First, let's define what that means:
is the term given to the belief that the United States and the American people hold a special place in the world, by offering opportunity and hope for humanity, derived from its unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom.
'The phrase is thought to have originated by Alexis de Tocqueville
in his famous book Democracy in America
. Some interpret the term to indicate a moral superiority of Americans, while others use it to refer to the American concept as itself an exceptional ideal, which may or may not always be upheld by the actual people and government of the nation. Dissenters claim "American exceptionalism" is little more than crude propaganda, that in essence is a justification for a America-centered view of the world that is inherently chauvinistic and jingoistic in nature.'
The portion of de Toqueville's classic treatise that this term is thought to have originated comes from this:
Now, I have copied the articles of two authors that discuss this belief and what it means for our country and the world.
BTW, I subscribe to neither article's thoughts and positions. They represent only the middle and leftist points of view on this matter.A nation apart
Nov 6th 2003
From The Economist print edition
The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 have not only widened the differences between America and the rest of the world, but have also deepened divisions within the country itself, says John Parker
AT NINE o'clock on the morning of September 11th 2001, President George Bush sat in an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, listening to seven-year-olds read stories about goats. “Night fell on a different world,” he said of that day. And on a different America.
At first, America and the world seemed to change together. “We are all New Yorkers now,” ran an e-mail from Berlin that day, mirroring John F. Kennedy's declaration 40 years earlier, “Ich bin ein Berliner”, and predicting Le Monde's headline the next day, “Nous sommes tous Américains”. And America, for its part, seemed to become more like other countries. Al-Qaeda's strikes, the first on the country's mainland by a foreign enemy, stripped away something unique: its aura of invulnerability, its sense of itself as a place apart, “the city on a hill”.
Two days after the event, President George Bush senior predicted that, like Pearl Harbour, “so, too, should this most recent surprise attack erase the concept in some quarters that America can somehow go it alone.” Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, suggested that “America may become a more ordinary country in the sense of having concrete interests and real vulnerabilities, rather than thinking itself unilaterally able to define the nature of the world it lives in.”
Both men were thinking about foreign policy. But global terrorism changed America at home as well. Because it made national security more important, it enhanced the role of the president and the federal government. Twice as many Americans as in the 1990s now say that they are paying a lot of attention to national affairs, where they used to care more about business and local stories. Some observers noted “a return to seriousness”—and indeed frivolities do not dominate television news as they used to.
But America has not become “a more ordinary country”, either in foreign policy or in the domestic arena. Instead, this survey will argue that the attacks of 2001 have increased “American exceptionalism”—a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in the mid-19th century to describe America's profound differences from other nations. The features that the attacks brought to the surface were already there, but the Bush administration has amplified them. As a result, in the past two years the differences between America and other countries have become more pronounced.
Yet because America is not a homogeneous country—indeed, its heterogeneity is one of its most striking features—many of its people feel uneasy about manifestations of exceptionalism. Hence, as this survey will also argue, the revival and expansion of American exceptionalism will prove divisive at home. This division will define domestic politics for years to come.Not all New Yorkers any more
From the outside, the best indication of American exceptionalism is military power. America spends more on defence than the next dozen countries combined. In the nearest approach to an explicit endorsement of exceptionalism in the public domain, the National Security Strategy of 2002 says America must ensure that its current military dominance—often described as the greatest since Rome's—is not even challenged, let alone surpassed.
In fact, military might is only a symptom of what makes America itself unusual. The country is exceptional in more profound ways. It is more strongly individualistic than Europe, more patriotic, more religious and culturally more conservative (see chart 1). Al-Qaeda's assaults stimulated two of these deeper characteristics. In the wake of the attacks, expressions of both love of country and love of God spiked. This did not necessarily mean Americans suddenly became more patriotic or religious. Rather, the spike was a reminder of what is important to them. It was like a bolt of lightning, briefly illuminating the landscape but not changing it.
The president seized on these manifestations of the American spirit. The day after he had defined America's enemies in his “axis of evil” speech, in January 2002, Mr Bush told an audience in Daytona Beach, Florida, about his country's “mission” in the world. “We're fighting for freedom, and civilisation and universal values.” That is one strand of American exceptionalism. America is the purest example of a nation founded upon universal values, such as democracy and human rights. It is a standard-bearer, an exemplar.
But the president went further, seeking to change America's culture and values in ways that would make the country still more distinctive. “We've got a great opportunity,” he said at Daytona. “As a result of evil, there's some amazing things that are taking place in America. People have begun to challenge the culture of the past that said, ‘If it feels good, do it'. This great nation has a chance to help change the culture.” He was appealing to old-fashioned virtues of personal responsibility, self-reliance and restraint, qualities associated with a strand of exceptionalism that says American values and institutions are different and America is exceptional in its essence, not just because it is a standard-bearer.
On this view, America is not exceptional because it is powerful; America is powerful because it is exceptional. And because what makes America different also keeps it rich and powerful, an administration that encourages American wealth and power will tend to encourage intrinsic exceptionalism. Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations dubs this impulse “American revivalism”. It is not an explicit ideology but a pattern of beliefs, attitudes and instincts.
The Bush administration displays “exceptionalist” characteristics to an unusual extent. It is more openly religious than any of its predecessors. Mr Bush has called Jesus his favourite philosopher. White House staff members arrange Bible study classes. The president's re-election team courts evangelical Protestant voters. The administration wants religious institutions to play a bigger role in social policy.
It also wears patriotism on its sleeve. That is not to say it is more patriotic than previous governments, but it flaunts this quality more openly, using images of the flag on every occasion and relishing America's military might to an unusual extent. More than any administration since Ronald Reagan's, this one is focused narrowly on America's national interest.
