American Exceptionalism

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Throughout its existence, the United States of America has been referred to by most of its leaders using chest-thumping words to describe its uniqueness from other nations.

These leaders have used phrases like ‘empire of liberty,' ‘shining city on a hill,' ‘earth's last best hope,' ‘leader of the free world' and ‘the indispensable nation' to refer to the USA. Arguably, these views of uniqueness are propelled by the fact that America has been a force to reckon with economically, militarily or in directing global politics. Thus, they base such success on their ‘unique' set of social values, political structures, and history, which they believe should be the beacon of universal admiration. Additionally, Americans go a step further, as they demonstrate a strong willingness to impose a positive impact on the global stage. Nevertheless, this could easily be a glorified way of demonstrating patriotism and belief in the exceptionality of one's nation, just like there could be a Kenyan or British brand of patriotic self-assentation. This is because a closer look at the tenets upon which the USA bases its exceptionality reveals major flaws and inconsistencies. These flaws prove that their belief in being special is just but a myth, which has been promoted by a culture of pompousness and lack of thorough and honest self-assessment. This paper seeks to explain systematically, how the paradigms of American exceptionality are all but lies passed on over generations.

Myth 1: American Exceptionalism oozes exceptionality.

Leaders in American history have continually referenced the ‘unique roles' that the USA has to fulfill in matters of global significance. Therefore, they make-believe that by doing that, they are different from other major powers and that their country needs to shoulder special burdens (Walt 72). Unsurprisingly, being a superpower means that such exalted declarations are expected and acceptable to some extent. Evidently, major powers during specific periods of the world history have considered themselves culturally superior. This way, they justified their heinous acts of imposing their ideologies and practices on other people, as a way of advancing greater good for mankind (Sullivan).

For instance, Greece, which is currently muddled in economic wreckage believed that unlike other countries that wallowed in barbarism, Greeks were highly exceptional (Ivie and Giner 361). The world-conquering Romans went a step further and equated themselves to gods. Recent history points us to America’s mortal rivals, the Russians, who believed that they had the duty of liberating mankind from the cruelty of imperialistic capitalism (363). Notably, they believed in a historical responsibility of bringing global happiness through ensuring that communism reigned supreme, to ensure people enjoyed equal opportunities and results. According to Walt (70), the Anglo-Saxons who built Britain felt that they had an inalienable responsibility of shouldering the white man’s burden. Finally, the French colonialists appealed to their mission of civilizing the subjects within their colonial empires.

Evidently, the similarity among all these powers is that exceptionalism is based on the pillars of ideology and myths (Hodgson). Therefore, USA’s proclamation of uniqueness and indispensability is not a new phenomenon. Americans should drop this swansong of exceptionalism, as, like any other great power that has been, they are treading an already-trodden path of self-assentation.

Myth 2: America’s Success Is Down to Its Special Genius

It is undeniable that the USA has enjoyed unprecedented success economically and militarily. It is also true that America is miles ahead in technological and scientific advancement when compared to its peers (Ivie and Giner 360). However, the tendency to depict this as a direct result of visionary political leadership and the social values of individual liberty, creativity and hard work of Americans is downright fallacious. Instead, America owes much of its success to sheer luck and little strategy in involvement with global issues.

Instead, the strategic geography of America is attributable to an unprecedented initial rise in the midst of other dominant forces. Firstly, industrialization in the nascent nation was greatly propelled by the abundance of natural resources and presence of navigable rivers (Sullivan). Also, the fact that America is surrounded by two oceans: Atlantic and Pacific, in a land that was far from the dominant forces of the time promoted uninterrupted security and growth.

Moreover, global dominance in economy and industrialization is down to the folly of industrialized rivals to America. Competitors such as Britain, Germany, Japan and Russia engaged in two enormous and economically ravaging world wars. The overriding characteristic of these wars was the bombing of rival factories and cities, which was facilitated by geographical closeness among these rivals (Cant). Consequently, these countries suffered the complete debilitation of their industrial infrastructure and skilled workforce, leading to industrial collapse. On the other hand, USA isolationist policy protected it from the industrial collapse. Moreover, the prevailing peace in America allowed for immigration of skilled laborers from the warring nations (Sullivan). After the war, USA experienced an economic and industrial boom for being the sole industry for the whole world. Unsurprisingly, American industries and the economy suffered in the 1960s, once the other powers finished reconstructing their economies (Walt 74). In short, this account of American rise seeks to clarify that its position industrially and economically is down to good fortune more than any exceptional genius or destiny.

