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News American Exceptionalism

  1. Dec 20, 2011 #1
    Repeatedly I heard the words "American Exceptionalism" from Republicans recently (Gingrich, Limbaugh, others). What do these words stand for? Do the "liberals" and President Obama do not believe in it?
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  3. Dec 20, 2011 #2


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    [quote from troll post deleted] I'm reminded of a quote I heard somewhere once, which is probably based somewhere else, and stolen from someone else, and applied to a completely different situation (as such things go). Nevertheless, a cursory Google search brings up one of its iterations, which is along the lines of what you're suggesting:


    Suffice it to say, American Exceptionalism is the belief that you guys (and gals) are special (exceptional), and that your s*%@ doesn't stink. The reality is that republics have come before (though never as inclusive), empires have come before (though probably never as lightly nor as transient), and the former has turned into the latter (and back) before. What has set you (and us British and British subjects) apart has been rule of law: that no one is above the law, nor bereft of its protections. Watch out for your politicians who want to kill (or impeach) all the lawyers or, to borrow from Pokemon, at least their 'evolved' forms, the judges.
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  4. Dec 20, 2011 #3


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    Here are a few sentences copied from Wiki:

    The specific term "American exceptionalism" was first used in 1929 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastising members of the American Communist Party for believing that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history "thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions."[4]

    Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense.[1][5] To them, the United States is like the biblical "shining city on a hill," and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.[6]

  5. Dec 23, 2011 #4
    To think that we are exceptional among other nations, groups and communities is one of the most common patterns of the human cultures... It's almost a cliché... Nothing "exceptional" about it...
    The judeo-christian tradition is based since its very beginning on the notion of "election" in its primary meaning... But it's not specific to that group of cultures neither... I was born and raised in a different religion but I was taught since early childhood that "we were not like the others"... To use that kind of language in a suprematist strategy is not "exceptional" too...
  6. Dec 23, 2011 #5
    This all stems from a comment that Obama made in 2009, when asked if he believed in "American Exceptionalim." He responded:
    To me, that sounds like a fair answer. To some republicans, that's the equivalent of wiping one's backside with the American Flag, apparently.
  7. Dec 23, 2011 #6
    American exceptionalism (by the way, physicsforums doesn't recognize "exceptionalism" as a word) is the belief that America and it's traditions of government are historically unique. I.E., the American "empire" will not go the way of other empires because it is, in some sense, categorically different.

    I think the first sentence from the above referenced wiki article better answers the OP's question:

    "American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other countries. In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming "the first new nation,"[1] and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. This observation can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as "exceptional" in 1831 and 1840.[2] Historian Gordon Wood has argued, "Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism, and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the Revolutionary era. So too did our idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy."
  8. Dec 23, 2011 #7
    The problem with this definition is that literally every country in the world is exceptional by this definition. Every country's traditions of government are historically unique. Every country is qualitatively different from every other country. Egyptian exceptionalism stems from being one of the oldest cultures. Indian exceptionalism stems from being one of the most populous countries and from driving out the British occupiers. British exceptionalism stems from having an empire so large at one point that the sun was always shining on some part of it.

    I'm no historian, but EVERY country can come up with a list and say "this is why our country is exceptional; that is to say, qualitatively different from every other country."

    This is the national equivalent of "everybody's special."
  9. Feb 12, 2012 #8
    If we're not exceptional as a country - why do so many people count on us for assistance?
  10. Feb 12, 2012 #9


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    The fact that we're the richest in the world can explain that and it doesn't, as far as I can tell, have anything to do with the concept of exceptionalism.
  11. Feb 12, 2012 #10
    I always thought our exceptionalism was in the area of free enterprise - unlimited potential due to our freedoms and the American Dream of success? Isn't that why people chose to come to the US - to live the Dream?
  12. Feb 12, 2012 #11
    America is exceptional in its amount of high school dropouts.
  13. Feb 12, 2012 #12
    Haven't graduation/equiv rates improved over the past 100 years?
  14. Feb 12, 2012 #13


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    When a country is trying to be exceptional, it shouldn't compare itself to how it was 100 years ago. It should compare itself to other countries, in the present.

