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Exceptionalism As A Foreign Policy Justification

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Logan Albright via Mises Canada blog,

American exceptionalism is a common theme in any policy debate surrounding the United States. We have to protect American manufacturing, protectionists ignorant of economics argue, because America is exceptional. We have to pass expansive welfare programs to care for the poor, because America is exceptional. Most recently, we have to intervene in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, because America is exceptional. Why the imputed exceptionalism requires one country to police the world and meddle in matters that do not concern them remains unexplained.

As an American myself, I do not dispute that claim that the it is, in many ways, an exceptional country. What I do object to is the use of that claim to justify bad policy. America is exceptional because of policy, not as a justification for it.

The exceptional situation America finds itself in is a result of the exceptional circumstances of its founding and the way it has treated its people throughout the years. No other country was created under the specific intention to limit government and preserve individual liberty.

These circumstance are what allowed the country to grow into an economic powerhouse, a world superpower, and a bastion of freedom that draws immigrants from all over the planet, seeking a better life.

But every time the government cites these exceptional qualities as the reason to curtail liberty, to expand government, or to drop bombs around the world, all the things that make America great are subtly diminished.

Those who are advocating for the U.S. to take military action in Ukraine, either directly or indirectly, seem to think there is a moral duty to so, and that to do otherwise somehow diminishes the nation’s greatness. But it must be remembered that these international interventions would not be voluntary, and therefore could not properly be described as moral. The people who make the decisions about whether to act or not are not the ones who do the actual fighting. They do not volunteer their own money to support the cause. They are not the ones who face the consequences of economic sanctions such as embargoes, imposed on others against their wills. All of these policies involve a few designated potentates using force and coercion to dictate what others should do. It’s hard to take the moral high ground in such a situation.

But even if we overlook the rather major point that the lives in play are the unwilling pawns of government force, what does exceptionalism have to do with moral duty? Does great power, as the Spider Man films assert, come with an obligation of great responsibility? Or to put it another way, does weakness excuse inaction? If exceptionalism uniquely demands action, then surely we must also conclude that ordinariness absolves a nation of moral responsibility. That does not seem to me to be a logical conclusion.

A weak man is not excused for failing to stand up to injustice when he sees it. Similarly, a powerful man is not uniquely obligated to take action simply because he can. Morality is a constant that doesn’t depend on the relative power of a moral agent vis a vis his circumstances.

None of this is meant to comment on the relative justice or injustice of Vladimir Putin’s actions or the situation in Crimea – I am not in a position to know the extent to which the peninsula’s secession was voluntary as opposed to coerced – but I am merely making the point that “American exceptionalism” is not a sufficient justification for an interventionist foreign policy.

When discussing American exceptionalism, we should always frame it in the context of the statement: “America is exceptional because we don’t tell people what to do.” Not: “America is exceptional, so we should get to tell people what to do.” The more public policy is guided by the latter statement, the less true the former becomes.


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Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:25 | 4607928 _ConanTheLibert...
_ConanTheLibertarian_'s picture

The USA is exceptionally arrogant!

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:48 | 4607971 angel_of_joy
angel_of_joy's picture

Exceptionally dumb too... 

Because Obama ?

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:20 | 4608203 toady
toady's picture

Manifest destiny?

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:44 | 4608261 angel_of_joy
angel_of_joy's picture

Obama as manifest destiny ?


Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:52 | 4608276 0b1knob
0b1knob's picture

In Soviet America EVERYBODY is exceptional!   Everybody is above average.   And everybody gets an award just for showing up.

Anybody who says otherwise is just a MEAN PERSON.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 17:47 | 4608536 angel_of_joy
angel_of_joy's picture

Math says only half can be above average.

Very unfortunate indeed...

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:14 | 4609432 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

Don't worry, Common Core s redefining math.


Sun, 03/30/2014 - 19:41 | 4608833 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture


Why the imputed exceptionalism requires one country to police the world and meddle in matters that do not concern them remains unexplained. [/quote]

More like Manifest Destiny V2.0 or Puritanism V3.0!

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 20:55 | 4609046 Treeplanter
Treeplanter's picture

American exceptionalism has nothing to do with foriegn policy.   Tyler has gone off into the weeds this time.  Manifest destiny is so 1848.  

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 22:44 | 4609353 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

It's another example of stealing language and ideas. Look at the real / historical meanings of what is stolen and you find the real / current objective of the theft.