Also, the unparalleled gloating over American military superiority needs reconsideration among Americans. This is not to deny the enviable truth that the USA possesses a large professional, highly financed and highly trained military (Alwood 142). However, it is also undeniable that there is nothing exceptional about this. Instead, unlike other powers, America’s military success is down to exogenous influences and selectivity over the wars to get involved in (Walt 75). For instance, USA’s triumph during both world wars is attributable to its belated entry in the wars, after the rivals had suffered nearly complete annihilation from prolonged fighting. Moreover, Walt argues that the success of the American Revolution is attributable to the fact that the colonialists had already been ravaged by rebellions throughout their empires (74). Also, the boisterous militaristic intervention in weaker countries cements the claim that there is absolutely no special genius about America’s military. Instead, their success in wars is mainly due to external forces.

Myth 3: America’s Behavior Manifests the Epitome of Good Behavior by any Nation

According to Gardbaum, “the proclamations of America's uniqueness are founded on the belief that the USA is a virtuous, peace-loving, liberal country, which embraces the rule of law (400).” Thus, Americans harbor the fraudulent thoughts that their country is the epitome of good national behavior, especially for a great power. However, if this was remotely true, America could not be right at the center of the most brutal events in world history, as it is right now.

For starters, the American brand of feminism is to blame for the suffering of women and children in most Arab nations (Abu-Lughod). According to Hodgson USA-led, western powers use the plight of these women to seek support and justification for advancing the ‘war on terror’ in the Arab world. Interestingly, this feminism is a cloak under which hides America's desire to usurp the authoritarian demagogues of the Arabian rule, to fulfill the American mission of spreading democracy in the world. Thus, America, just like any other power beforehand, feels they are justified to continually bomb these regions with no thought of the devastating effects it has on women and children.

Moreover, USA's insistence on its guardianship of liberalism and human rights is exceedingly questionable. For instance, while Americans focus on enlightening the world about women emancipation, they turn a blind eye to the large numbers of unresolved cases of rape, gender-based violence and workplace discrimination by gender (Gardbaun 391). Additionally, reports of spying on citizens by FBI, blacklisting, jailing, and killing of activists, anarchists, socialists, and environmentalists abound in US history (Alwood 140). Notably, there is no exceptionality in these disregards for human rights, just because the USA commits them!


In conclusion, while no one disputes the high rank and power of America globally, their conviction that their country is exceptional is a fallacy, which needs serious thought and self-evaluation. A close examination of the ‘guardian of the new world’ demonstrates a repeat of acts, which have already been committed by other major powers in the past. Moreover, they have a flawed approach of criticizing human rights violations in other nations, while completely disregarding the violations happening right under their noses. This is not to forget their ‘morally’ justified war activities in the Arab, which are to blame for the continued suffering of women and children.

Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim women need saving? Harvard University Press, 2013.

Alwood, Edward. "Watching the Watchdogs: FBI Spying on Journalists in the 1940s." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 84.1 (2007): 137-150.

Cant, John. Cormac McCarthy and the myth of American exceptionalism. Routledge, 2013.

Gardbaun, S. (2008). The myth and the reality of American constitutional exceptionalism. Michigan Law Review, 391-466.

Hodgson, Godfrey. The myth of American exceptionalism. Yale University Press, 2009.

Ivie, Robert L. and Oscar Giner. "American exceptionalism in a democratic idiom: Transacting the mythos of change in the 2008 presidential campaign." Communication Studies 60.4 (2009): 359-375.

Sullivan, Michael. "The Myth of American Exceptionalism." HuffPost, 15 Nov. 2013,

Walt, Stephen M. "The myth of American exceptionalism." Foreign Policy 189 (2011): 72-75.

August 21, 2023


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