The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Hardcover (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 33%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 92%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (14) from $1.99   
  • New (3) from $14.99   
  • Used (11) from $1.99   
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any coupons and promotions
Seller since 2007

Feedback rating:



New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

Gift quality, Fine. Clean, unmarked pages. Good binding and cover. Hardcover and dust jacket. Ships daily.

Ships from: Boonsboro, MD

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Seller since 2008

Feedback rating:


Condition: New
New Haven 2009 Hardcover New in New jacket NEW MINT CONDITION.

Ships from: BARRIE, Canada

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Seller since 2010

Feedback rating:


Condition: New
Hardcover New 0300125704 New Condition *** Right Off the Shelf | Ships within 2 Business Days ~~~ Customer Service Is Our Top Priority! -Thank you for LOOKING: -)

Ships from: Geneva, IL

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Sort by


The idea that the United States is destined to spread its unique gifts of democracy and capitalism to other countries is dangerous for Americans and for the rest of the world, warns an eminent British commentator in this provocative book. Godfrey Hodgson argues that America is not as exceptional as it would like to think; its blindness to its own history has bred a complacent nationalism and a disastrous foreign policy that has isolated and alienated it from the global community.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Financial Times

“[The Myth of American Exceptionalism] is interesting and lucid as it examines the errors and exaggerations in the national self-image.” - Clive Cook, Financial Times

— Clive Cook


"Godfrey Hodgson provides readers with a grand tour through American history that offers a friendly but stern hand to explain our sense of exceptionalism in the world." —America

Sean Wilentz
"The idea of 'American exceptionalism,' once a concept dear to the sectarian Left, long ago evolved into a shibboleth of the Republican Right. Godfrey Hodgson has trained his formidable intelligence against the second of these—and written a provocative exploration of American history as well as American myth."—Sean Wilentz, Princeton University
Thomas Bender
“Some of Hodgson’s historical judgments warrant challenge, but this timely and deeply felt, independent-minded polemic offers powerful evidence that a belief in American exceptionalism hinders clear thinking about the nation and world.”—Thomas Bender, author of A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History
Walter Nugent
“A brilliant history, from the Puritans to the present, of our belief in our exceptionalism—political, economic, and moral—and how it has lately come to support inequality and hubris.”—Walter Nugent, author of Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion
Alan Wolfe
"Godfrey Hodgson has always been a sympathetic and insightful friend of the United States. This is what makes his dismay toward those who use the idea of American innocence to project American power so compelling."—Alan Wolfe, author of The Future of Liberalism
Mark Lytle
“This survey is informed by Hodgson’s wide learning and powerful sense that Americans are somewhat deluded in their reading of their national experience as exceptional and have allowed that belief to warp their interactions with the world.”—Mark Lytle, Bard College
Financial Times - Clive Cook
“[The Myth of American Exceptionalism] is interesting and lucid as it examines the errors and exaggerations in the national self-image.” - Clive Cook, Financial Times
"Godfrey Hodgson provides readers with a grand tour through American history that offers a friendly but stern hand to explain our sense of exceptionalism in the world." —America
Publishers Weekly

The notion of America as the divinely anointed homeland of freedom, bravery, democracy and economic opportunity, with everything to teach the world and nothing to learn from it, is so entrenched that this perceptive portrait of America the Ordinary seems downright radical. Hodgson (Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand) situates America as an outpost of Europe, always a part (and not always the most advanced part) of an evolving "progressive, liberal, capitalist civilization" spanning the Atlantic. American history, he contends, has its share of class conflict, bloody and sometimes losing struggles against hierarchy, and institutional dysfunction. Much of its success, he argues, stems from historical and geographical happenstance rather than ideological genius, and its recent performance, in everything from fighting poverty to health care to political corruption, stacks up poorly against other nations'. The author's nuanced, wide-ranging treatment isn't hostile to the United States, but he deplores a new "missionary exceptionalism"-visible in the "confused and delusional" U.S. policy in Iraq. Hodgson's thoughtful critique injects a much-needed shot of perspective and common sense into the debate over America's place in the world. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300125702
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 1/27/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Godfrey Hodgson is a Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. He lives in Oxfordshire, UK.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

The Myth of American Exceptionalism


Yale University Press

Copyright © 2009 Godfrey Hodgson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-12570-2

Chapter One

A City Set upon a Hill

It has been our fate as a nation not to have an ideology, but to be one. Richard Hofstadter

Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us."

The sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," delivered by John Winthrop on the eve of the Massachusetts Bay Company's sailing for New England in 1630 has been called "the greatest sermon of the millennium" and "a kind of Ur-text of American literature," though curiously there is not a single contemporary reference to anyone's having heard it delivered, and in fact the precise circumstances under which it was delivered are therefore unsure. It has certainly become one of the sacred texts of that account of American history known as "American Exceptionalism."

In recent years, Winthrop's sermon has been made popular by President Ronald Reagan, who quoted it, to the thrilled approval of hispolitical partisans, in one of his most successful speeches, to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974. He returned to the theme in his last address from the White House in January 1989. The image clearly meant a great deal to him, and it has meant a lot to his followers. "In my mind," he explained as he left office, "it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still."

Reagan and others have spoken and written as if John Winthrop had a vision of a republic that would be an exemplar and a model to the world. That is, however, a serious misunderstanding of who Winthrop was, of what he was saying, and of what he probably had in mind. Of course, if it is seen as a prophecy of the history of the United States, it is an anachronism. Winthrop was not an American. He was an Englishman, albeit one whose religious beliefs put him at odds with the contemporary government of King Charles I and his domineering archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Winthrop later went out of his way to emphasize that he saw himself as a loyal subject of the English king, and that the colony he helped to found was, by his wish, subject to the laws of England. Winthrop and the political party to which he belonged decided to fight a king whom they saw as a "man of blood," and they defeated and killed him. That did not make them any the less Englishmen. The values they fought for, freedom and justice, are not exceptionally American values.

Reagan imagined Winthrop preaching on board the Arabella off the coast of Massachusetts. In fact the ship was called Arbella. The sermon was probably preached in the church of the Holy Rood in Southampton, England, or perhaps on board the good ship Arbella in the nearby port. It was certainly preached before Winthrop ever set foot in North America.

More important, he was of course not preaching to Americans about the future of the United States of America. There were no Americans then, and the foundation of the United States was a century and a half in the future. Most historians would agree that there was no distinctively American consciousness for at least a century after Winthrop's sermon. Winthrop could not therefore have anticipated that the United States would be as a city upon a hill. He could not possibly have imagined a United States. He was preaching to Englishmen, and expressing his determination that the colony, or in contemporary language the "plantation," that he and his friends were setting out to found, would be an example to other English colonies, in North America and elsewhere. At the time, it is interesting to reflect that those British colonies included those settled by Scots Protestants in northern Ireland. We have no means of knowing whether Winthrop was thinking specifically of them. But in their context and their real meaning the sermon that Winthrop preached and the sermon that Ronald Reagan used to inspire a conservative shift in American politics some 350 years later have virtually nothing in common.

Another of the beloved texts of American exceptionalism also looks a little different when its context is examined. "What then is the American, this new man?" asked J. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur in a book first published in 1782, just before the triumph of the American Revolution. He answered himself in words that have resonated for generations of American patriots. "He is an American, who, leaving behind all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the government he obeys, and the new rank he holds." Ringing words, indeed. But knowledge of their author and their context significantly alters their meaning.

Crèvecoeur (his real name was Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur) described himself as an "American farmer," and it is safe to say that ninety-nine of a hundred Americans who have encountered his famous statement have assumed that he either was, or in due course became, an immigrant to the United States and lived the rest of his life in Jeffersonian simplicity in America. Yet that was not the case. He was a French nobleman who had lived in England and in Canada and who before the Revolution bought an estate of some three hundred acres in upstate New York, which he farmed with the help of slaves, though he implies in his writing that he disapproved of slavery as an institution. He was naturalized there in 1764, not, therefore, as an American, but as a British subject. In 1769 he married an American woman, Mehitabel Tippett, by whom he had three children. In 1780 he returned to France, as he said, to secure his inheritance and his estates to his children. That inheritance, incidentally, included a title of the kind that is forbidden by the United States Constitution.

