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The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism

James W. Ceaser
American Political Thought
Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 3-28
Published by: The University of Chicago Press in association with the Notre Dame Program in Constitutional Studies and the The Jack Miller Center
DOI: 10.1086/664595
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664595
Page Count: 26
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The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism
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Abstract

Exceptionalism seems like a perfectly unexceptional concept—until one asks what it means. Those who use the term will then either offer definite, but usually conflicting, definitions or greet the question with a bewildered stare. Exceptionalism is evidently a far less obvious idea than most suppose. This essay has two parts. It begins by looking at the different ways in which Americans conceive of exceptionalism, treating perceptions and interpretations but leaving the question of whether America is in fact exceptional to the real social scientists. It will turn next to one of the important meanings of exceptionalism—the idea of a mission—and subject the dominant understanding of this idea to critical analysis, offering an alternative account.

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