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The Short American Century: A Post-Mortem and American Exceptionalism

Prof. Andrew Bacevich has edited a volume of essays called The Short American Century: A Post-Mortem [1]. I hope to be discussing some of the contributions to the book over the coming weeks. Here is an excerpt from Bacevich’s concluding essay on American exceptionalism:

To liken the United States to any other country (Israel possibly excepted) is to defile a central tenet of the American civil religion. In national politics it is simply impermissible….Such exceptionalist sensitivities help explain why even those oblivious to the provenance of the phrase “American Century” nonetheless remain deeply committed to its perpetuation. To doubt the feasibility of America’s redemptive mission–to allow that the American Century has never quite lived up to expectations (or worse still, that it never existed)–would be, in effect, to concede that American Exceptionalism is an illusion or an outright fraud. To declare the American Century defunct would be tantamount to lumping the United States among all of the other powers that have paraded across history’s pages purporting to erect a new order for the ages before falling short of that goal. The insistence that “we” differ fundamentally from “them” would thereby become unsustainable. So for those devoted to the proposition that the United States is different and special–a group likely including a majority of Americans–celebrating the American Century becomes something akin to a civic duty.