American Exceptionalism means we were playing by better rules - US Constitution, Bill of Rights, value individual people and their ideas.

The American Dream is freedom - people living together respectfully and peacefully.

If your aim is to control others, then both of these concepts must be destroyed.

Perversion of language, history, and truth is dangerous and evil.

We should not be using the twisted definitions without pointing out the change in use. Otherwise, we are erasing history, perverting language, and enabling evil.

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 00:19 | 4609562 Treeplanter
Treeplanter's picture

Excellent. Thank you.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:25 | 4607929 Mad_max
Mad_max's picture

Actually the intervention was to remove sevestapol from Russian usage. This would have reduced Russia ability to support Assad, which would have opened the way for the Qatar to europe gas pipeline. Expect Syria to become more prominent in the news in the near future. Obozo is even in Saudi Arabia talking to the king about it. EU needs to get the pipeline going quick to punish Russia.


It all about the North dome/ South Pars gas field.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:28 | 4607938 Beam Me Up Scotty
Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Its just another excuse for the "holier than thou" busy bees of society to stick their noses into other peoples business.  They need to learn to "mind their own business".  Simply put, butt out of my life!!--and everyone elses too.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:05 | 4609412 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

The "busy bees" are unwitting pawns at best. It's those in positions of power and influence that want to destroy America that are the real problem. The generals matter just as much, and probably more, than the foot soldiers in this case.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:29 | 4607941 lordylord
lordylord's picture

Don't worry.  As an American, we are working on our exceptionalism.  Common core and other socialist policies will finish off dumbing down and impoverishing the masses.  Then we will be as docile, obedient, and unexceptional as the Europeans and Asians.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:51 | 4607981 angel_of_joy
angel_of_joy's picture

"Will be" ???

"Are" is way more close to reality.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:28 | 4607942 disabledvet
disabledvet's picture

"We fight." That's the nature of the American animal..not "exceptionalism."

Contrary to popular opinion we did attack Canada to start the Revolutionary War.
We then spent the next 10 years defending our homeland from "deprivations" and we "won" our Independence in the form of an negotiated settlement and a Constitution which has been shredded beyond recognition now.

It's not for lack of wealth or power that's fer sure.

When World War II broke out there were no "Spanish Armies on the march in Europe."
The biggest battle in the history of the American Continents remains Gettysburg.

And of course the one fighting for the faith remains the Americans...for now.
Jefferson enshrined the freedom to practice your faith without fear of interference for a reason...and the world of Islam knows this because he was the first American President to attack them.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:19 | 4609440 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

You start false, end true, and the middle doesn't connect. Can you tell me a little more? ;)

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:34 | 4607951 TungstenBars
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I seem to recall another group of people in history thinking they were exceptional..something about a master race and european conquest..

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:47 | 4607970 Beam Me Up Scotty
Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Exactly!!  We are becoming the evil what we fought so hard against back in WW2.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 16:49 | 4608423 Beam Me Up Scotty
Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Love the junks but no rebuttal.  We are becoming what Hitler set out to do.  Sure, we maybe haven't fired up the ovens yet, but we are killing a lot of people around the world aren't we.  All for what?  Some illusion of safety?  Please....

We think we are the chosen ones of the world, on the moral high ground.  Pffft.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:20 | 4609426 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

Who's this "we". By not standing for what is exceptional about US, then you help destroy it.

Which side are you on? Freedom, or control.

You appear to be a fence-hugging sniper.

Edit PS I didn't down vote you.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:06 | 4608010 nickels
nickels's picture

"American exceptionalism" is a Palin-esque conceit that inspires a drunken bravado in otherwise feckless incompetents.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:36 | 4608081 Greenskeeper_Carl
Greenskeeper_Carl's picture

Ha be careful bad mouthing the great Sarah palin, apparently she has a lot of fans around here (I'm not one of them, I just find the idea of people that like both this website and palin amusing)

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:42 | 4608095 TungstenBars
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She certainly would make a fine cum receptacle.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:25 | 4609447 Liberty2012
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Do you not have a brain? Do you not want to think? Or do you just enjoy being sleazy?

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 00:24 | 4609572 Clowns on Acid
Clowns on Acid's picture

No one cares what you find amusing..

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:28 | 4609452 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

Nickels - what is your definition of exceptional? What do you value?

