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Unmaking an exception: A critical genealogy of US exceptionalism



US exceptionalism is a hot topic in contemporary political discourse in the United States and in recent years it has attracted increasing attention from International Relations (IR) scholars. Unfortunately, however, analysis of US exceptionalism in has been compromised by its failure to historicise the concept and by its reliance on myths cultivated in other disciplines. This article offers a critical genealogy of US exceptionalism in order to expose it for what it is: a discourse that works to legitimate the United States' exceptions to domestic and international law in the minds of its citizens and foreign observers.



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1 I recognise the objection that the very use of the term ‘America’ to mean ‘the United States’ is itself a marker of ‘exceptionalism’. I do not mean to marginalise the other countries in the Americas, merely to use the common terminology deployed in the disciplines discussed.

2 Terrence McCoy, ‘How Joseph Stalin Invented “American Exceptionalism”’, The Atlantic, 15 (March 2012), available at: {} accessed 8 June 2014.

3 Obama claimed, ‘America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional.’ Putin replied, ‘It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.’ Barack Obama, ‘Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Syria’, 10 September 2013. White House Office of the Press Secretary, available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013; Vladimir Putin, ‘A Plea for Caution from Russia’, New York Times (11 September 2013), p. A31.

4 Bobbitt, Philip, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (London: Penguin, 2002), p. 691 .

5 For example, the Bush administration refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the Ottowa Land Mine Convention and it withdrew from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

6 Kagan, Robert and Kristol, William, Present Dangers: Crisis and Oportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000), p. 22 ; Fukuyama, Francis, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 101 .

7 See Foot, Rosemary, ‘Exceptionalism Again: The Bush Administration, the “Global War on Terror” and Human Rights’, Law and History Review, 26:3 (2008), pp. 707–25.

8 Ignatieff, Michael, ‘Introduction: American Exceptionalism and Human Rights’, in Ignatieff, Michael (ed.), American Exceptionalism and Human Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 126 .

9 Examples of these strands of US exceptionalism include, respectively: President Clinton's attempt to exempt US citizens from the jurisdiction of the ICC in 1998; ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991 but not its provisions banning the infliction of the death penalty on juveniles; and waiting nearly four decades to ratify the Genocide Convention (1948) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950).

10 See John Ruggie, ‘American Exceptionalism, Exemptionalism, and Global Governance’, in Ignatieff (ed.), American Exceptionalism, pp. 304–38, in particular pp. 318–21.

11 See, for example, Andrew Moravcsik, ‘The Paradox of U.S. Human Rights Policy’, in Ignatieff (ed.), American Exceptionalism and Human Rights, pp. 147–97; and Cass Sunstein, ‘Why does the American Constitution Lack Social and Economic Guarantees’, in Ignatieff (ed.), American Exceptionalism and Human Rights, pp. 90–110.

12 According to Google Trends, the spike in interest in ‘American exceptionalism’ during 2008 has only once been exceeded (in September 2013). Republican Senator Marco Rubio made ‘exceptionalism’ the central theme of his 2010 Senate campaign in Florida. Sarah Palin has frequently evoked the term in her social media communications and in her book America by Heart (2010), which contains a chapter titled ‘America the Exceptional’. Newt Gingrich launched his 2012 presidential campaign with the release of a book titled A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters (2011). Mitt Romney's campaign book, No Apology: The Case For American Greatness (2010), charges: ‘This reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism [under Obama] is misguided and bankrupt.’

13 Jeffrey M. Jones, ‘Americans See U.S. as Exceptional; 37% Doubt Obama Does’, Gallop Poll Report (22 December 2010), available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013.

14 Onuf, Peter S., ‘American Exceptionalism and National Identity’, American Political Thought 1:1 (Spring 2012), pp. 77100, 80.

15 Barack Obama, ‘News Conference’, NATO Summit, Strasbourg, 4 April 2009.

16 Jones, ‘Americans See U.S. as Exceptional’; Barack Obama, ‘State of the Union Address’, 25 January 2011. White House Office of the Press Secretary, available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013.

