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Author Topic: American Exceptionalism  (Read 10496 times)

Haffrung

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American Exceptionalism
« on: August 27, 2008, 11:41:30 am »
So to avert the derailing of another thread, I'd like discuss American Exceptionalism.

First, what is American exceptionalism? It's the believe that America embodies some particular human ideals (usually freedom, opportunity, rights of man), and that America is thus not like other countries. Some Americans believe this is actually a religious identity - that America is favoured by God. Others point to the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution as unique documents in human history.

So some questions:

How many Americans here believe the U.S. is uniquely free, has unique opportunities, etc., and how widespread is the notion among Americans at large?

Is it true that America is unlike other nations in embodying universal ideals, particularly freedom in speech and politics, and in economic opportunity?

How does the widely held belief in American exceptionalism among Americans affect America's relations with the rest of the world?
« Last Edit: August 27, 2008, 11:45:27 am by Haffrung »
 

CavScout

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2008, 11:50:17 am »
How is this different than other people’s nationalism? Is “Why do Americans think America is so special? My country does X, Y & Z as well or better than America!” Other than the fact of America’s power, as a world player, American pride is just the same as any other nation’s people feeling pride in the home.
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gleichman

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2008, 11:54:01 am »
Quote from: Haffrung;240549
How many Americans here believe the U.S. is uniquely free, has unique opportunities, etc., and how widespread is the notion among Americans at large?


You could count me in that group.


Quote from: Haffrung;240549

Is it true that America is unlike other nations in embodying universal ideals, particularly freedom in speech and politics, and in economic opportunity?


Yes for economic opportunity. Doesn't mean the US will keep it however.

As for free speech and the like, things use to be better and I consider them decaying- but not in the direction I'm sure most here would indicate. Instead the rule of liberial thought, especially in research and academia but also including the MSM and Hollywood has overwhelmed what at one time was a prized element of the American worldview.

Not that it's any better anywhere else in the West.


Quote from: Haffrung;240549

How does the widely held belief in American exceptionalism among Americans affect America's relations with the rest of the world?


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Kyle Aaron

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2008, 12:03:30 pm »
Quote from: CavScout;240556
Other than the fact of America’s power, as a world player, American pride is just the same as any other nation’s people feeling pride in the home.
Not really.

There's a real tinge of "we're unique" in American public discourse, whether political or commercial. There's not the same tone in every country's talking about itself. Most countries tend to say that they're good at this or that, but not that they're unique and special and have a... Manifest Destiny.

It's hard to see it when you're right in it. Fish, it is said, don't know they're in water.
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James J Skach

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2008, 12:14:33 pm »
Quote from: Haffrung;240549
How many Americans here believe the U.S. is uniquely free, has unique opportunities, etc., and how widespread is the notion among Americans at large?

I trend in that direction. I think it's less now than, say, 40 years ago - both as a result of our slide and others' gains. but I still think we hold an edge. Let me put it this way, I think we are unique, but I don't know that we're the best in freedom or opportunity. It's a rare mix we have; that I would support.

Quote from: Haffrung;240549
Is it true that America is unlike other nations in embodying universal ideals, particularly freedom in speech and politics, and in economic opportunity?

I think that last is probably still our forte. I think, as I mentioned, we're less exceptional on the speech and politics. That's all implementation or execution. I do think we continue to be unmatched in our idealism. Whether we reach those lofty peaks or not is a different question - and we must always remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions...

Quote from: Haffrung;240549
How does the widely held belief in American exceptionalism among Americans affect America's relations with the rest of the world?

I disagree with Kyle (surprise!) and say it's not so unique in the world. What we do have is the economic and military power to act on that belief in exceptionalism, which I'm sure does not sit well with others.

Then again, if we ever wanted to fight when I was in school in Milwaukee, all we had to do was tell them they were a suburb of Chicago. It's the little brother syndrome, to some extent. To shift Mr. Gleichman's point a little - until we cease to be the, or one of the, superpowers of the world, there will be a certain level of hostility.

And I understand it - I can empathize with those that feel we are telling them how to live when they didn't ask us to be in charge. Taxation without Representation, indeed.
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CavScout

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2008, 12:18:51 pm »
Quote from: Kyle Aaron;240571
Not really.