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:17 | 4608195 ILLILLILLI
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>> I seem to recall another group of people in history thinking they were exceptional...something about a master race and european conquest.


Oh, for a moment there I thought you were talking about The Chosen People. Never mind....carry on.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:35 | 4607953 orez65
orez65's picture

As much as I detest the comedian Bill Maher, we've come to the same conclusion from different directions:
"The only exceptional thing about the US is how stupid we have become"

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:30 | 4609460 Liberty2012
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We? Don't lump everyone in the same basket.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:42 | 4607962 Chuck Knoblauch
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The USA has been infiltrated by filth.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:43 | 4607965 WTF2
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America is peculiar in that it is remarkably phenomenal which is noteworthy and uncommon, making us very special.  Therefore we are uniquely qualified to have our way with regular, ordinary folks.  It is not our fault if the commoners think this unconverntional, but God made it so.  So it will be our globall manifest destiny do do so.  If you don't believe me just ask me.

I think that sums it up.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:28 | 4608058 Gringo Viejo
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WTF: Good sarcasm.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:50 | 4608116 robertocarlos
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Have you thought about marrying Miss South Carolina? I have.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:47 | 4607969 Gringo Viejo
Gringo Viejo's picture

T-Ball Nation.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 17:59 | 4608565 orez65
orez65's picture

"T-Ball Nation."

Worst: Liberal T Ball.

I could not believe it when I saw my grandson play Liberal T Ball!!

Almost ran into the field and yanked him off!!

The rules:

1. Everyone scores a hit
2. There are no outs
3. Everyone scores a run

Kids have no idea what is going on

All because there should not be any losers.

The lesson should be: the next best thing to winning is losing. The important thing is to stay in the game.

May all you liberals rot in hell!!

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:36 | 4609469 Liberty2012
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Replace "liberals" with controllers or progressives. Liberal is one of the stolen words that we need to take back. Freedom is liberal.

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 03:37 | 4609785 Gringo Viejo
Gringo Viejo's picture

Orez: Hear ya. I'm an old guy too and I ran across this quote by Fred Reed yesterday.

"We dumb down everything for the emotional benefit of the incapable."

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:56 | 4607973 new guy
new guy's picture

You call it exceptionalism. Other people call it yankee bullshit.

Distinctly different from Canadian or British bullshit. In the bullshit department the USA is #1

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 19:04 | 4608738 Winston Churchill
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Seems no better than English BS. God is English, and plays cricket.

I read it in an old history book,so it must be right.

Plenty of room in historys dustbin/trashcan, for more exceptional Bull Shitters.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 20:03 | 4608890 new guy
new guy's picture

I respectfully disagree with you. God is Canadian, plays hockey and does not speak French. However the Americans are the current reigning champions.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 20:01 | 4608875 new guy
new guy's picture

post deleted

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 13:53 | 4607982 DOGGONE
DOGGONE's picture

America, BE exceptional ... STOP this:
"The Public Be Suckered"

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:39 | 4609478 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

How is your website relevant to this article?

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:04 | 4608008 q99x2
q99x2's picture

America was great when it was ruled by whites. The shit sure hit the fan once the minorities moved in.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:09 | 4608013 nickels
nickels's picture

America was great when it was ruled by Indians. The shit sure hit the fan once the whites moved in.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 16:25 | 4608036 kurt
kurt's picture

America was great when it was ruled by Bison. Ths shit sure hit the fan once humans moved in.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 17:53 | 4608546 Emergency Ward
Emergency Ward's picture

Fuck the bison says the wooly mammoth.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 18:01 | 4608570 orez65
orez65's picture

Baby bison BBQ ribs are tasty!

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:32 | 4608065 Jam
Jam's picture

It used to be the average American had a bit in common with his fellow countryman. Now, not so much.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:10 | 4608015 Salah
Salah's picture

Kunstler:  "The recognition that there are some places on the planet where the US can’t exert its influence has also come as a shock to the so-called American Deep State — that matrix of bureaucratic toxic sludge that labors to pretend to control everything and succeeds mainly in embarrassing itself in a world that is now deeply tending away from the centralized control of anything."

Say goodbye to "exceptionalism" as a rationale...but be on the lookout for some equally inane justification the Deep State puts forward.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 18:07 | 4608588 orez65
orez65's picture

I don't have any objection to exerting US influence if the people of the US made a profit from it.