17 An epithet derived from ‘the world's indispensable nation’, coined by President Clinton in his second inaugural address in 1997.

18 Ralph, Jason, America's War on Terror: The State of the 9/11 Exception from Bush to Obama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 21 .

19 Barack Obama, ‘Remarks by the President at the National Defense University’, 23 May 2013. The White House Office of the Press Secretary, available at: {} accessed 28 June 2014.

20 Article 2.7 provides, ‘nothing should authorise intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state’.

21 Ruth Blakeley and Sam Raphael, The Rendition Project, available at: {} accessed 28 June 2014.

22 Desch, Michael, ‘The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Liberal Tradition and Obama's Counterterrorism Policy’, PS: Political Science and Politics, 43:4 (July 2010), pp. 425–29.

23 Foot, ‘Exceptionalism Again’, pp. 716–17.

24 See, for example, Ralph, America's War on Terror; Drolet, Jean-François, ‘A Liberalism Betrayed? American Neoconservatism and the Theory of International Relations’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 15:2 (2010), pp. 89118 ; Walker, Thomas, ‘Two Faces of Liberalism: Kant, Paine, and the Question of Intervention’, International Studies Quarterly, 52:3 (2008), pp. 449–68; Schmitt, Carl, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

25 Barack Obama, ‘News Conference’, NATO Summit, Strasbourg, 4 April 2009. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, available at: {} accessed 28 June 2014.

26 Ignatieff, ‘American Exceptionalism’, p. 16.

27 Zhang, Feng, ‘The Rise of Chinese Exceptionalism in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:2 (2013), pp. 305–28.

28 Deudney, Daniel and Meiser, Jeffrey, ‘American Exceptionalism’, in Cox, Michael and Stokes, Doug (eds), U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 26 .

29 Preston, Andrew, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), pp. 1314 .

30 Ceaser, James, ‘The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism’, American Political Thought, 1:1 (2012), pp. 125, 11.

31 Patman, Robert, ‘Globalisation, the New US Exceptionalism and the War on Terror’, Third World Quarterly, 27:6 (2006), pp. 963–86, 963.

32 Koh, Harold Hongju, ‘On American Exceptionalism’, Stanford Law Review, 55:5 (2003), pp. 14791527, 1494, 1526.

33 ‘The inconstancy of American foreign policy is not an accident but an expression of two distinct sides of the American character. Both are characterized by a kind of moralism, but one is the morality of decent instincts tempered by the knowledge of human imperfection and the other is the morality of absolute self-assurance fired by the crusader spirit.’ Fulbright, William J., The Arrogance of Power (New York: Random House, 1966), pp. 245–46.

34 Cox, Michael, ‘Empire, Imperialism, and the Bush Doctrine’, Review of International Studies, 30 (2004), pp. 585608, 588.

35 Bacevich, Andrew, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan/Holt, 2009).

36 Stephen M. Walt, ‘The Myth of American Exceptionalism’, Foreign Policy (10 November 2011), available at: {,0} accessed 19 October 2013.

37 Bell, Daniel, ‘The End of American Exceptionalism’, Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College, 10 (1975), pp. 118 ; Bellah, Robert, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (New York: Seabury Press, 1975); Schlesinger, Arthur, ‘America: Experiment or Destiny?’, The American Historical Review, 82:3 (1977), pp. 505–22.

38 Zuckerman, Michael, ‘The Dodo and the Phoenix: A Fable of American Exceptionalism’, in Halpern, Rick and Morris, Jonathan (eds), American Exceptionalism? US Working Class Formation in an International Context (New York: St Martin's Press, 1997), pp. 1435 .

39 Roger Cohen, ‘Palin's American Exception’, International Herald Tribune (25 September 2008), available at: {} accessed 4 June 2014.

