Document Type


Publication Title

United States Political Observatory (OPEU)


Politics, Philosophy, and Legal Studies

Publication Date



Debates over issues of national identity have been constants in American history, up to and including today, with the Civil War being the most notable and violent example of serious disagreement about national identity and unity. There are many interpretations of how the country came to be, what its defining characteristics are, and how factual or merely self-congratulatory the elements of the nationalistic claims of exceptionality really were or are now. Like any nationalistic tenet, the exceptionality thesis certainly requires a deliberatively selective and incomplete understanding of the national history. Whole university courses and disciplines of study in American Studies could be devoted to this contentious topic in its broadest sense. The characteristics and conclusions set forth below are not definitive, or exclusive, but are important for foreign students of the United States to take into consideration when trying to understand the formation of the country and the effects of that process today. This essay is meant as a comprehensive introductory overview from an empirical comparative politics and society standpoint. Many links to a wealth of high-quality cost-free online sources in English are offered to assist interested persons who wish to analyze further some aspects of the contemporary situation of the United States in a comparative context.