December 6, 2010

American Exceptionalism and Wikileaks--some thoughts

I haven't had time to blog about the Wikileaks, but think that it has been a whole lot of "what else is new?" Who really thought that diplomats snipe about each other behind the scenes?

The only surprising thing, and it wasn't shocking, was the revelation that many of Iran's neighboring Muslim countries want the US or Israel to attack Iran. Makes me think that we are in danger of repeating the same mistake we made during the Cold War when we assumed that all countries calling themselves Communist were monolithically behind the Soviet Union. We know for sure that isn't the case. Why do we assume that all Muslim countries think alike? Or that all Muslims think alike? Or even that all Muslims who hate us think alike. We made a mistake (often) of making Communists our enemies even when they might have disliked the Soviets or the Chinese more than we did. I hope we don't make the same mistake with terrorism.

And this thing of American Exceptionalism is back in the news. Well, has been since the 2008 election. SOF noticed that Palin makes a point of bragging about how she believes in American Exceptionalism, and taking shots at Obama for supposedly not.

I can't help but wonder if we are talking about the same things here. Language is tricky. I really wonder if Sarah Palin brags about believing in American Exceptionalism simply because she believes that we are super good. This blog suggests that many very conservative homsechoolers see Exceptionalism as another way of saying that America is a Christian nation, or
"defined as the idea that America has a special place in God’s plan for history"
Others still see it as a critique of American arrogance, and that is certainly how I have used it in class. Indeed, as Michael Kinsley put it:
American exceptionalism—the belief that the rules of nature and humanity don’t apply to us—
So when we argue about American Exceptionalism, what do we mean? I seriously have doubts now about Palin's intelligence and would not be a bit surprised if she has no idea that there is an entire intellectual world out there that talks about these things. Nor does she care.

But it does seem to me that we might benefit from at least talking about the same definition if we are going to argue for or against.


Anonymous said...


I wonder how much of the two definitions you have presented here are really saying the same thing - that is: American exceptionalism is both "the idea that America has a special place in God’s plan for history" and "the belief that the rules of nature and humanity don’t apply to us."

Follow me here - if you believe in Divine Providence, then of course the "rules of nature and humanity" do not apply. It is all foreordained - corn caches and corn crops were waiting for the Pilgrims because of God not the plague.

So, how do you define it?

-- CIL

Streak said...

No, I think you are right. They are part and parcel of the same assumption.

I think exceptionalism is the assumption that the rules don't apply to us AND, more importantly, the basis for making some very hinky decisions. It is that assumption that allows us to undermine Mossadegh in Iran, or the elected leader in Guatemala. It is that assumption that allows us to back Pinochet.

Heather said...

What have we learned thanks to WikiLeaks? We have learned that our diplomats are doing their jobs. As you said, Streak, nothing surprising there.

And I was surprised about other Muslim countries not supporting Iran as well. Even if I try not to picture them as presented in our media - fanatical suiciders - I was really sure they would support Ahmadinejad.

On the topic of exceptionalism - I'm not a big fan of that. I honestly don't think some country is going to have some VIP treatment from God, or whatever, and if Palin says otherwise - well, that just proves me right.