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American Exceptionalism and Human Rights

American Exceptionalism and Human Rights

Edited by Michael Ignatieff
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    American Exceptionalism and Human Rights
    Book Description:

    With the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the most controversial question in world politics fast became whether the United States stands within the order of international law or outside it. Does America still play by the rules it helped create?American Exceptionalism and Human Rightsaddresses this question as it applies to U.S. behavior in relation to international human rights. With essays by eleven leading experts in such fields as international relations and international law, it seeks to show and explain how America's approach to human rights differs from that of most other Western nations.

    In his introduction, Michael Ignatieff identifies three main types of exceptionalism: exemptionalism (supporting treaties as long as Americans are exempt from them); double standards (criticizing "others for not heeding the findings of international human rights bodies, but ignoring what these bodies say of the United States); and legal isolationism (the tendency of American judges to ignore other jurisdictions). The contributors use Ignatieff's essay as a jumping-off point to discuss specific types of exceptionalism--America's approach to capital punishment and to free speech, for example--or to explore the social, cultural, and institutional roots of exceptionalism.

    These essays--most of which appear in print here for the first time, and all of which have been revised or updated since being presented in a year-long lecture series on American exceptionalism at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government--are by Stanley Hoffmann, Paul Kahn, Harold Koh, Frank Michelman, Andrew Moravcsik, John Ruggie, Frederick Schauer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Carol Steiker, and Cass Sunstein.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2688-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1 Introduction: American Exceptionalism and Human Rights
    (pp. 1-26)

    Since 1945 America has displayed exceptional leadership in promoting international human rights. At the same time, however, it has also resisted complying with human rights standards at home or aligning its foreign policy with these standards abroad. Under some administrations, it has promoted human rights as if they were synonymous with American values, while under others, it has emphasized the superiority of American values over international standards. This combination of leadership and resistance is what defines American human rights behavior as exceptional, and it is this complex and ambivalent pattern that the book seeks to explain.

    Thanks to Eleanor and...


    • Chapter 2 The Exceptional First Amendment
      (pp. 29-56)

      Although it was not always so, today virtually all liberal democracies protect, in formal legal documents as well as in actual practice, both freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The language used to enshrine the protection varies, with “freedom of expression” the most common contemporary canonical formulation, but in one way or another it is now routine for open societies to guarantee a moderately wide range of communicative freedoms.¹ Moreover, the protection is uniformly of a type that can be characterized as “constitutional,” in that the principles of freedom of expression impose entrenched second-order constraints not merely upon...

    • Chapter 3 Capital Punishment and American Exceptionalism
      (pp. 57-89)

      In 1931, the year before his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Benjamin Cardozo predicted that “perhaps the whole business of the retention of the death penalty will seem to the next generation, as it seems to many even now, an anachronism too discordant to be suffered, mocking with grim reproach all our clamorous professions of the sanctity of life.”¹ The operative word here has turned out to be “perhaps,” given that here we are in the United States almost three-quarters of a century later with capital punishment still a robust institution. But, ironically, Cardozo’s prediction proved more or less...

    • Chapter 4 Why Does the American Constitution Lack Social and Economic Guarantees?
      (pp. 90-110)

      The Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects a wide range of social and economic rights. It proclaims, for example, that “[e]veryone has a right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” It also provides a “right to equal pay for equal work,” a right “to form and to join trade unions for protection,” and a right to “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” More broadly still, the Declaration...

    • Chapter 5 America’s Jekyll-and-Hyde Exceptionalism
      (pp. 111-144)

      Since September 11, “American exceptionalism” has emerged as a dominant leitmotif in the daily headlines. But the very phrase raises three questions: First, precisely what we do mean by American exceptionalism? Second, how do we distinguish among the negative and overlooked positive faces of what I call “America’s Jekyll-and-Hyde exceptionalism”? And third, how should we, as Americans, respond to the most negative aspects of American exceptionalism after September 11?

      During the last fifteen years, I have had a special opportunity to look at American exceptionalism from both sides now: not just from the perspective of the academy and the human...


    • Chapter 6 The Paradox of U.S. Human Rights Policy
      (pp. 147-197)

      American “exceptionalism” in international human rights policy—the U.S. aversion to formal acceptance and enforcement of international human rights norms—poses a paradox.¹ The paradox lies in the curious tension between the consistent rejection of the application of international norms, on the one hand, and the venerable U.S. tradition of support for human rights, in the form of judicial enforcement of human rights at home and unilateral action to promote civil and political rights abroad. The United States has, after all, the oldest continuous constitutional tradition of judicial enforcement of a written bill of rights in the world today. Nowhere...

    • Chapter 7 American Exceptionalism, Popular Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law
      (pp. 198-222)
      PAUL W. KAHN

      To understand the power and character of American exceptionalism, we have to look in a direction that political scientists and international-law scholars often fail to notice. We have to examine the intimate relationship among American political identity, the rule of law, and popular sovereignty. When we do so, we find a set of concepts associated with the eighteenth-century project of revolution. These concepts continue to have a surprising contemporary vitality. This vitality is less a matter of political theory than one of political symbolism; it lies in the dimension of rhetoric, not logic.

      The critical elements of the American political...


    • Chapter 8 American Exceptionalism: The New Version
      (pp. 225-240)

      Each nation tends to see itself as unique. Two, France and the United States, consider themselves as exceptional because—or so they claim—of the universality of their values. One only, the United States, has tried to develop foreign policies that reflect such exceptionalism. Whereas France and most of the European powers have tended, or been forced, to practice balance-of-power politics for their protection and for the creation of minimal order in the international jungle, the United States has had much leeway to be original. The main component of its exceptionalism has been, for more than a century after its...

    • Chapter 9 Integrity-Anxiety?
      (pp. 241-276)

      Twenty years ago, talk of American exceptionalism in the field of human rights would doubtless have been tinged, at least, with congratulation; these days, maybe not. Spoken today, the term probably insinuates a degree, at least, of insularity and smugness.¹

      Consider the movement dubbed “judicial globalization” by one of its chroniclers.² Ever more widely and regularly, judiciaries in democracies abroad have been treating each other’s judgments as required reading in the work of domestic or regional bill-of-rights adjudication. From this movement the American Supreme Court has stood noticeably aloof, thus earning itself a mildly pariah status, at least in globalist...

    • Chapter 10 A Brave New Judicial World
      (pp. 277-303)

      American exceptionalism in the judicial context is not exceptional so much as temporal. One of the three elements of Michael Ignatieff’s definition of American exceptionalism is judicial isolation. “American judges,” he writes, “are exceptionally resistant to using foreign human rights precedents to guide them in their domestic opinions.” This attitude, he adds, “is anchored in a broad popular sentiment that the land of Jefferson and Lincoln has nothing to learn about rights from any other country.”¹ Several other contributions to this volume, most notably those by Frank Michelman and Harold Koh, directly address the extent to which American judges defiantly...

    • Chapter 11 American Exceptionalism, Exemptionalism, and Global Governance
      (pp. 304-338)

      More than any other country, the United States was responsible for creating the post–World War II system of global governance. But from the start, that historic mission exhibited the conflicting effects of two very different forms of American exceptionalism. For Franklin Roosevelt, the key challenge was to overcome the isolationist legacy of the 1930s and to ensure sustained U.S. engagement in achieving and maintaining a stable international order. Old-world balance-of-power reasoning in support of that mission held little allure for the American people—protected by two oceans, with friendly and weaker neighbors to the north and south, and pulled...