There's a real tinge of "we're unique" in American public discourse, whether political or commercial. There's not the same tone in every country's talking about itself. Most countries tend to say that they're good at this or that, but not that they're unique and special and have a... Manifest Destiny.

It's hard to see it when you're right in it. Fish, it is said, don't know they're in water.


Must be nice to be "better than me" so much that you can see the "problem" but I can't. :worship:

What people dislike about America is the power, wealth and influence they have as a whole. You know, 'cause the French (for example) never think they are better than everyone else....

I am sure that when the Europeans were out and about building their empires and exploiting folks around the globe, they didn't think they were better than anyone else.

National pride is national pride. It just gets you more dirty looks when you happen to be the big dog on the block.
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Pseudoephedrine

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2008, 12:42:15 pm »
The main thing about American exceptionalism is that the American government  does all sorts of stupid and cruel shit that few other countries would dare to, but they think that they can actually do it, or deserve to do it, because they belong to a nation unlike others. They reflect this back onto the population, and are able to legitimise themselves, in spite of failure.

It's worth pointing out that the idea of a nation being the "greatest" is only really still articulated in American political discourse. You'll occasionally find vestiges of it in the governments of other nations declaring their own countries to be the best at this or that, but the American conception of themselves as "greatest" is exceptional insofar as it enjoys popular support. It differs from nationalist pride in the respect that most national pride is directed at the restitution of perceived grievances or at concrete problems, rather than being a free-floating, abstract sense of superiority.
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Kyle Aaron

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2008, 12:59:08 pm »
Quote from: CavScout;240581
Must be nice to be "better than me" so much that you can see the "problem" but I can't. :worship:
It's not that I'm better than you, it's just that I'm not in your country.

It's hard to see the thing you're immersed in. But of course, if you're not in it you may have an imperfect understanding of it. That's an old problem in anthropology: someone truly an outsider will miss important things, someone truly an insider will take so much for granted as "natural", have so many assumptions they've never heard spoken or even thought through, that they'll also miss things. So to really understand a culture you must be both an outsider and an insider at once. That's the paradox of anthropology, and the OP's is essentially an anthropological question, a question about people and their culture.

That paradox applies to me, too - it's hard for me have a clear and objective idea of Australian culture, since I'm immersed in it. However, US and (for example) English culture I'm equally an outsider to, so I can see that there are differences between the two, differences in the nationalism of each.

Quote from: CavScout
What people dislike about America is the power, wealth and influence they have as a whole. You know, 'cause the French (for example) never think they are better than everyone else....
I assure you that the French are often as strongly-disliked as Americans ;)

Nonetheless, there are differences, which could be discussed by CavScout if he'd deign to reply to the OP instead of just trying to make me his StormBringer for this thread.
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KenHR

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2008, 01:13:59 pm »
Quote from: Pseudoephedrine;240591
The main thing about American exceptionalism is that the American government  does all sorts of stupid and cruel shit that few other countries would dare to, but they think that they can actually do it, or deserve to do it, because they belong to a nation unlike others. They reflect this back onto the population, and are able to legitimise themselves, in spite of failure.

It's worth pointing out that the idea of a nation being the "greatest" is only really still articulated in American political discourse. You'll occasionally find vestiges of it in the governments of other nations declaring their own countries to be the best at this or that, but the American conception of themselves as "greatest" is exceptional insofar as it enjoys popular support. It differs from nationalist pride in the respect that most national pride is directed at the restitution of perceived grievances or at concrete problems, rather than being a free-floating, abstract sense of superiority.


Funny enough, in the book I'm reading now, the city-state of Athens had the same opinion of itself and justified its own atrocities and imperialistic ambitions on the grounds that it was spreading culture and enlightenment.  It's not an attitude unique to the United States.  It's an attitude that seems to be held by any state that possesses power and projects influence on a scale disproportionate to those around it.  Or something.
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Pseudoephedrine

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« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2008, 01:31:08 pm »
Quote from: KenHR;240603
Funny enough, in the book I'm reading now, the city-state of Athens had the same opinion of itself and justified its own atrocities and imperialistic ambitions on the grounds that it was spreading culture and enlightenment.  It's not an attitude unique to the United States.  It's an attitude that seems to be held by any state that possesses power and projects influence on a scale disproportionate to those around it.  Or something.