After independence, through the influence of the countess of Houdetot, the former mistress of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he was made the French consul in New York and remained for seven years a Frenchman in New York. In 1790 he returned to France for good, and there frequented the most aristocratic society. His friends included the king's former minister Turgot and Turgot's sister, the duchess de Beauvilliers, as well as the La Rochefoucaulds, Rohan-Chabots and the rest of the gratin, the "upper crust," of French royalist society. Crèvecoeur was a friend of Franklin's and an acquaintance of Jefferson's. He loved the American wilderness and wrote a delightful travel book, which he dedicated to the Abbé Raynal as if it were written by "a simple cultivator of the earth." He was sympathetic to the poor immigrants from Scotland or from Germany he met, and emphatic about how much better their life would be in America than in Europe. But he did not join them.

So far from deciding himself to become "this new man," he chose to spend the last twenty-three years of his life in Paris and on his estates, in the heart of that aristocratic milieu whose corruptions he had pretended to reject. In this he was not alone but was writing in the then-fashionable tradition of praising the simple life of the backwoods. In the age of the French Revolution other writers from aristocratic backgrounds, such as Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the author of Paul et Virginie, and the great Francois-René de Chateaubriand, not to mention in the next generation Alexis de Tocqueville, praised the simplicity of the frontier but managed to resist its temptations.

A few years after the death of Crèvecoeur, John Quincy Adams, son of the second president of the United States, made a bold claim on behalf of the settlers who later came to be known as the Pilgrim Fathers, which has also entered the litany of exceptionalism. William Bradford, in his wonderful account of the settlement of Plymouth Plantation, describes how he and his friends decided to make what he called a "combination," or as we might say a compact or a covenant, "occasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches" let fall by some of the "strangers"-those among the passengers, that is, who were not part of the separatist congregation that had traveled first from England to Leiden, in Holland, and then to the coast of New England.

There is reason to believe that there was another reason for this "combination." The Mayflower had been navigating for a landfall around the mouth of the Hudson, but its skipper had been forced to turn back by heavy seas at Pollock Rip, the dangerous shoal off the southern elbow of Cape Cod. That meant that the Pilgrims would be obliged to settle north of the boundary of the English colony of Virginia, which might lead to trouble. So William Brewster, Bradford, and the other leaders of the expedition made virtually all the adult males on board the Mayflower sign the following declaration:

We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony.

That is the text of what has come to be called the Mayflower Compact. Now listen to what John Quincy Adams had to say about it. It was, said the sixth president, "perhaps, the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government."

In other words, Adams was presenting the Mayflower Compact as a real, historical example of the imaginary "social contract" posited by political theorists, from Hobbes by way of John Locke to Rousseau, as the foundation of political society. With all due respect to the sixth president of the United States, that is anachronistic nonsense.

Brewster, Bradford, and their friends were not penning a state paper, still less prefiguring a future constitution. Caught, as they emerged from a storm-tossed voyage across the Atlantic, between the danger of mutiny from some of their own party and the possibility of legal difficulty because the weather might force them to settle where they had no legal right to do so, they had taken the precaution of getting the members of their party, half of whom would be dead of disease within three or four months, to agree to stick together. In it, they went out of their way to proclaim their loyalty to the king of England. It was a practical business document, and it also no doubt reflected the custom among separatist churches like the one the Pilgrims (as Bradford called them in retrospect) meant to found somewhere near Cape Cod Bay, of binding its members to a covenant. That was not nothing, but that was all.

Even more extravagant is the interpretation put by one of the greatest of modern historians of the religious and literary culture of New England, the Harvard professor Perry Miller. In 1952 Miller gave a lecture at Brown University for which he borrowed his title, Errand into the Wilderness, from a sermon preached by the Reverend Samuel Danforth in 1670. Miller explains that his thinking on the subject of "the massive narrative of the movement of European culture into" what he interestingly called "the vacant wilderness of America" began in Africa, where he found himself supervising the unloading of drums of American oil. (That was, of course, in the days when Africa imported oil from America, rather than exporting it to America.) In 1952 it might have seemed pedantic to point out that the wilderness was not quite vacant. That is not the case now. Miller's massive erudition in the literature of Puritan New England led him to conclude that the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Company was "not just an organization of immigrants seeking advantage and opportunity." It was "an essential maneuver in the drama of Christendom."

