The Dodo and the Phoenix: A Fable of American Exceptionalism



Americans have always been adamant about their own exceptionality. So there may be some paltry paradox in confessing that I have never been an ardent exponent of the doctrine of American exceptionalism.


Civil Society American History American Life American Uniqueness Religious History 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ira Katznelson and Aristide Zolberg, eds, Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (Princeton, 1986);Google Scholar
  2. Jean Heifer and Jeanine Rovet, eds, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? (Paris, 1988);Google Scholar
  3. Byron Shafer, ed., Is America Different? A New Look at American Exceptionalism (Oxford, 1991);Google Scholar
  4. Ian Tyrell, ‘American Exceptionalism in an Age of Intellectual History’, with a critique by Michael McGerr, ‘The Price of the “New Transnational History”’;, and a rejoinder by Tyrell, American Historical Review, 96 (1991), 1031–72;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. John Higham, ‘Multiculturalism and Universalism: A History and Critique’, American Quarterly, 45 (1993), 195–219;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carl Degler, ‘In Pursuit of an American History’, American Historical Review, 92 (1987), 1–12;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Akira Iriye, ‘The Internationalization of History’, American Historical Review 94 (1989), 1–10;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Joyce Appleby, ‘Recovering America’s Historic Diversity: Beyond Exceptionalism’, Journal of American History 79 (1992), 419–31;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daniel Bell, ‘American Exceptionalism Revisited: The Role of Civil Society’, The Public Interest 95 (Spring 1989), 38–56;Google Scholar
  10. Richard Rose, ‘How Exceptional Is the American Political Economy?’, Political Science Quarterly, 104 (1989), 91–115;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Michael Kammen, ‘The Problem of American Exceptionalism: A Reconsideration’, American Quarterly, 45 (1993), 1–43;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Richard Curry and Lawrence Goodheart, eds, American Chameleon: Individualism in Trans-National Context (Kent, OH, 1991);Google Scholar
  13. Jack Greene, The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity from 1492 to 1800 (Chapel Hill, 1993);Google Scholar
  14. Kim Voss, The Making of American Exceptionalism: The Knights of Labor and Class Formation in the Nineteenth Century (Ithaca, 1993);Google Scholar
  15. David Wrobel, The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal (Lawrence, KA, 1993).Google Scholar
  16. 2.
    Daniel Bell, ‘The End of American Exceptionalism’, The Public Interest, 41 (1975), 193–224.Google Scholar
  17. 11.
    Bell, ‘The “Hegelian Secret”’;, 48; Bell, ‘End of Exceptionalism’, 211; Bell, The “Hegelian Secret”’, 56–7. Such conceptual carelessness and substantive meandering go back still further; see Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (rev. ed., New York, 1962), 13, 32, 37–8, 58–60, 65–6, 98–9, 112–13, 115, 117–18.Google Scholar
  18. 15.
    James Schleifer, The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (Chapel Hill, 1980), 59; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. Phillips Bradley (New York, 1945), II, 101, 301. See also Tocqueville, Democracy, I, 14.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Robert Brunhouse, ed., ‘David Ramsay, 1749–1815: Selections from his Writings’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 55, part 4 (1965), 188; Greene, Intellectual Construction, 141.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    Greene, Intellectual Construction, 173; Thomas Paine, Common Sense, in The Thomas Paine Reader, ed. Michael Foot and Isaac Kramnick (New York, 1987), 84, 81, 93. In regard to liberty even more than in regard to anything else, America was obviously no asylum from persecution for African-Americans. On the contrary, as William Pinckney admitted, it was ‘an eternal grave for the liberties of themselves and their posterity’. Greene, Intellectual Construction, 187. Exponents of exceptionalism rarely take slavery as the touchstone of New World novelty that it was.Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    Sam Smith, Shadows of Hope: A Freethinker’s Guide to Politics in the Time of Clinton (Bloomington, 1994). Smith added acerbically that, in our own time, antipathy to ideology has been the inanition more than the genius of American politics: Bush’s notorious difficulties with ‘the vision thing’, Clinton’s plaguing problems with truth and consistency that led one Arkansas wag to observe that, all by himself, ‘Bill Clinton is a presidential debate’. But the embrace of ideology has been even more debilitating: Reagan’s contempt for the Congress and the Constitution, the attrition of popular trust in the government. In 1964 over 60 per cent of a representative sample of Americans told pollsters that they could trust the government to do what was right. Three decades later, only 10 per cent reported a comparable confidence, and more than half of the precipitate plunge had occurred in the years of the ‘Reagan revolution’. Smith, Shadows of Hope, 17, 89–90.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Bell, ‘End of Exceptionalism’, 198; Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New York, 1920), 293.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Daniel Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics (Chicago, 1953).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York, 1955); see alsoGoogle Scholar
  25. Louis Hartz, The Founding of New Societies: Studies in the History of the United States, Latin America, South Africa, Canada, and Australia (New York, 1964).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Henry Luce, ‘The American Century’, Life 10:7 (17 February 1941), 61–5.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Robert Elson, The World of Time, Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise. Vol.2, 1941–1960, Duncan Norton-Taylor, ed. (New York, 1973), 19.Google Scholar
  28. 33.
    Kammen, ‘Problem of Exceptionalism’, 14; David Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York, 1989).Google Scholar
  29. 34.
    Kammen, ‘Problem of Exceptionalism’, 17; David Reynolds, Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville (New York, 1988).Google Scholar
  30. Degler, ‘Pursuit’, 235, 236; Degler, reply to Laurence Veysey, American Historical Review 92 (1987), 1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 41.
    Richard Rose, ‘Is American Public Policy Exceptional?’, in Shafer, Is America Different?, 188; Rose, ‘How Exceptional?’, 94, 96. For another exposition of the absurdity of infinite exceptionalism, see Aristide Zolberg, ‘How Many Exceptionalisms?’, in Katznelson and Zolberg, Working-Class Formation, 400–1, 454–5. For another gibe at the logic of Deglerian relativism, see Laurence Veysey, ‘The Autonomy of American History Reconsidered’, American Quarterly 31 (1979), 466–79.Google Scholar
  32. 55.
    Smith, Shadows of Hope, esp. 19; Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (New York, 1991).Google Scholar
  33. 57.
    Gary Gerstle, ‘The Limits of American Universalism’, American Quarterly 45 (1993), 234–5; see also Bell, ‘The “Hegelian Secret”’;, 68. On the ‘culture wars’, see James Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York, 1991).Google Scholar
  34. 59.
    Emory Elliott, Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in the New Republic, 1725–1810 (New York, 1982), 3.Google Scholar
  35. 60.
    Greene, Intellectual Construction, 209; Ian Tyrell, rejoinder to Michael McGerr, ‘The Price of the New “Trans-National History”’;, American Historical Review 96 (1991), 1070;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: A History of the French Image of American Society to 1815 (Princeton, 1957).Google Scholar
  37. 62.
    Jack Greene, Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (Chapel Hill, 1988); Greene, Intellectual Construction, 5–6, 17.Google Scholar
  38. 63.
    Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, 1972), 967–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations