Oct 22, 2020 in Literature

The Myth of American Exceptionalism by Stephen Walt

In the article The Myth of American Exceptionalism, Stephen M. Walt debunks the belief that the US is a brilliant international example to be followed by the other nations and a state chosen by God, which purpose is to care for the humankind. Walt stresses that America is no longer the exclusive power than the other advanced countries, and its behavior does not carry anything remarkable, given the expansionist policy, racial and sexual discrimination, and other aspects. The author argues that the United States does not have the special genius because its geographic location and other natural benefits cannot be considered as the personal merits. Walt expresses doubts about the fact that America is changing the world for the better, given the dual external policy and orientation on the international private interests regardless any morality. Finally, the United States cannot rely on the exceptional support of God because the state is not immune to political and economic failures, as well as any other power.

Accordingly to American scientists, the age-old belief that America is a state that has no equal contenders is nothing more than a myth, which can no longer be taken seriously. The history of the US and its modern international politics contextually proves the opposite point of view. Conviction and American exceptionalism were shaken after the war in Afghanistan, the outbreak of hostilities in Iran, the economic crisis, and strengthening the Eastern states in the international arena. Walt exposes five components of the entire myth, showing that it is a fantasy based on ignorance and self-aggrandizement.

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Firstly, Walt discusses an idea that there is something outstanding in American exceptionalism. In fact, there is nothing significant therein. From time to time the world powers cherish such ideas to justify their international superior missions. Most of the great states considered themselves worthy of worship and imposing their preferences. Walt gives the following examples. The British carried the white man’s burden and the French and Portuguese colonialists justified the seizure of the Overseas Territories by their civilizing mission. Walt mentions that Soviet leaders have believed in the special mission of the communist state, pursuing a policy of repression and political purges. Thus, the United States falls into the trap of its self-esteem, as well as many other countries, at the certain stage of their historical development.

Secondly, the scientist refutes the view that the USA behave better than the other countries. He discusses their expansionism and the concomitant homicide. Walt argues that the United States is one of the most expansionist powers in the modern history. Its very appearance has been marked by the forced unification of the 13 States and the Indian and Mexican territories’ accession. The reservations were established for the Indian survivors. The Americans took part in the World Wars and bombed the cities, killing about 305,000 Germans and 330,000 Japanese - civilians. The United States destroyed about 250,000 Muslims in the course of military operations over the past 30 years, etc. Today, the US drones and Special Forces hunt for people suspected of involvement in terrorism, on the territory of at least five countries. Thus, there are no reasons to believe that the USA is showing exceptional generosity and humanism in the international arena.

The third point, refuting by Walt, says that America owes its success due to the special genius. Professor corrects that America has been successful not because of its unique values, but luck. The new nation got a vast territory, generously endowed with the natural resources, and covered with the navigable rivers. Moreover, America had the opportunity to develop relatively quiet, while European countries divided the spheres of influence in the World Wars. On the background of the general economic crisis and the influx of talented immigrants, the USA rose; however, it said nothing about its personal merit.

The fourth and fifth allegations suggest that America is changing the world for the better and acts under the protection of God. Walt argues that the United States has not made a decisive contribution to the victory over Hitler. Moreover, it has not succeeded in the Cold War without the NATO allies’ support. The United States had never been the home of democracy and equality because discrimination existed there before the mid-twentieth century. The USA has refused to sign the international environmental treaties and emits the most greenhouse gases in the atmosphere negatively influencing the planet ecology. The US international support is given to the governments, which can bring the actual benefits.

Given the above, as well as many other political, social, and economic failures, it can be argued that the US does not have the exclusive right to hide behind the Divine Providence. Walt stresses that self-confidence is an asset for any nation. However, a country can get an unpleasant surprise when it considers itself chosen by God. Walt recalls the arrogance of ancient Athens, Napoleonic France, the Empire of Japan and many other countries that have failed their beliefs. Thus, the scientist claims America to abandon its excessive ambitions and not to pretend to be God’s chosen nation.

The USA has no moral right to arrogate for the national exceptionalism. However, such social aspects as gender and racial equality, global culture, and education deserve special attention. From my point of view, despite the discrimination existence in the XX century, the US has made a significant step forward on the road to equalizing social rights. A striking example was the fact that the 66th US Secretary of State became the first African-American woman Condoleezza Rice. Today, women and African Americans are free to hold any office. After the sad historical experience of slavery and racial neglecting that has included even immigrants from China America is becoming a country of great opportunities for people regardless of their race or gender.

Another aspect that deserves respect is the US mass culture. Of course, it is not exceptional good. However, it embodies a unifying factor for the multinational population of the USA. Numerous peoples contributed American culture, and today everyone can find something personal in it. It allows self-expression and does not establish the rigid frameworks. Thus, each human can feel comfortable.

The US education is recognized as one of the best in the world. Despite the fact that it is based on the personal contribution of teachers and their unique methods, there exist general rules of study. The American system makes possible to obtain the high-quality basic knowledge and provides a wide range of relevant subjects. The universities pay special attention to the development of sports. It speaks about the trends in the health nation’s formation. The democratic approach and flexible system of education adapt the training processes needed by students. Thus, education is one of the distinguishing features of the modern United States.

The Americans have done for the humankind no more than other nations. The mass American culture aimed at leveling the boundaries between national identities and cannot be regarded as a global good because the representatives of different cultures and religions seek to preserve national characteristics. For example, the Islamic world significantly differs from the Christian one. Thus, American values will never be accepted by the Muslims. Moreover, the US education, which has its advantages, cannot supplant the British, German, or Paris ones. Every year millions of students go to study at the oldest European universities.

Each historical stage is characterized by the specific US influence on the world civilization. America caused irreparable damage to Africans turning them into slaves. It brought the sufferings to the people of Nicaragua when more than 300,000 civilians were killed during the civil war. Additionally, residents of Indochina had to survive during the bombing in Vietnam. The beginning of the military intervention in Iraq took more than 100,000 lives of civilians, etc. At the same time, Americans are involved in humanitarian missions and the programs of the Third World countries support. Thus, it can be argued that the US has brought to the world civilization no more benefits than any other developed country. Moreover, it caused more harm than some of other states.


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