American Exceptionalism



American Exceptionalism

This week we explore the issue of American Exceptionalism.  Is America, it’s founding principles, its role in the world, its destiny, fundamentally different, exceptional, than other nations?  The question is not whether it has some different approaches to government structure (federalism for instance).  It’s more fundamental, more basic, more philosophical, than that.  If it is exceptional foundationally, does it live up to that exceptionality?  The issue of American Exceptionalism is hotly debated among political political scientists and historians.  Seymour Martin Lipset (find the brief summary from inside his book jacket here) argues for the enduring exceptionalism in the American creed and in the American experience.  He argues that there is content to the term “American” beyond simple designation of residence.  In fact, one can be “un-American” without changing citizenship.  And this, he thinks, is quite different than European societies (un-British?).  That is, American is an idea rather than a geographic designation.  If so, what is the content of that idea?  Has America strayed from it?  Or, is American Exceptionalism really just a myth?  Perhaps America is not really all that exceptional after all, or perhaps America has really never lived up to any creed that supposedly sets it apart?   

More specifically, on what matters could anyone think America is exceptional (compared to our European democratic counterparts)?  Possible answers:  

Church and State system  

Religious Liberty   Federalism and Decentralization  

Obsession with Individual Liberty  

Absence of viable socialist parties  

Free Market Capitalism                    

Reading & Study

Kelly et al.: chs. 11–15

1.      presentation: “Perspectives on American Exceptionalism” (Purvis 2018)

2.     primary documents: “Democracy in American” (Tocqueville 1835, selected chapters) and “A Modell of Christian Charity” (Winthrop 1630)

1 article: “How to Understand Slavery and the American Founding” (Spalding 2002)  

3.     Antonin Scalia – On American Exceptionalism

4.     Democracy in America : In Two Volumes by Alexis de Tocqueville, Eduardo Nolla, and James T Schiefer, publisher Liberty Fund Incorporated 2012-02-03    


American Exceptionalism (See assignment instructions)

Please remember the following when writing this week.  Define the concept clearly based on your readings and/or the scholarly sense of the concept and NOT the Webster’s dictionary.  Develop and present (early) a thesis statement that you intend to support.  Evaluate the evidence that impinges upon that statement and draw rational conclusions.


                               American Exceptionalism

Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman, was the first term to use the term “exceptional” to Americans when he gave a prophetic survey of the nation in his “Democracy in America” in 1835 (De Tocqueville 1945 [1835], 45). However, the idea had existed even for longer, and it is still in most American’s imagination. One of the many roots of American exceptionalism is the Puritan concept from the phrase “city upon a hill” in John Winthrop’s sermon (Winthrop 1838, 32).  Moreover, the founders also furthered this idea in their view of the US as a free new nation guided by founding documents, particularly the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Through these documents, they believed the nation was heading towards a unique destiny to lead humankind’s universal rights (Kelly et al. 1991, chap. 11). Consequently, over the last two centuries, Americans believe in the idea that the nation is exceptional. Their notion of American exceptionalism is based on the uniqueness and universal admiration of the US history, values, and political system, implying that the nation is entitled and destined for a significant positive role on the global stage. Therefore, this paper analyzes American exceptionalism on the grounds of aspects of the American founding, particularly limited government, obsession with civil liberties and natural rights, solving the problem of human nature and the civilization role of religion in society, and concludes that the idea is true.

According to the founders, the Constitution should limit the government’s power in order to prioritize the protection of liberties and rights. Regarding the idea of American exceptionalism, in “A Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop (1838, 34) suggests that none of the North American colonies, including his, viewed itself unique from the European ways of structuring and organizing society. All the colonists believed in a hierarchical organization of society where the pyramid system had the king on the top and the common people at the bottom. However, based on the American colonists’ experiences and the…………for help with this assignment contact us via Email Address:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *