Texas Textbooks: Is America 'Exceptional'?

Historians in the News

Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates, who teaches at Princeton University, has derided the notion that there is a distinctly American idea, one that is distinguishable from the core concepts that have animated Europeans, Scandinavians, and other cultures.

"[T]ravel to any foreign country," Oates wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in November 2007, "and the consensus is: The American idea has become a cruel joke, a blustery and bellicose bodybuilder luridly bulked up on steroids...deranged and myopic, dangerous."...

Andrew Roberts, a British historian and author of the best-selling Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945, has endorsed American exceptionalism in his own writings. Asked about Oates's comments, Roberts told Fox News it was evidence of a "psychiatric disorder" among liberal American intellectuals.

"For postmodernists, whereby everything has to be related to something else and nothing is truly exceptional, it's a disgusting concept that America could stand above and away from the normal ruck of history," Roberts said. "And of course, it also feeds in very much to Auropean anti-Americanism, especially at this time of the war against terror."

America, Roberts said, "is not like any other country. It wasn't born like other countries. It didn't come to prominence like other countries. It's not holding its imperium like other countries....It probably won't lose its supremacy like other countries. And so in that sense it is completely exceptional."...

Eric Foner of Columbia University, a leading historian of the colonial and Civil War periods -- his The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, due out in October, will be his twenty-second book -- told Fox News he finds some strains of American exceptionalism "parochial" and "chauvinistic."

"It causes problems because it has, at various points in our history, led us to interventions abroad...claiming to bring the benefits of American life to people who sometimes aren't all that anxious to receive it," Foner told Fox News. "So it leads to this kind of imperial frame of mind that we know best for everybody, we know that our system is better -- and of course sometimes other people aren't as convinced of that.

"To think about oursleves [sic] as exceptional really is a very narrow vision in a world which is becoming more and more globalized every day," Foner added. "Throughout our history, many of the processes which have shaped American history -- industrialization, urbanization, things like that -- are not purely national phenomena. And yet we sometimes think that the only way to understand American history is to think about it within the United States...[the pushing Westward of] the frontier, or things that are indigenous to the United States."...

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Michael Schack - 6/20/2010

There is an event when the leaders of a country are so sure of their power they believe everything they do has impact accompanied by seeing all of their actions as being correct, the Omphalos Syndrome. Omphalos from the Greek word “navel”. A perception that one is the middle of all that matters. When I read about issues of exceptionalism I wonder if it us an expression of this syndrome. Just by typing this how many buttons were pressed? Most cultures will have its people seeing exceptional moments. in their timeline The United States clearly has many In this area I tend to take an objective perspective. Most history teachers can identify exceptional events in any number of countries during their timeline. The Golden era of Greece, England of the 1600’s and the 1400's their coming back from 3 waves of plague reestablishing an economic and administrative system. Is History competitive such that those events aer not as exceptional as events in America? As an American, I believe The U.S. is the most exceptional country, but that does not mean others were not exceptional. Nor does it mean that one needs to whitewash history. The term History means to analyze and that is how I believe it is best taught.