Related to this is a certain disdain for “old Europe” which goes beyond frustrations over policy. By education and background, this is an administration less influenced than usual by those bastions of transatlanticism, Ivy League universities. One-third of President Bush senior's first cabinet secretaries, and half of President Clinton's, had Ivy League degrees. But in the current cabinet the share is down to a quarter. For most members of this administration, who are mainly from the heartland and the American west (Texas especially), Europe seems far away. They have not studied there. They do not follow German novels or French films. Indeed, for many of them, Europe is in some ways unserious. Its armies are a joke. Its people work short hours. They wear sandals and make chocolate. Europe does not capture their imagination in the way that China, the Middle East and America itself do.
Mr Bush's own family embodies the shift away from Euro-centrism. His grandfather was a senator from Connecticut, an internationalist and a scion of Brown Brothers Harriman, bluest of blue-blooded Wall Street investment banks. His father epitomised the transatlantic generation. Despite his Yale education, he himself is most at home on his Texas ranch.
Looked at this way, the Bush administration's policies are not only responses to specific problems, or to demands made by interest groups. They reflect a certain way of looking at America and the world.
They embody American exceptionalism.
American ExceptionalismA Disease of Conceit
By RON JACOBS
Any person who is honestly opposed to the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has got to wonder why the movement that developed against the US war on Iraq before the March 2003 invasion has faltered so badly and now seems to be caught up in the movement to electorally defeat George Bush, even though that means supporting John Kerry-a politician who not only supported the invasion and occupation, but talks openly about widening the war to include the NATO countries and tens of thousands more US troops. One could place the blame on the failure of the movement's politics, always more liberal than anti-imperialist. Or, one could place the blame on the leadership. In both cases, one would find some basis for their argument.
When it comes to the bottom line, though, the underlying cause for the US antiwar movement's current stasis is that most of its adherents believe in one of this country's basic tenets-a tenet that is ultimately religious in nature. For lack of a more descriptive phrase, we'll call this phenomenon American exceptionalism. On a basic political level, this phenomenon is the belief that, for some reason (America's system of democracy, or maybe its economic superiority), the United States system is not subject to the same contradictions and influences as those of the rest of the world. This belief in American superiority finds its foundation in some of our culture's basic religious and cultural constructs. It's there in the first settlers' belief that they were conducting a special errand into the wilderness to construct a city on a hill in the name of their heavenly father and every single president and wannabe always implores this same heavenly father to "bless America" at the end of every one of his speeches. This is no accident.
It is this belief that gave the Pilgrims their heavenly go-ahead to murder Pequot women and children and it was this belief that gave General Custer his approval to kill as many Sioux as he could. It made the mass murder of Korean and Vietnamese civilians acceptable to the soldiers at No Gun Ri and My Lai and exonerated the officers who tried to hide those and many other war crimes from the world. It gives George Bush the only rationale he needs to continue his crusade against the part of the world that stands in the way of the more mercenary men and women behind his throne as they pursue their project for a new American century. And, most importantly for us, it informs a goodly number of decent Americans in their tentative opposition to those men and women. Consequently, while they may oppose George Bush's approach to Washington's war on the world, they do not necessarily disagree with its goals.
Therefore, they find themselves making the argument that somehow some way; the United States must repair what it has so ruthlessly destroyed in Iraq. If our friends in the movement did not believe in America's essential goodness, its exception to the rules that govern power and the desire for power, than how could they believe that the very same agents that destroyed the country of Iraq would be able to repair it? Indeed, why would such a good country have destroyed another in the first place? These questions raise two of the most obvious contradictions governing the major part of the US antiwar forces. In fact, the antiwar movement is only one of the many places in the US cultural and political arena where such exceptionalism occurs.
It can be found in the struggle for equal rights for women, gays and lesbians; and it can be found in the struggle against racism. It is present in the mindset that refuses to support the right to armed struggle by oppressed peoples and it is present in the mindset that perceives other cultures less advanced than that which we have in the United States. . It's even present in the approach progressives take towards our national elections-it's as if our electoral system is beyond reproach, fair beyond criticism and impossible to taint. Because of this misconception, we allow our government to force its version of democracy on people around the world. Then, when these folks either reject our high-minded attempts to enlighten them or, even worse, actually use the electoral processes foisted upon them to elect someone who they want but who opposes US designs, the progressives find themselves as offended by this slight as the neocons.
How to change the movement to a movement that is capable of continuing its pursuit of justice once its right flank is co-opted by the system? At the risk of sounding redundant, study the world, not just the US. Develop an understanding of how capital works and forget the idea that capital ever has good intentions. Capitalism is an economic and political system that has no morals. It is not immoral, nor is it moral. It is amoral. In order to survive, it must expand, either by moving its operations into new regions or by taking over other capitalist ventures and their markets. Usually, the most successful capitalists employ both means. In recent history, the most successful capitalists have been mostly American. The fact that the US spends more money on weaponry and war is directly related to that phenomenon.
America is not a better country than any other. Its citizens and residents are as venal and as great as any others in any other part of the world. The only thing that sets us apart is our wealth. The only reason we have that wealth is because we stole it. God didn't give it to us, nor did any greater American intelligence or know-how. Robbery is what our foreign policy is based on, just like our racial policies. It's not the policies that need to change, but the foundation upon which those policies flourish. Until US activists accept this and give up their conscious and unconscious acceptance of the myth of American exceptionalism, any movement against war, racism, and other ills of our world is bound to fail. Not because it doesn't have the right motivation, but because it doesn't have a radical enough conception of itself and the world it exists in.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
'Now, go discuss amongst yourselves!' ~ Linda Richman (Mike Meyers)