So what is "American Exceptionalism"?

Published: September 27, 2013

In his recent address to the nation urging a military strike in Syria, President Obama appealed to “American exceptionalism” to make the case. American ideals were on the line in Syria, he argued, and the United States had a special responsibility to act. But that claim didn’t sit so well with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, as he made clear in a New York Times op-ed. All countries had distinctive qualities, Putin said, and encouraging Americans to see themselves as more special and unique was “extremely dangerous.” Obama didn’t let that one slide, using his speech at the UN yesterday to reaffirm his belief “that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all.”

If you’re still wrapping your head around what this all means, then take a listen to our latest show – we’ve got the lowdown on what “American Exceptionalism” is, where the idea came from, and why it matters.

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  1. Steve Brewer

    A high school English teacher, I’m so grateful for your show, both in filling in all sorts of gaps in my understanding of American history but also in giving me inspiration for new units in American Literature. Your Exceptionalism show intrigues me: a unit analyzing the rhetoric of anthemic songs for their particular exceptionalisms has payoff-potential! Thanks for your work.