American exceptionalism has always played a major role in numerous aspects of foreign and domestic policies in the U.S. This idea can be explained by the fact that U.S. history is unique. In addition, U.S. society is based on ideas of individualism that also contribute to the worldview of U.S. citizens. Therefore, it can be said that American exceptionalism was formed and the influence of American mentality and ideas of uniqueness.
Before the concept of American exceptionalism, there was a concept of Manifest destiny. According to this concept, colonizers were destined to populate the entire continent. When the first settlers came to America, they didn’t know that the continent was huge. Eventually, they started to populate more and more territories. People needed some kind of ideology in order to explain their actions. Therefore, the concept of Manifest Destiny appeared. Manifest destiny became the force that motivated the numerous settlers and explorers to move through the difficult weather conditions in the face of many dangers from wild animals and representatives of First Nations living in America. This force created the American nation, which covered almost half of the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. From the on point of view, settlers wanted to create America as a place of democracy, peaceful life, and prosperity. They wanted to turn it into a utopia where people could coexist in great conditions. However, from another point of view, they used Manifest Destiny to justify their expansionism and killing of Native American Indian tribes. Therefore, manifest destiny served as ideology motivating colonizers to create a utopia and justifying aggressive expansionism. Thus, the main problem of American exceptionalism is that it is based on double standards. (Koh, 2003). Nevertheless, this concept played a huge role in the formation of the mentality of the new American nation; therefore, all further popular concepts are based on ideas of destiny and exceptionalism.
Later, colonizers became independent, and ideas of uniqueness and exceptionalism also influenced this independence. People started to believe that their mentality was different from the mentality of the citizens of Great Britain. The national morale and the desire to be independent started to appear. Colonizers believed that they have own way and there was no need to remain under the control of Great Britain. When colonizers became independent, they became even more confident in exceptionalism. However, Alexis de Tocqueville gave the first reference by name to this concept. He was impressed by the American people’s mobility and how they could rise and fall in the social hierarchy. In addition, he marveled at the economic activity of the American population (Ferrie, 2005). He was impressed by American society because people living in Europe had more stable positions in the social hierarchy. Some families had the same social status for centuries, while in America, there were numerous talented people who managed to become rich quickly. These factors have formed his belief that the American nation is exceptional. Another European philosopher, such as Marx, claimed that American society is unique and exceptional. “Marx observes that the United Society was the only Western society in which workers could participate in politics prior to the institutionalization of unions and socialist political parties” (Kammen, 1993).
Of course, it is impossible to deny that American exceptionalism has manifested itself in numerous achievements of the American nation. One of the most important achievements is a unique governmental system that is now used almost worldwide. Moreover, the U.S. attracted numerous people who considered themselves unique. Therefore, there were numerous innovations created in the U.S. For example, Nikola Tesla moved to the U.S. because he believed this country could provide him with all he needed to make great inventions. The same can be said about Sergey Brin, who moved with his parent to the U.S. and created a company that became popular worldwide. Even Einstein escaped to the U.S. because he was afraid of Hitler. America became a perfect place for people with progressive and exceptional ways of thinking. The idea of American exceptionalism made the U.S. one of the world’s most dominating and powerful countries. It manifests itself in the desire to protect others and to project what made the U.S., in American eyes, unique: its values and institutions. (Hoffman, 2005).
In addition, the U.S. has become the main promoter of democracy and human rights worldwide. The U.S. has supported different countries and helped them become independent. The U.S., the USSR, and other countries managed to stop the Nazi regime from conquering the world. In addition, the U.S. supported Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the war in the Gulf and managed to stop Saddam’s aggression and prevent war in Saudi Arabia. (O’Connell, 2002). Even now, the U.S. takes an active part in providing support to Ukraine and helps Iraq’s government to fight against ISIS. O’Connell (2002) states, “Officials in the Reagan Administration, especially Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Allan Gerson, applied this thinking to international law rules on the use of force.” In other words, the U.S. government believes it has the power to change the global political situation in the world by promoting democratic values and protecting peaceful countries from aggression. The idea of American exceptionalism influences this huge role.
It is also important to note that some people consider American exceptionalism a negative concept. Firstly, they claim that by fighting against radical terrorist groups U.S. has become the number one target for terrorists. People remember 9/11 and are still afraid of possible terrorist attacks. Secondly, the idea of U.S. exceptionalism caused the Cold War and has made the modern political situation quite tense. In the past, both USSR and U.S. believed they were exceptional and could do whatever they wanted. Therefore, it caused a conflict of interests leading to the Cold War and increasing the potential threat of nuclear war. Nowadays, almost the same situation looks like a Cold War. Russian Federation and the U.S. believe in their exceptionalism and have hidden confrontations with each other. The U.S. supports the Ukrainian army and provides weapons, armored vehicles, and equipment, while Russia supports pro-Russian separatists and sends its troops to Ukrainian territory. The same situation is in Syria, where Russia supports Bashar Assad while the U.S. supports moderate opposition. This can be explained by the fact that both countries believe they are right and have an exceptional right to influence global politics. Unfortunately, it leads to increasing tension and an unstable political environment. Instead of trying to solve everything diplomatically, Russia and U.S. are providing military support to different regimes. This poses a potential threat to the U.S. and Russia, and the whole world.
Finally, it is necessary to underline that the American government is unique. Its structure was developed and formed under the influence of unique social conditions. Ideas of equality and freedom influenced the American government. Later, these ideas influenced the French Revolution. In addition, French Revolution has influenced numerous social transformations in different countries worldwide. Therefore, ideas that influenced the formation of the U.S. government were very progressive and unique. Making such a huge country function as one organism was quite difficult. Therefore the governmental system was created to protect the interests of people in different states. For example, each state is represented by two members in Senate, and it doesn’t matter whether either state is big or small. Moreover, the U.S. government and laws are in constant transformation. Therefore, it indicates that the governmental system in the U.S. is quite flexible and exceptional.
Koh, Harold Hongju. “On American Exceptionalism.” Stanford Law Review (2003): 1479-1527.
Ferrie J. P. The end of American exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. since 1850. – National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005. – №. w11324.
Kammen, Michael. “The problem of American exceptionalism: A reconsideration.”American Quarterly (1993): 1-43.
O’Connell, Mary Ellen. “American Exceptionalism and the International Law of Self-Defense.” Denv. J. Int’l L. & Pol’y 31 (2002): 43.
Hoffmann, Stanley. “American exceptionalism: the new version.” American Exceptionalism and Human Rights, Princenton University Press, Estados Unidos(2005).