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The Myth of American Exceptionalism

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Myth of American Exceptionalism
    Book Description:

    The idea that the United States is destined to spread its unique gifts of democracy and capitalism to other countries is dangerous for Americans and for the rest of the world, warns Godfrey Hodgson in this provocative book. Hodgson, a shrewd and highly respected British commentator, argues that America is not as exceptional as it would like to think; its blindness to its own history has bred a complacent nationalism and a disastrous foreign policy that has isolated and alienated it from the global community.

    Tracing the development of America's high self regard from the early days of the republic to the present era, Hodgson demonstrates how its exceptionalism has been systematically exaggerated and-in recent decades-corrupted. While there have been distinct and original elements in America's history and political philosophy, notes Hodgson, these have always been more heavily influenced by European thought and experience than Americans have been willing to acknowledge.

    A stimulating and timely assessment of how America's belief in its exceptionalism has led it astray, this book is mandatory reading for its citizens, admirers, and detractors.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14268-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. ONE A City Set upon a Hill
    (pp. 1-29)

    Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us.”¹

    The sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” delivered by John Winthrop on the eve of the Massachusetts Bay Company’s sailing for New England in 1630 has been called...

  5. TWO Myth and Reality in the Birth of a Nation
    (pp. 30-61)

    The Revolution,” wrote the historian Gordon Wood, “made possible the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements of the nineteenth century. . . . The Revolution not only radically changed the personal and social relationships of people, including the position of women, but also destroyed aristocracy. . . . It made the interests and prosperity of ordinary people—their pursuits of happiness—the goal of society and government. . . . In short, the Revolution was the most radical and most far-reaching event in American history.”¹

    “Around 1776,” wrote Howard Zinn, “certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that...

  6. THREE From Civil War to Cold War
    (pp. 62-98)

    After the defeat of the Confederacy, the population of the recreated Union was slightly more than 30 million, including the recently freed slaves and the defeated Confederates. By 1917 it was 103 million. At the beginning of this period, in other words, the United States was a distracted, largely agricultural nation, its population no greater than that of Britain or France, and dispersed over vast distances with imperfect communications. By the date of the United States’ entry into World War I, it had a larger population than any European power except Russia, and those people had been forged together into...

  7. FOUR From Liberal Consensus to Conservative Ascendancy
    (pp. 99-127)

    The case for American exceptionalism has long been expressed by a familiar litany. America, generations have reassured themselves, is as a city set upon a hill, its citizens new men and women, its destiny the last, best hope of earth. But as we have seen, on examination the details of the case turn out to have changed a good deal over time.

    Many exceptionalists today, starting with the forty-third president of the United States, base their case on religion. It was the deity, according to them, who singled out the United States for his purposes. Yet the Founders, to take...

  8. FIVE The Other Exceptionalism
    (pp. 128-154)

    So far, I have been examining, and questioning, the underlying assumption of American exceptionalism: that America is exceptional among nations in its general superiority, and in particular in its political and moral superiority. In the past few years, less friendly observers, in America as well as abroad, have pointed out another kind of American exceptionalism: fields in which American practice or performance seem to be exceptional in another way, by falling below international standards.

    Understandably, perhaps, it was foreigners, and especially Europeans, who were the first to point out that the United States is exceptional in some less attractive ways....

  9. SIX The Corruption of the Best
    (pp. 155-190)

    In this essay I have criticized American exceptionalism, sometimes sharply, on several different grounds. I first argued that the history of the United States ought to be seen as only one part of a broader history, not as the teleological preparation of a present and future perfection; as history, that is, and not as patriotic commemoration.

    That history has not exclusively been the product of Puritan religion or the frontier, or any other purely American influences. On the contrary, it has been shaped by vast international historical processes, from the expansion of Europe and the African slave trade, through the...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 191-204)
  11. Index
    (pp. 205-221)