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Cover US Foreign Policy

2. American exceptionalism  

Daniel Deudney and Jeffrey Meiser

This chapter examines how America can be described as different and exceptional. The belief in American exceptionalism is based upon a number of core realities, including American military primacy, economic dynamism, and political diversity. Understanding understanding American exceptionalism is essential for understanding not only U.S. foreign policy but also major aspects of contemporary world politics. The chapter first considers the meaning of exceptionalism, the critics of American exceptionalism, and the roots of American success. It then discusses the liberalism that makes the United States exceptional, along with peculiar American identity formations of ethnicity, religion, and ‘race’. It also explores the role of American exceptionality across the five major epochs of American foreign policy, from the nation’s founding to the present. It concludes by reflecting on the significance of the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 to the story of American exceptionalism, difference, and peculiar Americanism.