    Many aspects of life have improved all over the world in the last 100 years. Nothing exceptional about that.
  15. Feb 12, 2012 #14
    Perhaps we should ask WHY graduation rates are not exceptional? Don't we spend more than everyone else on education K-12? As far as I know attendance is mandatory K-age 16? What is the motivation for anyone to drop out - could it be the attraction of public assistance for some?
  16. Feb 12, 2012 #15


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    If you already have a conclusion in your pocket, why go to the bother of gathering data?
  17. Feb 12, 2012 #16


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    The author Robert Kagan has a book out titled, "The World American Made", to leave little doubt where he stands on the exceptionalism issue. The book has come up in White House discussions apparently. He's son of historian Donald and brother to political commentator Frederick, and has an article out today:

    Why the World Needs America

    On the subject of the current ongoing trend of more pluralistic governments and a relatively safe international system, I've toyed with the idea that the 'better idea' of democracy and free markets make today's world ~inevitable, as opposed to being enabled by a superpower like the US. Kagan's answer: wrong.

  18. Feb 12, 2012 #17

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    As odd as it may be, I was recently in high school, and I don't remember anyone dropping out so that they could get a welfare check.
  19. Feb 12, 2012 #18
    That still doesn't answer the question of why they did drop out - did they think they didn't need an education?
  20. Feb 12, 2012 #19

    Char. Limit

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    Basically. The vast majority got a job and figured that a diploma wasn't going to help them as much as going full time would. So they got a full-time job instead.

    Of course, there were also the rare few that were expelled, but they're not doing so well.
  21. Feb 12, 2012 #20
    I'm aware of five persons from the past few years - 2 are on unemployment currently, one is in the county jail, the last two are working part time jobs and on their GED.

    The one in jail had a job with his uncle - making about $20 per hour. Unfortunately, his uncle was doing some bad things on the side and got them both arrested.
  22. Feb 13, 2012 #21


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    Back to the OP,

    American exceptionalism is probably a result of 12 years of American history and not the most unbiased view of it either.

    I'm sure many of you remember reading about how Columbus discovered America and the misnomer of Indians that sticks to this day.
  23. Feb 14, 2012 #22
    It is not hard to find examples of American Exeptionalism from 1770- 1850, harder to find from 1850-1930, then harder to find from 1930 on. Now it seems american exceptionalism is that we do what every other county does towards the end of empire, imo, which kind of destroys the exceptionlism part.
  24. Feb 14, 2012 #23


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    Conquering countries, then rebuilding them and returning the countries to the people of those countries is a pretty exceptional thing for an "empire" to do.

    In any case, here's what I believe: I believe that the US is primarily responsible for the unprecedented explosion of peace in the world over the past century or so due to a change in philosophy, specifically with respect to the conduct of war and building of empires in their aftermath. Near as I can tell, the idea of not building an empire with the spoils of war originated with Wilson's 14 points. His ideas led to the UN and to the dissolution of the old empires from the "age of empires" and hence an end to wars between major world powers.

    Yes, America's military power allows us to force our will on the rest of the world. But in this context, "our will" is a world free from empires, aggressive wars and tyrants. And for that I think the world owes us at least a debt of gratitude that it was our will imposed on the world instead of the will of, say, the USSR or 1940 Germany or Japan.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2012
  25. Feb 14, 2012 #24


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    Which years are you referring to? Please explain.
  26. Feb 14, 2012 #25


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    As I recall, the war started when S. Hussein invaded his neighbor, literally raping and pillaging Kuwait, poised to invade Saudi Arabia, planning to capture and control a substantial percentage of the world's oil supply.

    It was the timidity of Bush senior and partners which left the situation untenable over the long term. It was hoped that once contained and weakened the government would fall to internal revolution. Remember this was before 9-11.

    Hussein encouraged the belief that he indeed had WMD's (again) presumably to discourage a coalition invasion not realizing (especially in the shadow of 9-11) that this had the opposite effect. Make no mistake. Hussein had made and used chemical weapons in the past and retained the capacity and will to do so in the future. If you believe inspections and sanctions would be sufficient to prevent this take a cold hard look at Iran.

    Bush 1 should have asked Congress for a written declaration of war against the Hussein government and occupied the country from the start instead of giving it 3 years to prepare and consolidate.

    That or stay out of the whole thing altogether, allow Hussein to wage a full blown war of occupation in the M.E. ultimately ending in Israel using nukes to prevent their own dissolution when he came knocking on their door.

    I speculate here but it is my opinion as to the outcome had we been isolationists, unwilling to intervene.
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