How do the three pillars of the ideology of American Exceptionalism impact American foreign policy?

The pillars of American Exceptionalism play less of an important role in shaping current foreign policy than they once played in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, globalization and international cooperation are larger influencing factors in conducting foreign policy than American Exceptionalism.

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In recent years, the notion of American Exceptionalism has come under a fair amount of scrutiny and negative criticism. Much of the criticism comes from political leaders who present globalization and the idea of a global community as the modern approach to foreign policy. While reluctant to generalize, the leaders promoting this view believe American Exceptionalism is a relic from the twentieth century. American Exceptionalism promotes the archaic nationalist perspective that Americans, capitalism, democratic governance, and religious traditions steeped in Christianity are superior to other global nations. In the minds of the anti-exceptionalist, American Exceptionalism is perceived by the rest of the world as a license to bully other countries into doing what is in the United States' best interest. It is an arrogant and imperialistic method to conduct foreign policy.

Several prominent historians, sociologists, and political scientists are attempting to distance foreign policy from the influence of American Exceptionalism, replacing it with a strategic bent towards influencing policy through active participation in global partnerships. American foreign policy is part of international strategic initiatives such as climate change conferences, nuclear agreements (Iran, for example.), G20 summits, and the World Health Organization, to name a few. The goal is to shape global policy that benefits the United States while promoting capitalism, democracy, and non-military intervention in other countries.

Several variants of the pillars of American Exceptionalism's ideology are in play, some with as many as ten pillars. The four main pillars are protecting private property, free-market capitalism, a system of common law, and a moral/ethical system framed by religious freedom. It is reasonable to discern the first three pillars in the list are the specific components to what we think of a democracy or a democratic form of government. The fourth pillar, promoting religious values, is much more challenging to promote globally as it competes historically, theologically, and culturally with several other religious beliefs. The promotion of religious freedom across the world is the least significant foreign policy component, whereas the rise of free-market capitalism is the most significant.

Since 1980, the American government has alternated between Republican and Democratic presidents. American foreign policy began to shift away from the ideology of American Exceptionalism shortly after Reagan's term (some historians believe Nixon's China policy was the first shift) and towards an internationalist view. Republican presidents tend to identify as exceptionalists, whereas Democrats internationalists. The stark difference between President Biden and former President Trump is clear evidence of the downplaying of American Exceptionalism by President Biden as his presidency seeks to re-establish the global relationships abandoned by his predecessor, foreign policy that originated with and was implemented by President Obama.

In modern foreign policy, the pillars of American Exceptionalism are less of an influence in foreign affairs, with the exception of capitalism. Even free-market capitalism has been rebranded to include some not so subtle forms of command market economic policy (China is an example). One might conclude the promotion of American Exceptionalism is for the domestic political audience, but as a pillar of American foreign policy, it is de-emphasized for global audiences. The pillars are probably less impactful than they once were in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of American foreign policy history.

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