The American Interest
Policy, Politics & Culture
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The Unlikely History of American Exceptionalism

The contemporary vocabulary of “American Exceptionalism” comes to us courtesy of doctrinaire Communists and Catholics, from as recently as the 1930s. Really.

Published on February 12, 2013
What does it mean to say the United States is exceptional? If it just means unique, then the claim is unexceptional because no two countries are exactly alike. If it just means that Americans have believed their country is special, then (as a British skeptic writes) there is “nothing exceptional about this exceptionalism. All great nations cherish national myths.”1 If it means that the United States was exceptionally virtuous given its precocious dedication to civil and religious liberty, equality, justice, prosperity, social mobility, and peace and harmony with all nations, then ipso facto the United States is exceptionally vicious for falling...