Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Most statements of “American exceptionalism” presume that America’s values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. They also imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.

The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth....By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else.

This unchallenged faith in American exceptionalism makes it harder for Americans to understand why others are less enthusiastic about U.S. dominance, often alarmed by U.S. policies, and frequently irritated by what they see as U.S. hypocrisy....Ironically, U.S. foreign policy would probably be more effective if Americans were less convinced of their own unique virtues and less eager to proclaim them.

These are the words of Stephen M. Walt, Harvard professor and co-author of The Israel Lobby, in an excellent Foreign Policy article entitled The Myth of American Exceptionalism, here.

Walt identifies 5 of the pleasant lies we tell ourselves:

1. There is Something Exceptional about American Exceptionalism.

2. The United States Behaves Better Than Other Nations Do.

3. America's Success is Due to its Special Genius.

4. The United States is Responsible for Most of the Good in the World.

5. God Is on Our Side.

We are now one year and 6 days away from the 2012 presidential election. Expect to hear much about American Exceptionalism, whoever the GOP nominee turns out to be (though it will be Romney.) He will accuse President Obama of not believing in AE, and he will be wrong. Both parties completely buy into the idea, though using different language to express it.

Walt's article is superb, a much-needed corrective to our conventional mindset.

1 comment:

Kirk said...

Interesting that you should point out Romney's belief in AE. The basis for his views derives from his religion, of course, but I suspect the LDS take on AE differs from both evangelical and American Civil Religion perspectives. Should be interesting.