Seymour Martin Lipset Interview. European society was more densely populated. There was no open land [to which] people [could go to] start farms, towns. And so one of the things that made America different from Europe was the fact that it was a frontier society, that it had a frontier. But then, in his judgment, the frontier ended at the turn of the century, and this for him meant that there would be a qualitative change in the character of America. And America without a frontier would necessarily be a different sort of place.
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The theory of the exceptionalism of the U. French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville was the first writer to describe the country as "exceptional" in and Beginning with the assumption of American exceptionalism as a reactionary myth The exact term "American exceptionalism" was occasionally used in the 19th century. American Communists started using the English term "American exceptionalism" in factional fights.
It then moved into general use among intellectuals. He suggests these historians reason as follows:. America marches to a different drummer. Its uniqueness is explained by any or all of a variety of reasons: history, size, geography, political institutions, and culture. Explanations of the growth of government in Europe are not expected to fit American experience, and vice versa.
However, postnationalist scholars have rejected American exceptionalism, arguing the U. In recent years scholars from numerous disciplines, as well as politicians and commentators in the traditional media, have debated the meaning and usefulness of the concept. Roberts and DiCuirci ask:. Why has the myth of American exceptionalism, characterized by a belief in America's highly distinctive features or unusual trajectory based on the abundance of its natural resources, its revolutionary origins and its Protestant religious culture that anticipated God's blessing of the nation, held such tremendous staying power, from its influence in popular culture to its critical role in foreign policy?
Some historians support the concept of American exceptionalism but avoid the terminology to avoid getting entangled in rhetorical debates. Bernard Bailyn , a leading colonial specialist at Harvard, is a believer in the distinctiveness of American civilization.
Although he rarely, if ever, uses the phrase "American exceptionalism," he insists upon the "distinctive characteristics of British North American life. Although the concept of American exceptionalism dates to the founding ideas,  the term was first used in the s. Some claim the phrase "American exceptionalism" originated with the American Communist Party in an English translation of a condemnation made in by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin criticizing communist supporters of Jay Lovestone for the heretical belief the US was independent of the Marxist laws of history "thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions".
Early examples of the term's usage do include a declaration made at the American Communist convention proclaiming "the storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism".
The phrase fell to obscurity after the s, and in the s American newspapers popularized it to describe America's cultural and political uniqueness.
The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin, their exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science, literature, and the arts, the proximity of Europe, which allows them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism, a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to point out the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects.
His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward; his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven. Let us cease, then, to view all democratic nations under the example of the American people. Wells , G. Chesterton , and Hilaire Belloc ; they did so in complimentary terms.
From the s to the late 19th century, the McGuffey Readers sold million copies and were studied by most American students. Skrabec argues the Readers "hailed American exceptionalism, manifest destiny , and America as God's country Furthermore, McGuffey saw America as having a future mission to bring liberty and democracy to the world. In June Jay Lovestone , a leader of the Communist Party in America and soon to be named general secretary, described America's economic and social uniqueness.
He noted the increasing strength of American capitalism, and the country's "tremendous reserve power"; strength and power which he said prevented communist revolution.
In general, Americans have had consideration in national "uniqueness. Recently, socialists [ who? Many scholars use a model of American exceptionalism developed by Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz. The national government that emerged was far less centralized or nationalized than its European counterparts.
Parts of American exceptionalism can be traced to American Puritan roots. They believed God had made a covenant with their people and had chosen them to provide a model for the other nations of the Earth.
One Puritan leader, John Winthrop , metaphorically expressed this idea as a " City upon a Hill "—that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world. The Puritans' moralistic values have remained one component of the national identity for centuries. In this vein, Max Weber was a pioneer in delineating a connection between capitalism and exceptionalism. Eric Luis Uhlmann of Northwestern University argues that Puritan values were taken up by all remaining Americans as time went by.
Schultz underlines how they helped America to keep to its Protestant Promise , especially Catholics and Jews. The ideas that created the American Revolution were derived from a tradition of republicanism that had been repudiated by the British mainstream. Historian Gordon Wood has argued, "Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism, and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the Revolutionary era.
So too did our idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy. Thomas Paine 's Common Sense for the first time expressed the belief that America was not just an extension of Europe but a new land, a country of nearly unlimited potential and opportunity that had outgrown the British mother country. These sentiments laid the intellectual foundations for the Revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism and were closely tied to republicanism , the belief that sovereignty belonged to the people, not to a hereditary ruling class.
Religious freedom characterized the American Revolution in unique ways—at a time when major nations had state religions. Republicanism led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison created modern constitutional republicanism , with a limit on ecclesiastical powers.
Historian Thomas Kidd argues, "With the onset of the revolutionary crisis, a significant conceptual shift convinced Americans across the theological spectrum that God was raising up America for some particular purpose. According to Tucker and Hendrickson , Jefferson believed America "was the bearer of a new diplomacy, founded on the confidence of a free and virtuous people, that would secure ends based on the natural and universal rights of man, by means that escaped war and its corruptions".
