Debating American Exceptionalism: Empire and Democracy in the Wake of the Spanish-American War

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract

Empire fascinates and frightens Americans. It evokes national power and prestige, but also doom and decline. At a time when the United States remains embroiled in Afghanistan and once again discusses the pros and cons (and indeed the existence) of an empire overseas, it is apt to look back to the first time Americans fought about this issue. That late nineteenth-century debate erupted in the wake of the Spanish-American War of 1898. It focused not only on foreign policy, but also on the nation's very essence and purpose. At the heart of this debate was a surprising consensus about American nationalism. It assumed that the United States was a nation unlike any other and that this exceptionalism destined the country to promote democracy worldwide. The disagreements between imperialists and anti-imperialists occurred within this particularly American consensus. They were rooted in the malleability of the concept of exceptionalism. This book does not address the question of whether exceptionalism accurately reflects the United States' place in the world; instead, it highlights and dissects the concept's malleability. This malleability is of vital importance because it explains exceptionalism's longevity. It helps us understand why the belief in exceptionalism still serves as the basis of American nationalism and foreign policy in spite of more recent military failures, which were supposed to spell the 'end of exceptionalism.'
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages294
ISBN (Print) 9780230392892
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2012

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