by Shaun Appleby, Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 08:19:24 PM EST
A candidate supporter diary for MyDD
The notion of American exceptionalism is on old and noble one and an awareness of it is essential to understanding our historical role in world affairs. It's an underlying self-perception of our nation widely shared by the general public as much as it is maligned and, especially recently, questioned and deplored by experts. It has been with us since the sympathetic French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville first coined the idea in 1835 and has informed our public policy and national aspirations on the world stage, for better or for worse, throughout our history:
American exceptionalism (cf. "exceptionalism") has been historically referred to as the belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its national credo, historical evolution, or distinctive political and religious institutions. The difference is often expressed in American circles as some categorical superiority, to which is usually attached some alleged proof, rationalization or explanation that may vary greatly depending on the historical period and the political context.
Wikipedia - American Exceptionalism
This belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations is often implied in phrases like restoring America's position or rebuilding our reputation in the world. If you harbour a belief that America has a special role to play by virtue of it's size, power, egalitarianism or influence you are subscribing to this idea. The hijacking of our foreign policy by neo-conservatives, whose notion of 'exceptionalism' was founded solely on our unique status as the last superpower standing in the post-Cold era, has so eroded sympathy for and confidence in American exceptionalism outside our borders that it has undermined the idea of America' special position in the world and led to an abandonment of this concept by intellectuals and our allies on the grounds of illegitimacy and shifting geopolitical sands:
All this has led some to conclude that the world would be better off if America slunk home. As Joyce Carol Oates wrote in The Atlantic: "How heartily sick the world has grown, in the first seven years of the 21st century, of the American idea!" It has become a "cruel joke."
Roger Cohen - Obama's American Idea 10 Dec 07
The criticisms of 'Pax Americana' and comparisons to the imperial ambitions, and decline, of ancient Rome have followed. Many suspect we have quite simply unsheathed the naked blade of military dominance and promptly broken it. They have a good point. In this context there have been few champions of exceptionalism in the foreign policy debate, the right continues to promote the corrupted 'divine right of power' version in their neo-conservative agendas but the left, quite typically, has shied from asserting a bold, coherent, ideological vision, contenting themselves with promises of 'good governance' and remedies for the geopolitical excesses of recent years. Except, apparently, for Senator Obama.