Jefferson sought a radical break from the traditional European emphasis on "reason of state" which could justify any action and the usual priority of foreign policy and the needs of the ruling family over the needs of the people. Jefferson envisaged America becoming the world's great " Empire of Liberty "—that is, the model for democracy and republicanism. He identified his nation as a beacon to the world, for, he said on departing the presidency in , America was: "Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other areas of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence.
Marilyn B. Young argues that after the end of the Cold War in , neoconservative intellectuals and policymakers embraced the idea of an "American empire," a national mission to establish freedom and democracy in other nations, particularly poor ones.
She argues that after the September 11th, terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration reoriented foreign policy to an insistence on maintaining the supreme military and economic power of America, an attitude that harmonized with this new vision of American empire. Young says the Iraq War — exemplified American exceptionalism. In , conservative historians Larry Schweikart and Dave Dougherty argued that American Exceptionalism be based on four pillars: 1 Common Law ; 2 Virtue and morality located in Protestant Christianity; 3 Free-market capitalism; and 4 the sanctity of private property.
We have been essential to the preservation and progress of freedom, and those who lead us in the years ahead must remind us, as Roosevelt , Kennedy , and Reagan did, of the unique role we play.
Neither they nor we should ever forget that we are, in fact, exceptional. Proponents of American exceptionalism argue that the United States is exceptional in that it was founded on a set of republican ideals, rather than on a common heritage, ethnicity, or ruling elite.
In the formulation of President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address , America is a nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". In Lincoln's interpretation, America is inextricably connected with freedom and equality, and in world perspective, the American mission is to ensure, "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Harry Williams argues that Lincoln believed:. In the United States man would create a society that would be the best and the happiest in the world. The United States was the supreme demonstration of democracy. However, the Union did not exist just to make men free in America. It had an even greater mission—to make them free everywhere. By the mere force of its example, America would bring democracy to an undemocratic world.
American policies have been characterized since their inception by a system of federalism between the states and the federal government and checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches , which were designed to prevent any faction, region, or government organ from becoming too powerful.
Some proponents of the theory of American exceptionalism argue that this system and the accompanying distrust of concentrated power prevent the United States from suffering a " tyranny of the majority ", are preservative of a free republican democracy, and also that it allows citizens to live in a locality whose laws reflect those voters' values. A consequence of this political system is that laws can vary widely across the country. Critics of American exceptionalism maintain that this system merely replaces the power of the national majority over states with power by the states over local entities.
On balance, the American political system arguably allows for more local dominance but prevents more domestic dominance than does a more unitary system. Historian Eric Foner has explored the question of birthright citizenship, the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment that makes every baby born in the United States a full citizen. He argues that:. No European nation recognizes the principle. Yale Law School dean Harold Hongju Koh has identified what he says is "the most important respect in which the United States has been genuinely exceptional, about international affairs, international law, and promotion of human rights: namely, in its outstanding global leadership and activism.
To this day, the United States remains the only superpower capable, and at times willing, to commit real resources and make real sacrifices to build, sustain, and drive an international system committed to international law, democracy, and the promotion of human rights. Experience teaches that when the United States leads on human rights, from Nuremberg to Kosovo, other countries follow. Peggy Noonan , an American political pundit, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "America is not exceptional because it has long attempted to be a force for good in the world, it tries to be a force for good because it is exceptional".
Former U. Proponents of American exceptionalism often claim that many features of the "American spirit" were shaped by the frontier process following Frederick Jackson Turner 's Frontier Thesis. They argue the American frontier allowed individualism to flourish as pioneers adopted democracy and equality and shed centuries-old European institutions such as royalty, standing armies, established churches and a landed aristocracy that owned most of the land.
Other nations had frontiers, but it did not shape them nearly as much as the American frontier did, usually because it was under the control of a strong national government. South Africa, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Australia had long frontiers, but they did not have "free land" and local control.
Their edge did not shape their national psyches. In Australia, "mateship" and working together was valued more than individualism was in the United States. For most of its history, especially from the midth to early 20th centuries, the United States has been known as the "land of opportunity", and in this sense, it prided and promoted itself on providing individuals with the opportunity to escape from the contexts of their class and family background.
However, social mobility in the U. American men born into the lowest income quintile are much more likely to stay there compared to similar people in the Nordic countries or the United Kingdom. Gregory Mankiw , however, state that the discrepancy has little to do with class rigidity; rather, it is a reflection of income disparity: "Moving up and down a short ladder is a lot easier than moving up and down a tall one.
Regarding public welfare, Richard Rose asked in whether the evidence shows whether the U. Historian Michael Kammen argues that criticisms against the topic were raised in the s in the wake of the Vietnam War.
By the s, labor historians were emphasizing that the failure of a work party to emerge in the United States did not mean that America was exceptionally favorable grounds for workers. By the late s, other academic critics started mocking the extreme chauvinism displayed by the modern usage of exceptionalism.
Good comparative study of the intellectual, historical and philosophical underpinning of U. Comparison with He also contributed articles to a number of magazines, including The New Republic, Encounter, and Commentary. Lipset died on December 31, , as a result of complications following a stroke. He was American Exceptionalism : A Double-edged Sword. Seymour Martin Lipset.
Is this country in the throes of a revolution from the right? Is it in decline morally? Is Japan about to replace us as the leading economic power? Why does the United States have the highest crime rate, the most persons per capita in prison?
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