40 Slaughter, Anne-Marie, ‘A Brave New Judicial World’, in Ignatieff, Michael (ed.), American Exceptionalism and Human Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 277303 ; Ruggie, ‘American Exceptionalism’; Frank Michelman, ‘Integrity-Anxiety?’, in Ignatieff (ed.), American Exceptionalism, pp. 241–76.

41 Tyrrell, Ian, ‘American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History’, American Historical Review, 96 (1991), pp. 1031–72; Appleby, Joyce, ‘Recovering America's Historic Diversity: Beyond Exceptionalism’, Journal of American History, 79:2 (1992), pp. 419–31; Kammen, Michael, ‘The Problem of American Exceptionalism: A Reconsideration’, American Quarterly, 45 (1993), pp. 143 . See also Veysey, Laurence, ‘The Autonomy of American History Reconsidered’, American Quarterly, 31 (Fall 1979), pp. 455–77.

42 Ignatieff, ‘American Exceptionalism’, p. 13.

43 Spanos, William, American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam (New York: State University of New York Press, 2008), p. 188 ; William Pfaff, ‘Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America’, New York Review of Books (15 January 2007).

44 McCrisken, Trevor, American Exceptionalism and the Legacy of Vietnam (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) p. 6 , emphasis added.

45 Restad, Hilde Eliassen, ‘Old Paradigms in History Die Hard in Political Science: U.S. Foreign Policy and American Exceptionalism’, American Political Thought, 1:1 (2012), pp. 5376 , 55 emphasis added.

46 Shafer, Byron, Is America Different? A New Look at American Exceptionalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Lipset, Seymour, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: Norton, 1996); Kingdon, John W, America the Unusual (New York: Worth, 1999); Kohut, Andrew and Stokes, Bruce, America Against the World: How We are Different and Why We are Disliked (New York: Owl Books, 2006); Shuck, Peter and Wilson, James (eds), Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation (New York: Public Affairs, 2009).

47 Pease, Donald E., The New American Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), p. 12 .

48 Nayak, Meghana V. and Malone, Christopher, ‘American Orientalism and American Exceptionalism: A Critical Rethinking of U.S. Hegemony’, International Studies Review, 11 (2009), pp. 253–76, 260.

49 Zuckerman, ‘The Dodo and the Phoenix’, p. 21.

50 Johannes Thimm, ‘American Exceptionalism – Conceptual Thoughts and Empirical Evidence’, Paper für die Tagung der Nachwuchsgruppe ‘Internationale Politik’ der DVPW, Darmstadt, 13–14 July 2007, available at: {} accessed 28 June 2014.

51 Rogers Smith, ‘“Our Republican Example”: The Significance of the American Experiments in Government in the 21st Century’, paper given at APSA 2011 Annual Meeting, 2011, p. 2, available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013.

52 Fender, Stephen, ‘The American Difference’, in Gidley, Mick (ed.), Modern American Culture: An Introduction (London: Longman 1993), p. 20 .

53 Jones, ‘Americans See U.S. as Exceptional’.

54 Carter, Dale, ‘American Exceptionalism: An Idea That Will Not Die’, American Studies in Scandinavia, 29:2 (1997), pp. 7684 .

55 Nayak and Malone, ‘American Orientalism’, p. 260.

56 Kammen, ‘The Problem of American Exceptionalism’, p. 30.

57 Restad, ‘Old Paradigms in History Die Hard’, p. 55; Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith, p. 13; Madsen, Deborah, American Exceptionalism (Oxford: University of Mississippi Press, 1998), p. 2 ; McDougall, Walter, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 (New York: Mariner Books, 1997), p. 18 .

58 Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953), The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Co, 1956), Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956); Hudson, Winthrop, Religion in America (New York: Scribner, 1965); Tuveson, Ernest Lee, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968); Cherry, Conrad, God's New Israel (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971); Bercovitch, Sacvan, The American Jeremiad (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978).

59 Madsen, American Exceptionalism, p. 1.

60 Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, p. xiii.