Athens had its own shit going on. It certainly did consider itself the greatest of the Greek states, but it didn't have the messianic conception of history that undergirds American political discourse. The Athenians were in it for glory and money, not to end history by replicating their ethos (or symbiotic economic arrangements) throughout the world.
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CavScout

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2008, 01:38:11 pm »
Quote from: Pseudoephedrine;240591
The main thing about American exceptionalism is that the American government  does all sorts of stupid and cruel shit that few other countries would dare to, but they think that they can actually do it, or deserve to do it, because they belong to a nation unlike others. They reflect this back onto the population, and are able to legitimise themselves, in spite of failure.


Utter nonsense. America does what’s in its interest when it can because it can. Just like every other nation does when they can. To pretend that no other nation acts in self-interest when ever it can is pure folly, unless one belongs to a nation so inept that they are truly at the behest of others.

Quote from: Pseudoephedrine;240591
It's worth pointing out that the idea of a nation being the "greatest" is only really still articulated in American political discourse. You'll occasionally find vestiges of it in the governments of other nations declaring their own countries to be the best at this or that, but the American conception of themselves as "greatest" is exceptional insofar as it enjoys popular support. It differs from nationalist pride in the respect that most national pride is directed at the restitution of perceived grievances or at concrete problems, rather than being a free-floating, abstract sense of superiority.


It’s just like most things; the biggest guy on the block catches hell for being the biggest guy on the block. Ask Microsoft.
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KenHR

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« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2008, 01:40:33 pm »
Quote from: Pseudoephedrine;240614
Athens had its own shit going on. It certainly did consider itself the greatest of the Greek states, but it didn't have the messianic conception of history that undergirds American political discourse. The Athenians were in it for glory and money, not to end history by replicating their ethos (or symbiotic economic arrangements) throughout the world.


I think I'd disagree here, but it's been quite a while since I've delved into the history of the ancient Greeks (not to mention that we're veering way OT).  I do seem to remember Athens having a virtual empire built on forced tribute and export of its ideals and language throughout the Hellenic world.  The methods might have been more crude, but...
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CavScout

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« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2008, 01:42:34 pm »
Quote from: Kyle Aaron;240596
Nonetheless, there are differences, which could be discussed by CavScout if he'd deign to reply to the OP instead of just trying to make me his StormBringer for this thread.


Are you actually saying you can respond to my post and I should not respond to yours?
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CavScout

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« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2008, 01:46:44 pm »
Quote from: KenHR;240619
I think I'd disagree here, but it's been quite a while since I've delved into the history of the ancient Greeks (not to mention that we're veering way OT).  I do seem to remember Athens having a virtual empire built on forced tribute and export of its ideals and language throughout the Hellenic world.  The methods might have been more crude, but...


Well, you know, when Alexander the Great was about conquering the world, spreading Greek culture, he wasn't fulfilling his divine rights or anything... forget about all the kings and what not expanding their empires... divine right never entered into it. :rolleyes:
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Koltar

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American Exceptionalism
« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2008, 01:49:12 pm »
Alright, since that e-mail from my friend indirectly inspired this thread's start ...I'll re-post it here.


I told her the question of the other thread, her answering machine may have garbled what was recorded...but this is how she responded:


Quote
While France invented the principle of liberty brotherhood and equality, it was America who put it in practice like no other nation on earth.
 There is no country in the world where the belief that ANYBODY can become something of value; and that we all are born equal (with equaL potential and opportunity) is held so deeply and so sincerely by so many people. Even the most free democracies in the rest of the world have only a pale sense of that,by comparison; so I think that liberty and equality ideals are the USA contribution to the world.

A world without that would be a much darker place


She was born and grew up in Europe.  Only started living here in America in the early 1980s, She speaks and writes at least 6 languages pretty fluently. (To be fair tho, she is not always the most comfortable with e-mail & computers. She tends to prefer the phone or regular letters in the mail)

Also she has got a professional career where she had to earn her degreee for it in the mid-90s...about 9, 10 years ago.

- Ed C.






P.S. : She became a U.S. citizen in 2004.
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