The phrase “American exceptionalism” is used in many ways and for many purposes, but its original meaning involved a statement of fact: for the first century after the Constitution went into effect, European observers and Americans alike saw the United States as exceptional, with political and civic cultures that had no counterparts anywhere else.
In American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History, Charles Murray describes how America’s geography, ideology, politics, and daily life set the new nation apart from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. He then discusses the ways that exceptionalism changed during America’s evolution over the course of the 20th century. Which changes are gains to be applauded? Which are losses to be mourned? Answering these questions is the essential first step in discovering what you want for America’s future.
About the Author
Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He first came to national attention in 1984 with Losing Ground. His subsequent books include In Pursuit, The Bell Curve (with Richard J. Herrnstein), What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, In Our Hands, Real Education, and Coming Apart. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.
Table of Contents
2. The Elements of American Exceptionalism
3. Is the United States Still Exceptional?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There is very little doubt that America occupies a very special, and many people would argue preeminent, place in the World affairs today. Even in its early years this nation was recognized by many of its contemporaries as being very different from all of the other nations on Earth. America has always had and continues to have a lot of admirers throughout the world, but it also has a fair number of detractors. It was in fact one of its biggest detractors – Josef Stalin – who coined the very term “American Exceptionalism,” primarily to denounce it. The term “American Exceptionalism” has been in the news a lot lately, primarily in the context of America’s foreign policy. However, what has always been the main concern of pundits and intellectuals when discussing this issue has more to do with America’s special internal culture and politics that set it apart from the other nations. It is precisely reclaiming of this original understanding that Charles Murray sets out to accomplish in this slim e-book. Readers of Charles Murray’s oeuvre will readily recognize in this book many of the themes that he has often reflected upon in his writings. Individual integrity and industriousness, honesty, shared system of values and ideals, and social responsibility are all big part of what made America so special. There are also geographical facts of America’s position that uniquely contributed to its makeup – separated by two oceans from the rest of the world and spanning a vast, rich and sparsely populated continent with plenty of resources to help everyone who wants prosper. The book challenges many of the misconceptions that have over the years formed about American Exceptionalism. The most important one is probably that the exceptionalism implies some kind of superiority. This may indeed often be the case, but as already noted it’s usually America’s detractors who are the most eager to point out its uniqueness and distinction. Like most of Murray’s writings, this book is exceptionally well written. It manages to inform, provide insight, and even inspire. I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in American culture and politics.