American Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism is a concept connoting the political superiority of the United States. There are mainly two ways social scientists approach American exceptionalism: as a subjective or as an objective concept. This entry provides an overview as well as critiques of both approaches to studying American exceptionalism.


Throughout history, great powers have conceived of themselves as superior to others. Some examples include the Ottoman Turks, 19th-century Russia, imperial Great Britain, and the idea inherent in France’s mission civilisatrice. It is, in other words, not exceptional to think one is exceptional. Thinking of one’s country as superior to other countries falls under the subjective definition of American exceptionalism. By subjective is meant exceptionalism defined as a constructed identity or set of ideas that Americans identify with. In ...

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