We are all different: human, and national, diversities, cultural, linguistic, historical, are part of our being the species we are. Yet, from time to time, this observation is tainted with delusion: that of superiority, or special destiny…
“Exceptionalism is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.”
As historical uniqueness:
“The German romantic philosopher-historians, especially Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), dwelt on the theme of uniqueness in the late 18th century. They de-emphasized the political state and instead emphasized the uniqueness of the Volk, comprising the whole people, their languages and traditions. Each nation, considered as a cultural entity with its own distinctive history, possessed a “national spirit”, or “soul of the people” (in German: Volksgeist). This idea had a strong influence in the growth of nationalism in 19th-century European lands — especially in ones ruled by élites from somewhere else.”
Exceptionalism can represent an error analogous to historicism in assuming that only peculiarities are relevant to analysis, while overlooking meaningful comparisons. “[W]hat is seemingly exceptional in one country may be found in other countries.” As indigenous peoples explore their respective cultural heritages, their seeking to be separately classified or newly-understood may be a form of exceptionalism.
In ideologically-driven debates, a group may assert exceptionalism, with or without the term, in order to exaggerate the appearance of difference, perhaps to create an atmosphere permissive of a wider latitude of action, and to avoid recognition of similarities that would reduce perceived justifications. If unwarranted, this represents an example of special pleading, a form of spurious argumentation that ignores relevant bases for meaningful comparison.
Groups likewise may be accused of exceptionalism, perhaps for avoiding normal terms of analysis. The term may be a marker for an implication that a point of view is widely misunderstood, such as the notion that Islamic jihad is misunderstood.
The term “exceptionalism” can imply criticism of a tendency to remain separate from others. For example, the reluctance of the United States government to join various international treaties is sometimes called “exceptionalist”, as is an assertion that a person or group refuses to acknowledge, and perhaps communally participate in, a widely accepted principle or practice.
In editorial language, the term “exceptionalism” may be a marker for “the extent to which a region or group is justifiably or factually distinct.”
Of American (USA) exceptionalism:
“American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. In this view, U.S. exceptionalism stems from its emergence from the American Revolution, thereby becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism“, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy and laissez-faire. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.”
Abstracts from English Wikipedia.
Image: German professor Sieglinde Lemke argues that the Statue of Liberty “signifies this proselytizing mission as the natural extension of America’s sense of itself as an exceptional nation.” (source: Elcobbola)