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Exceptionalism is the belief that a country or region, its people, institutions, and social movements are qualitatively unique, historically unprecedented, and not subject to common principles. According to eighteenth-century German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), nations could be understood in terms of Zeitgeist, the shared spirit of an age, and Volksgeist, the collective spirit of a social group. Herder's conceptualization of nationalism was an effort to harmonize the notions of reason and sentiment, recognizing the principles of the Enlightenment without foregoing a nation's unique character as the result of a common history, language, and customs.
Early American exceptionalism was influenced by Puritan values and distanced the young republic from corrupt European institutions. Early in the eighteenth century, French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville confirmed much of ...