61 Madsen, American Exceptionalism, pp. 1–2.

62 Kagan, Robert, Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century (New York: Knopf, 2006), pp. 8, 12 .

63 Miller, Errand into the Wilderness, pp. 3–4.

64 Ibid., p. 12.

65 Pfaff, ‘Manifest Destiny’.

66 Ibid.

67 Miller, Errand into the Wilderness, p. 10.

68 Greene, Jack, Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), p. 175 .

69 Stephanson, Anders, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), p. 4 .

70 Ibid.

71 Smith, Anthony D., Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 137–8; Kammen, ‘The Problem of American Exceptionalism’, p. 8.

72 Deneen, Patrick, ‘Cities of Man on a Hill’, American Political Thought, 1:1 (2012), pp. 2952, 32.

73 Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, To Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), pp. 11, 5.

74 Bellah, The Broken Covenant, p. 17; Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, p. 8.

75 Harlan, David, The Degradation of American History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 37 .

76 Miller, Errand into the Wilderness, p. 15.

77 Tyrrell, ‘American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History’, p. 1034; Kammen, ‘The Problem of American Exceptionalism’, p. 6; Deudney and Meiser, ‘American Exceptionalism’, p. 25; Restad, ‘Old Paradigms in History Die Hard’, p. 62.

78 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, The Social Contract (New York: Cosimo, 2008 [orig. pub. 1762]); Bellah, Robert, ‘Civil Religion in America’, Daedalus, 96:1 (1967), pp. 121 .

79 Guyatt, Nicholas, Providence and the Invention of the United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

80 Adams, Charles Francis, John Adams, Second President of the United States (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), p. 467 .

81 Ceaser, ‘The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism’, p. 13.

82 Schlesinger, ‘America: Experiment or Destiny?’

83 Stephanson, Manifest Destiny, p. xiv.

84 Cole, Roberta, ‘Manifest Destiny Adapted for 1990s’ War Discourse: Mission and Destiny Intertwined’, Sociology of Religion, 63:4 (2002), pp. 403–26, 405.

85 Ibid.

86 See Pratt, Julius W., ‘The Origin of “Manifest Destiny”’, The American Historical Review, 32:4 (1927), pp. 795–98; and Weinberg, Albert K., Manifest destiny. A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1935).

87 Bemis, Samuel Flagg, ‘Review of Manifest destiny. A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History by Albert K. Weinberg’, The Journal of Modern History, 8:1 (1936), pp. 116–18, 117.

88 Cf. Hans Morgenthau's dismissal of ‘the intellectual worthlessness and practical futility of the literature of “Manifest Destiny”’. Morgenthau, , The Purpose of American Politics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 295 .

89 Merk, Frederick, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995 [orig. pub. 1963]), p. 215 .

90 Ibid., p. 3

91 Tuveson, Redeemer Nation, p. 91; Cherry, God's New Israel, p. 7.

92 Ceaser, ‘The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism’, p. 18.

93 Tomes, Robert R., ‘American Exceptionalism in the Twenty-First Century’, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 56:1 (2014), p. 37 .

94 McCrisken, American Exceptionalism, p. 14.

95 McDougall, Walter, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), p. 4 .

96 Restad, ‘Old Paradigms Die Hard’, p. 60.

97 Cited in Engel, Jeffrey A., Lawrence, Mark Atwood, and Preston, Andrew (eds), America in the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 347 .

98 Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Irony of American History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010 [orig. pub. 1952]), p. 72 ; Laski, Harold, The American Democracy: A Commentary and Interpretation (Fairfield, NJ: A. M. Kelly, 1977 [orig. pub. 1948]), p. 559 ; Hans Morgenthau, ‘Letter to Sister Dorothy Jane von Hoogstrade’ (6 December 1951), cited in in Behr, Hartmut and Rösch, Felix (eds), ‘The Ethics of Anti-Hubris in the Political Philosophy of International Relations’, in Troy, Jodok (ed.), Religion and the Realist Tradition: From Political Theology to International Relations Theory and Back (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 116 .

