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Main page » Non-Fiction » The Myth of American Exceptionalism

The Myth of American Exceptionalism


The notion of America as the divinely anointed homeland of freedom, bravery, democracy and economic opportunity, with everything to teach the world and nothing to learn from it, is so entrenched that this perceptive portrait of America the Ordinary seems downright radical. Hodgson (Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand) situates America as an outpost of Europe, always a part (and not always the most advanced part) of an evolving progressive, liberal, capitalist civilization spanning the Atlantic. American history, he contends, has its share of class conflict, bloody and sometimes losing struggles against hierarchy, and institutional dysfunction. Much of its success, he argues, stems from historical and geographical happenstance rather than ideological genius, and its recent performance, in everything from fighting poverty to health care to political corruption, stacks up poorly against other nations'. The author's nuanced, wide-ranging treatment isn't hostile to the United States, but he deplores a new missionary exceptionalism—visible in the confused and delusional U.S. policy in Iraq. Hodgson's thoughtful critique injects a much-needed shot of perspective and common sense into the debate over America's place in the world.

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.

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Tags: America, American, always, civilization, spanning, Exceptionalism