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Free «Exceptionalism» Essay Sample

America’s prominent role in solving various conflicts in the world today can’t escape the notice of anyone. Its difficult to go through a newspaper without noticing an international crisis that must be resolved or has been triggered by the USA.America is the only country in the world that has the ability to execute its will by force regardless of its positioned on the world map since it has a military power that is hegemonic in nature. As much as it has 5% of the world’s population within its boundaries, America’s economy is a force to reckon. The economic performance of its top ten metropolitan states exceeds that of every nation on the globe except that of Japan.

The fact that its ingenuity generates a shocking degree of technological advancement is an understatement since statistics show that half of the world patents are owned by American investors (Koh, 2005). As if that is not enough 80% of the top fifteen businesses in the world are owned by American investors. In higher education, culture, and fashion, the impact of America on the world is also outsized engendering resistance, pervasive acceptance, jelousy and imitation. It’s because of these factors that the idea of America being an exceptional nation has sprouted over the years. This concept that started in its colonial times dogs it even in these modern times.



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The term American exceptionalism comes with a long history that makes this concept to have a unique background to the US Society as far as its culture, history and identity are concerned (Lipset, 1996). The concept of American exceptionalism has been used in the recent past to refer to its tendencies to avoid binding multinational regime laws while being unwilling to support international ratifications (Luck, 2003).This concept therefore forms the basis of American foreign policy to multilateral regimes. As a matter of fact American exceptionalism makes America as a nation stand on its own in comparison to other industrialized nations because of its distinctive political and religious institutions, unique origins, historical evolutions and national credo (Koh, 2005, pp 225)

The concept of American Exceptionalism has a long history including the times that premeditated the birth of the USA as a nation with the famous Masuchettes governor’s phrase coined in its national presidential speeches; “the city upon a hill”. The term American exceptionalism was first coined by Alexis de Tocqueville who noted that America was the first modern democracy in the world made up of immigrants as equal civilians (Smith, 2007).Thus exceptionalism can be described as the widely held belief by Americans that there structures, institutions and policies are the best in the world and for that matter need to be replicated all over the world.


The label exceptionalism has resulted in the suppression of a number of America’s foreign policies. In a nut shell America demands to be treated uniquely from other countries as far as the same international laws and treaties are concerned. For example, there are several instances in which the United States of America signed international humanitarian and human rights law treaties and conventions and then disqualifies itself from its provisions through non compliance, reservation and none ratification. In the same breath the United States of America through its foreign policy has maintained a double standard kind of approach when it comes to solving international conflicts (Smith, 2007).

For instance when the uprisings in the Arabian Countries erupted, they, immediately countered the one in Libya with force because Libya has oil but the ones in Syria and Yemen are still on to date because they are not rich in oil. America also judges its friends and itself more permissively than it does to its enemies. America has also been supporting the ongoing ICC trials on the Kenyan post election violence when it has denied the jurisdiction of the ICC statute within its own domestic law. This double application of standards thus paints it in bad light as far as its exceptionalism is concerned.

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It’s therefore easy to conclude that Americans do regard themselves as exemplary and unique and thus hold themselves in high esteem as compared to the rest of the world. It’s because of this that they hold their institutions in high regard. They also rank their national pride above all the other democracies in the world and do regard the US system as a prototype to be emulated by the rest of the world.

According to studies conducted on America’s public opinion on their governments’ Foreign policy most of them are not happy with the idea of having a foreign policy that solely supports self interests (Steeper,1999). On the other hand, the elite in the American society believe that politicians gain approval from the electorate only when they have policies that reflect the peoples interests .Altruistic considerations also motivate the American voters for instance peace keeping and provision of humanitarian aid to third world countries ravaged by war or drought.

These opinion polls reflect that a majority of Americans don’t entertain the idea of their government playing a policing role to the rest of the world and neither are they moved by their government  acting as a  world leader. They would rather support the idea of their country leaders sharing a world leadership role with other industrialized countries. They all support the idea of the US government dealing with world conflicts and problems bedeviling other countries but would like to see this being done in cooperation with the other countries. This is because they don’t want their country to do it alone in its position as a super power nor do they want it to withdraw all together from such philanthropic missions abroad (Steeper, 1999).

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To Americans, solving of global problems entails protecting human rights and maintaining peace. In this breath, they don’t support national foreign policies that support only international engagements where their country’s interest is of utmost concern. Regardless of whether the international engagement is meant to have the US troops participate in peace keeping, giving aid, or preventing genocide, most of the American population support these causes so long as they don’t narrow down to support a parochial national interest. Its because of this that this paper concludes that  the American population is more than willing to make sacrifices for a moral cause in order to make a difference in the lives of millions of people suffering around the globe (Tocquile, 1954).

Despite this clear public concern, subsequent American governments love to engage in solving international problems in order to alleviate their fears and defend their own interests instead of implementing changes around the globe. This is because, to the government, unlike the public, national interests rank higher than altruistic interests. Many Americans believe that improving the living standards in third world countries and fostering democracy on dictatorial regimes should be a concern of the American regime in consultation with other industrialized nations. Alleviating hunger round the world as well as defending human rights efforts by civil groups in various countries are also held in high esteem by the American public (Smith, 2007).

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The main concern for this paper was the observation that exceptionalism was becoming popular as an explanation of the American foreign policy as well as descriptive of its international institutions. The paper is concerned that if this concept is left vague as has been the case, then an avenue of a deceptive tool for analysis of the American behavior and identity is created which creates a puzzle for the entire world. To be in a position to come up with water tight leverage on the concept American exceptionalism, there is the need for critics to be precise on its meaning. If a clear definition is not in the picture, then there won’t be any clarity on the subject due to the confusion created.

To create more clarity than confusion, one needs to be clear if the definition of this concept is about American’s foreign policy on its cultural identity or on multilateral regimes. The role of American elites should not be neglected since opinion leaders are more important in the creation of a public agenda than the masses they represent. Contrary to views expressed by scholars and analysts on this subject matter, the views of opinion leaders do not necessarily represent those of the public’s. In fact, opinion leaders tend to shift gears only when they realize that holding on to their opinion would be catastrophic for them.

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Matters of America’s foreign policy are not at the finger tips of the American public since their degree of interest and information on this matter is wanting. As a result of this, leaders tend to follow their own perceptions and convictions of what they imagine would please the public. As much as cultural factors have been pushed to the periphery while dealing with international relations in the past, this paper contents that this shouldn’t be the case in this age and time. At the same time there importance should not be overestimated.


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