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The New American Exceptionalism

2009
Author:

Donald E. Pease

The New American Exceptionalism

Exposes the fantasies that shaped U.S. identity between the end of the cold war and the global war on terror

Pioneering scholar Donald E. Pease traces the evolution of state fantasies of exceptionalism and shows how they have shaped U.S. national identity since the end of the cold war, uncovering the ideological and cultural work required to convince Americans to surrender their civil liberties in exchange for the illusion of security.

At last, a genealogy of the paranoid style of U.S. nationalism that has some real psychological and historical depth. With characteristic brilliance, Donald E. Pease uncovers the dark side of the nation’s soul from Hiroshima to Abu Ghraib—via Vietnam, Waco, and Oklahoma City. The New American Exceptionalism sparkles with original insights.

Nancy Fraser, The New School for Social Research

For a half century following the end of World War II, the seemingly permanent cold war provided the United States with an organizing logic that governed nearly every aspect of American society and culture, giving rise to an unwavering belief in the nation’s exceptionalism in global affairs and world history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this cold war paradigm was replaced by a series of new ideological narratives that ultimately resulted in the establishment of another potentially endless war: the global war on terror.

In The New American Exceptionalism, pioneering scholar Donald E. Pease traces the evolution of these state fantasies and shows how they have shaped U.S. national identity since the end of the cold war, uncovering the ideological and cultural work required to convince Americans to surrender their civil liberties in exchange for the illusion of security. His argument follows the chronology of the transitions between paradigms from the inauguration of the New World Order under George H. W. Bush to the homeland security state that George W. Bush’s administration installed in the wake of 9/11. Providing clear and convincing arguments about how the concept of American exceptionalism was reformulated and redeployed in this era, Pease examines a wide range of cultural works and political spectacles, including the exorcism of the Vietnam syndrome through victory in the Persian Gulf War and the creation of Islamic extremism as an official state enemy.

At the same time, Pease notes that state fantasies cannot altogether conceal the inconsistencies they mask, showing how such events as the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the exposure of government incompetence after Hurricane Katrina opened fissures in the myth of exceptionalism, allowing Barack Obama to challenge the homeland security paradigm with an alternative state fantasy that privileges fairness, inclusion, and justice.

The New American Exceptionalism

Donald E. Pease is professor of English and Avalon Foundation Chair of the Humanities at Dartmouth College.

The New American Exceptionalism

At last, a genealogy of the paranoid style of U.S. nationalism that has some real psychological and historical depth. With characteristic brilliance, Donald E. Pease uncovers the dark side of the nation’s soul from Hiroshima to Abu Ghraib—via Vietnam, Waco, and Oklahoma City. The New American Exceptionalism sparkles with original insights.

Nancy Fraser, The New School for Social Research

Its scope, theoretical adventurousness and lucidity, radical commitment to ethical acts, and seriousness make The New American Exceptionalism an unusual and stunning work of American cultural and political theory. This is a major book by a major critic on the United States’ state of exception and state fantasies; Donald E. Pease’s text explains how American exceptionalism has shaped and directed the U.S. citizens’ desire for a fully realized national culture. It is a thrilling guide to American Studies and dialectical psychoanalysis from one of the most incisive thinkers of his generation.

José David Saldívar, University of California, Berkeley

This ‘exceptional’ work of great scope and brilliant insight marries cultural history with political theory. It is relevant, thought provoking, and even ground-breaking.

Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer, Travel-Watch

American Exceptionalism is a passionately argued analysis of how successive governments have constructed specific images to forge the ideas of a unified national culture—despite the fact that American society has gradually fragmented over the last three decades.

Journal of American Culture

All in all, the book is a brilliant rhetorical performance.

Choice

Pease’s book is a must read for anyone interested in the ways that U.S. state power has been exercised, justified, idealized, and challenged.

Symploke

The New American Exceptionalism should find a place on every socially conscious and theory informed bookshelf.

Amerikastudien

The New American Exceptionalism

UMP blog: A U.S. identity built on state fantasies

10/21/2009
My book is primarily concerned with the irreconcilable rifts within U.S. political culture that opened up during the lengthy period of transition from the termination of the cold war to the inauguration of Barack Obama, and with the disparate state fantasies that emerged to organize U.S. citizens' relations to these antagonisms. Such fantasies should not be construed as disposable representations of the state's procedures of governance. The fantasies through which a population takes up a different juridico-political order constitutes an essential dimension of the order's symbolic efficacy. The so-called "birthers" movement supplies a good example of a state fantasy that discloses the difference between the fantasmatic structures of the Bush and Obama administrations.
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