A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 10, 2009
American Exceptionalism

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: American exceptionalism
American exceptionalism (def. “exceptionalism") refers to the theory that the United States occupies a special niche among the nations of the world in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, political and religious institutions and unique origins. The roots of the term are attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, who claimed that the then-50-year-old United States held a special place among nations, because it was a country of immigrants and the first modern democracy.[citation needed] The term itself did not emerge until after World War II when it was embraced by neoconservative pundits in what was described in the International Herald Tribune as “an ugly twist of late”.

The theory of American exceptionalism has a number of opponents, especially from the Left. Where proponents see, by the force of the doctrine itself, an American nation with a special world-historical role to play, opponents contend that the belief is “self-serving and jingoistic” (see slavery and civil rights issues, Western betrayal, and the failure to aid Jews fleeing the Nazis), that it is based on a myth, and that “[t]here is a growing refusal to accept” the idea of exceptionalism both nationally and internationally.

Overview
Dorothy Ross, in Origins of American Social Science (1991), argued that there are three generic varieties of American exceptionalism:

1. supernaturalist explanations which emphasize the causal potency of God in selecting America to serve as an example for the rest of the world; for example, see the speech of Reverend John Winthrop to the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts Bay: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.” Indeed, scholars such as Robert Bellah believe there are religious overtones embedded into American history and society itself - a civil religion with its own temples and civic gods.

2. genetic interpretations which emphasize racial traits, ethnicity, or gender; for example, Adolf Hitler claimed that because of America’s tolerant, multiracial, multiethnic polity, it was exceptional in its racial inferiority, once saying in a speech to his headquarters staff: “I don’t see much future for the Americans...it’s a decayed country...my feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance...everything about the behavior of American society reveals that it’s half Judaized, and the other half Negrified. How can one expect a State like that to hold together?”

3. environmental explanations such as geography, climate, availability of natural resources, social structure, and type of political economy; for example, Frederick Jackson Turner’s seminal work, The Frontier in American History (commonly known as the Turner Thesis) theorized that the presence of a frontier played a fundamental role in the development of American society: “But the larger part of what has been distinctive and valuable in America’s contribution to the history of the human spirit has been due to this nation’s peculiar experience in extending its type of frontier into new regions; and in creating peaceful societies with new ideals in the successive vast and differing geographic provinces which together make up the United States. Directly or indirectly these experiences shaped the life of the Eastern as well as the Western States, and even reacted upon the Old World and influenced the direction of its thought and its progress. This experience has been fundamental in the economic, political and social characteristics of the American people and in their conceptions of their destiny.”

The concept was first used in respect of the United States by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 in his work Democracy in America:

The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin, their exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science, literature, and the arts, the proximity of Europe, which allows them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism, a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to point out the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward; his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven. Let us cease, then, to view all democratic nations under the example of the American people.

Google Books
Investigation of communist propaganda. Hearings before a Special Committee to Investigate Communist Activities in the United States of the House of Representatives, Seventy-first Congress, second session, pursuant to H. Res. 220, providing for an investigation of communist propaganda in the United States.
pt. 3, v. 5
By United States. Congress. House. Special Committee on Communist Activities in the United States.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
1931
Pg. 87:
The storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism and the whole system of opportunist theories and illusions that had been built upon American capitalist “prosperity.”

Google Books
Outline history of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, Volume 2
By Nīkolaĭ Nīkolaevīch Popov, A. Fineberg, H. G. Scott
New York, NY: International Publishers
1934
Pg. 392:
...the Lovestone group in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the United States, which upheld the thesis of American exceptionalism, i.e., that American imperialism was secure for a long time against crises and the shattering of stabilisation.

OCLC WorldCat record
Marxism and American “exceptionalism.”
Author: William Z Foster
Publisher: [Chicago, 1948]
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The theory of American exceptionalism
Author: Harvey Elliott Klehr
Publisher: 1971.
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript : Microfiche : Microfilm : English

13 October 1975, New York (NY) Times, “The American Dream” by Anthony Lewis, pg. 25:
The article that for me makes this number of the Public Interest noteworthy is by Daniel Bell. It is called “The End of American Exceptionalism,” and it should have wide attention.

The old belief that American would inherit the future did not depend only on her continental size and potential wealth and power. Bell says: America also differed from other countries in her character. Lacking classes, she would avoid ideological divisions and eventual decadence. As a liberal society, promising freedom and material opportunity, she would escape the frustrations of the poor and the young and the intellectuals that had torn other societies apart. Even as America became a world power, she would exercise her influence more democratically and more morally.

Google Books
A Companion to American Thought
By Richard Wightman Fox and James T. Kloppenberg
Oxford: Blackwell
1995
Pg. 23:
The term “American exceptionalism” apparently came into use in discussions between American and European communists in the 1920s and 1930s.

OCLC WorldCat record
American exceptionalism: a double-edged sword
Author: Seymour Martin Lipset
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton, 1996.
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
American exceptionalism
Author: Deborah L Madsen
Publisher: Edinburgh : Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1998.
Series: BASS paperbacks

OCLC WorldCat record
The roots of American exceptionalism: history, institutions, and culture
Author: Charles Lockhart
Publisher: New York Palgrave 2003
Edition/Format: Book : English : 1. publ

OCLC WorldCat record
American exceptionalism
Author: Sam Brownback
Publisher: Manhattan, Kan. : Kansas State University, 2006.
Series: Alfred M. Landon lectures on public issues, 2006 Feb. 22. 
Edition/Format: Book : State or province government publication : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The limits of power: the end of American exceptionalism
Author: A J Bacevich
Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2008.
Edition/Format: Book : English : 1st ed

OCLC WorldCat record
The myth of American exceptionalism
Author: Godfrey Hodgson
Publisher: New Haven : Yale University Press, ©2009.
Edition/Format: Book : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, October 10, 2009 • Permalink