The Bay Company was not a battered remnant of suffering Separatists thrown up on a rocky shore; it was an organized task force of Christians, executing a flank attack on the corruptions of Christendom. These Puritans did not flee to America; they went in order to work out that complete reformation which was not yet accomplished in England and Europe.... This was the large unspoken assumption in the errand of 1630: if the conscious intention were realized, not only would a federated Jehovah bless the new land, but He would bring back these temporary colonials to govern England.

Now this is not as baldly anachronistic as many modern citations of John Winthrop's Arbella sermon or John Quincy Adams's interpretation of the Mayflower Compact. Miller was correct in pointing out that the Massachusetts Bay Company was very different in its personnel and its motivation from the Pilgrim Fathers who founded Plymouth. The Pilgrims were a tiny band of impoverished provincial zealots, driven out of England by fear of persecution first to liberal Holland, and then out of Holland mainly by fear that, after the twelve-year truce ended, Spanish victories in Holland would hand them over (the unhappy word rendition comes to mind) to the mercies of the Spanish Inquisition. The "great migration" of the Bay Company, on the other hand, was backed and led by some of the most powerful and incidentally the wealthiest members of the Protestant and parliamentary party that actually would, within little more than a decade, challenge the king, defeat him in the field, and eventually put him to death on a scaffold outside the banqueting hall of his own palace of Whitehall. Miller was a learned and talented historian. But it is profoundly unhistorical to wish "unspoken assumptions" onto groups of long-dead actors without evidence.

Ideology was involved, however, and power politics, not only in 1630 but also in 1952. Perry Miller was writing at the height of the Cold War, when it was important to equip Europe with an ideology to rival that of Soviet communism. In fact, with contemporaries like Daniel Boorstin and the Canadian SacVan Bercovitz, Miller was one of the founders of the academic discipline of "American Studies," which in its early days did indeed seek to supply the United States with an official ideology to combat the influence of communism. It was all the easier, too, in 1952 to emphasize the exceptional character of American civilization because at that time the United States was, more than ever before or since, incomparably more prosperous than any other nation on earth, untainted, thanks largely to Franklin D. Roosevelt, by any serious kowtowing to fascism, and virtually unchallenged in its economic and military power.

Even so, the claims of 1950s American intellectuals, most of whom thought of themselves as liberals, read extravagantly today. Max Lerner published in 1957 a book, more than one thousand pages long, called America as a Civilization. In dithyrambic rhythms he lauded the exceptional American:

He is the double figure in Marlowe, of Tamerlane and Dr. Faustus, the one sweeping like a footloose barbarian across the plains to overleap the barriers of earlier civilization, the other breaking the taboos against knowledge and experience, even at the cost of his soul.... Thus the great themes of the Renaissance and the Reformation are fulfilled in the American as the archetypal modern man-the discovery of new areas, the charting of skies, the lure of power, the realization of self in works, the magic of science, the consciousness of the individual, the sense of the unity of history.


Excerpted from The Myth of American Exceptionalism by GODFREY HODGSON Copyright © 2009 by Godfrey Hodgson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 A City Set upon a Hill 1

2 Myth and Reality in the Birth of a Nation 30

3 From Civil War to Cold War 62

4 From Liberal Consensus to Conservative Ascendancy 99

5 The Other Exceptionalism 128

6 The Corruption of the Best 155

Notes 191

Index 205

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 10, 2010

    Thoughtful British Critique of US History

    This is a thoughtful critique of US history from a British journalist with extensive experience in our nation's capital. Since the opinions of other nations regarding US actions were ostentatiously ignored or even disparaged under the Bush administration, it is bracing to read what a thoughtful friend of the US has to say/recommend. Of course, for those who continue to feel that the US is a divinely commissioned superpower destined to lead the world in perpetuity, Hodgson's observations will not be readily accepted. Fortunately, some American history and geography departments have for years had professors also willing to look at US actions objectively. I refer to Walter LaFeber at Cornell, William Appleman Williams at Wisconsin, and Donald Meinig at Syracuse.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    Great gift

    This was a gift to a friend. They loved it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)