99 Woodward, C. Vann, ‘The Age of Reinterpretation’, American Historical Review, LXVI (October 1960), pp. 28 .

100 Williams, William Appleman, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1959).

101 Restad, ‘Old Paradigms Die Hard’, p. 64.

102 Ibid., p. 68.

103 Ibid.

104 Ceaser, ‘The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism’, p. 6.

105 Lerner, Max, America as a Civilization: Life and Thought in the United States Today (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), p. 28 .

106 Ibid., p. 65.

107 With the solidification of class lines, the appearance of monopolistic capitalism, and its turn to imperialism, ‘the United States once again was returning to the mainstream of European institutional development’. Morgenthau, The Purpose of American Politics, p. 113. ‘The onset of world history also works to diminish differences within the industrialized world. It has relativized, if not vanquished, a sense of historical difference across the Atlantic.’ Baldwin, Peter, The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 245 .

108 de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America, trans. Reeve, Henry (Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1862 [orig. pub. 1835]), p. 42 .

109 For critiques of Hartz's thesis, see Smith, Rogers, ‘Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz: The Multiple Traditions in America’, American Political Science Review, 87:3 (1993), pp. 549–66; Shklar, Judith, ‘Redeeming American Political Theory’, American Political Science Review, 85:1 (1991), pp. 315 ; Orren, Karen, Belated Feudalism: Labor, The Law, and Liberal Development in the United States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

110 Kammen, ‘The Problem of American Exceptionalism’, p. 7.

111 Smith, ‘Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz’, p. 549.

112 Lipset, American Exceptionalism, p. 7.

113 Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, p. 10.

114 Lipset, Seymour, ‘Why no Socialism in the United States?’, in Bialer, Seweryn and Sluzar, Sophia (eds), Sources of Contemporary Radicalism (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977), pp. 31149 ; Foner, Eric, ‘Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?’, History Workshop Journal, 17:1 (1984), pp. 5780 ; Wilentz, Sean, ‘Against Exceptionalism: Class Consciousness and the American Labor Movement, 1790–1920’, International Labor and Working Class History, 26 (1984), pp. 124 ; Howe, Irving, Socialism and America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985).

115 Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, p. 10.

116 Cited in Hessen, Robert (ed.), Breaking with Communism: The Intellectual Odyssey of Bertram D. Wolfe (Stanford: Hoover Press, 1990), p. 8 .

117 See fn. 16 above.

118 Ronald Reagan, ‘We will be a City upon a Hill’, address to the First Conservative Political Action Conference, 25 January 1974, available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013.

119 An examination of Pius XII's speeches and radio messages between 1944 and 1949 does not reveal that quotation {}. The closest I can find is the ‘Address of His Holiness Pius XII to a Group of American Senators’ on 23 January 1946, which contains the following passage: ‘it is a pleasure to greet and say a word of encouragement to those who today carry a heavy weight of responsibility to a world, encircled by gloom and darkness, that is groping for the first steady rays of peace’. But Pius here was referring, not exclusively to the United States, but generically to ‘the leaders of State and to them whose exalted duty it is to formulate the laws that will govern and guide the peoples of tomorrow’. Far from God having placed human destiny into American hands, what the pontiff actually said was: ‘God is only too ready, eager to give peace and concord to His world; but men must be humble enough to accept it from His hands, approaching Him along the path of Truth and justice and Charity.’

120 Myrdal, An American Dilemma, pp. lxxix, 1xxviii, emphasis in the original.

121 In six of the key monographs mentioned in fn. 58, the phrase ‘city upon a hill’ appears only ten times. Tuveson does not use it at all, while the single usages in Cherry and Bercovitch refer to developments in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, not to Winthrop.

122 Addressing the Massachusetts legislature in 1961, Kennedy proclaimed: ‘Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us – and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill – constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.’