But we spent over 3 Trillion in Iraq and 1 Trillion in Afghanistan and what do we have to show for it?

Truly exceptionally stupid!!

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:48 | 4609495 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

Salah, well said. Thank you :)

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:22 | 4608045 yogibear
yogibear's picture

What's so exceptional about Goldman Sachs and it's appointed Euro technocrats installed in the PIIGS stealing the country's  wealth?  It's happing in the US.

There isn't loyalty when it comes to greed.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:30 | 4608063 dogismycopilot
dogismycopilot's picture

Exceptional like those gang bangers who fucking RENT the shiny wheels on their cars from China town tire shop cuz homey is mutha fucking broke and ain't got a Benjamin to his name for Spinners on his Caddy or milk for his baby mama.

Shit, mofo has got a gat though and that shit makes him exceptional. "I'm gonna stick this Drone in your face and watch how fucking 'ceptional I am nigger." says Obama.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 14:45 | 4608105 robertocarlos
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Why doesn't the world join America. Even if 4 billion people were on welfare or SS the income disparity would be less. We'd all live in peace then. You'd have to be crazy to not want free shit.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 19:49 | 4608848 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

Free?  You get what you pay for (most of the time), so if you're paying nothing, guess what you end up with...

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 21:46 | 4609193 robertocarlos
robertocarlos's picture

Well I'm starting to think that everybody deserves a small bit of money to spend every year just for being alive. A guaranteed income if you will. And  it's in American dollars and it doesn't matter where you live in the world.  Spread the wealth and spread out the people. Maybe one world govt is the answer. But most eople won't share that idea.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:55 | 4609511 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

Do you want to be the slave, or the slave-master?

Slaves are given free stuff - food, clothing, housing, healthcare, tools.

Free people trade their work, share their time talents and treasure as they choose.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:03 | 4608157 TimmyB
TimmyB's picture

This article is complete bullshit. The opening paragraph lumps protecting American manufacturing, ensuring Americans don't starve, and an aggressive foreign policy as symptoms of "American Exceptionalism."

The fact that the author believes that protectionalism, welfare, our current foreign policy or anything else is bad or wrong doesn't make them symptoms of exceptionalism. Instead, they are at most things the author dislikes.

Many countries protect what they believe to be important industries from foreign competition. Many have also instituted welfare programs. Labeling these as symptoms of exceptionalism is nonsense.

Concerning American exceptionalism as a justification for our country's foreign policy, this is merely propaganda to the American people justifying our "might makes right" foreign policy. We a bully without principles, other than the principle that we will do whatever enriches the oligarchs who run our country, everyone else be damned. However, these truths must be kept the American public, so they are told the fantasy our country is exceptional instead of the truth.

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 00:01 | 4609526 Liberty2012
Liberty2012's picture

Re-read the article. The author is saying that those things should not be linked to Exceptionalism. That it should not be used as propaganda.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:04 | 4608160 DOGGONE
DOGGONE's picture

Happy Fifteenth Anniversary!

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 15:10 | 4608173 Reaper
Reaper's picture

An exceptionally corrupt system, where the Constitution and written laws are the veneer covering a venal, excessively expensive, arbitrary system of "noble" lifetime serving judges, a politically controlled corrupt FBI, and prosecutors claiming TBTP. Chief Judge Marshall in Marbury v Madison, 1803, imagined how the system might have become,"The Government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right."

Exceptionally corrupt courts, exceptionally corrupt media, exceptionally imagined superiority. Exceptional was the dream, but venal men corrupted it totally.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 19:49 | 4608851 mobydick
mobydick's picture

American exceptionalism is as nohing compared to Australian exceptionalism. We've got the smuggest, most pompous arseholes on the planet over here. Australia...the lucky country.

Donald Horne, who coined that expression, hadn’t done it as a compliment. ‘Australia is a lucky country, run by 2nd rate people, who share its luck.’

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 23:01 | 4609395 Oldwood
Oldwood's picture

As an ignorant protectionist, I have yet to hear an explanation of why we are better off with a never ending trade deficit that leaves us all more in debt every year than zero trade with those countries who will not balance their trade with us. Like everything else, we are expected to believe we can have it all forever with no reconciliation.

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 04:13 | 4609817 Debugas
Debugas's picture

this new american exceptionalism (we won over soviet union so we must be doing things right) reminds me of "Deutschland uber alles"

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