The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Godfrey Hodgson, Author . Yale Univ. $26 (221p) ISBN 978-0-300-12570-2

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.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2008
Release date: 01/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 221 pages - 978-0-300-16419-0
Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-300-14268-6
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