123 Reagan's first usage of the phrase ‘shining city upon a hill’, to my knowledge, came in a speech to his campaign team the day after losing out on the GOP presidential nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976. He used it again when challenging Jimmy Carter for the presidency in 1979, and famously referred to America as a ‘shining city’ in his farewell address of 1989. The word ‘shining’ has Gospel connotations (‘the light of the world’) as well as patriotic connotations on account of the line ‘From sea to shining sea!’ in the 1910 song ‘America the Beautiful’ (whose lyrics were first published as poem by Katharine Lee Bates in 1895).

124 Gamble, Richard, In Search of the City upon a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth (New York: Continuum, 2012).

125 When Reagan first invoked the ‘city upon a hill’ metaphor in 1969, he included Winthrop's cautionary prophecy; but the humbling and self-restraining connotations had gone missing by the time the ‘shining city’ trope was coined in 1976.

126 Reagan, ‘We will be a City upon a Hill’.

127 Ronald Reagan, ‘Second Inaugural Address’, 21 January 1985, available at: {} accessed 19 March 2013.

128 ‘The terms Pilgrims and Pilgrim Fathers, as used in American history, were unknown until the closing years of the eighteenth century [1798 and 1799].’ The ‘true first “Pilgrims” in America’ were not British Puritans at all but French huguenots in 1564; and rather than symbolising irenic origins these first colonizers were massacred by Spaniard Catholics in an act of religious persecution. See Matthews, Albert, ‘The Term Pilgrim Fathers and Early Celebrations of Forefathers’ Day’, Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts (Cambridge, MA: John Wilson and Son, 1915), p. 383 ; and Davis, Kenneth C., America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), p. 8 .

129 Vaver, Anthony, Bound with an Iron Chain (Westborough, MA: Pickpocket, 2011), p. 7 .

130 Tomes, ‘American Exceptionalism in the Twenty-First Century’, p. 28.

131 Lipset, American Exceptionalism, p. 19; Huntington, Samuel, Who are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 46 .

132 Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, p. 8.

133 Huntington, Samuel, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).

134 Abraham Lincoln, ‘Speech at Chicago, Illinois’, 10 July 1858, available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013.

135 Cited in Stevenson, Nathaniel, Abraham Lincoln and the Union: A Chronicle of the Embattled North (Middlesex: The Echo Library, 2006), p. 53 .

136 Chesterton, G. K., What I Saw in America (London: Anthem Press, 2009), p. 6 .

137 Myrdal, Gunnar, An American Dilemma (New York: Pantheon, 1944), p. lxviii .

138 Cited in Bell, Daniel, The Radical Right (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2002), p. 320 .

139 Hartz, Louis, The Liberal Tradition in America (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1955); Diggins, On Hallowed Ground, p. 20.

140 Stout, Harry, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (New York: Penguin, 2007).

141 Rable, George, God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

142 Geoff Nunberg, ‘Next under God’, Language Log (2004), available at: {} accessed 19 October 2013.

143 In 1954, the words ‘under God’ from Lincoln's Gettysburg address were officially incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance to create the new phrase ‘one nation under God’ and the motto ‘In God We Trust’ was made a legal requirement on all currency (the motto had first appeared on coinage under Lincoln and coins had universally borne the motto since 1938). In 1956, ‘In God We Trust’ was formally ratified as the United States’ national motto in place of ‘E pluribus unum’.

144 Morgenthau, The Purpose of American Politics, p. 299.

145 Legro, Jeffrey, Rethinking the World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), p. 81 .

146 Morgenthau, The Purpose of American Politics, p. 295.

* An earlier version of this article won the International Studies Association's Robert W. and Jesse Cox Award for 2014. My thanks go to the five anonymous ISA reviewers for their constructive feedback. I would also like to thank all those who commented on my article when I presented it at the ISA Annual Convention in Toronto, the International Relations research group at UEA and, above all, the three anonymous reviewers at RIS for their high standards of rigour.


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