Monday, December 3, 2012

American Exceptionalism, Definition of

American Exceptionalism, n. (1980-present), a belief on the part of certain Americans that allows them simultaneously to feel 1) different from, 2) superior to, and 3) threatened by everyone else.  Paradoxically, the sentiment is not unique to the United States and is merely the current counterpart to sentiments expressed elsewhere in earlier eras.  Among memorable predecessor episodes, early 20th century Germans indulged themselves in the fantasy of a Teutonic master race that ended badly for everyone it touched.  In the late 19th century the French justified empire by reference to a 'mission civilatrice' in the service of the childish races while at the Victorian zenith of the British empire the English were wont to suggest that the 'niggers begin at Calais.'  And so on.