much of that due to technology, though? I mean, if in 100 years another country is dominant, then very likely they’d blow everyone in the past out of the water, too. A Roman citizen could well have said much the same thing at the time they lived.

Yup. American Exceptionalism means that we were Destined For Greatness from the very beginning. And that every detail in our history pointed the way to that greatness–even if it looked a bit messy at the time. And that greatness will endure forever!

I’m quite fond of many aspects of my country, historically & in the present day. But there’s always room for improvement. And lots of other countries have great things going for them.

I note you say “Those of us in other Western countries…” Does that mean you’re looking down on those nasty non-Western countries? Even some of the ones with current problems had great civilizations long before my folks got here. And back then my folks weren’t doing anything particularly remarkable Back Home…

We’re talking about current history, institutions and attitudes. I doubt the various authoritarian groups care if the American guarantee of freedom of speech is better or worse than the Canadian freedom of expression model.

That’s definitely the main critique, and is in fact something I intended (and forgot) to include in my post. But that doesn’t account for everything–take political power, for example. Power is a zero-sum game, because if someone has more power then someone else has less. And so because the US’s political power is measured against other countries, the claim is adjusted for varying levels of technology, making America’s unprecedented political power very exceptional in the history of the world, and not something that a more technologically advanced society is bound to surpass.

A Roman could have said the very same thing, and I’d argue that they, like America, were an exceptional civilization.