On the Myth of American Exceptionalism


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

In an article titled, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, author Stephen Walt explains how America’s “values, political system, and history” is not quite exceptional after all (2011). He offers the five following myths and I paraphrase:

  1. America is different.
  2. America is morally superior.
  3. America possesses unique intelligence.
  4. America has accomplished the most good.
  5. America has God’s blessing.

He further argues that America is not the only country to consider itself exceptional throughout history, and therefore, thinking so reflects ego more than reality. Regarding the second myth, Walt points out the methods America employed to fulfill expansionist missions, number of war initiations, war-time behavior, innocent civilian deaths, refusal to sign human rights treaties, and other instances as evidence of America’s lack of morality. He then points out several competitive advantages that came about by natural luck or “good fortune” such as the amount of natural resources, navigability, and Europe’s existing conflicts that contributed to America’s success. Fourthly, he claims the abolition of slavery and status of women in America was long overdue in comparison to efforts of other democracies and states. Still further, Walt claims, “Nor can the United States claim a global leadership role today on gay rights, criminal justice, or economic equality—Europe’s got those areas covered” (2011). Finally, Walt posits that a careful examination of America’s position at the end of the 20th century offers a better assessment when questioning if God is really on our side than buying into the religious rhetoric offered by the potentially over-confident leaders of the past.



Walt, Stephen M. 2011. “The myth of American exceptionalism.” Foreign Policy no. 189:  72-75 (accessed March 7, 2014).



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