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To what extent does the Conflict perspective on US history challenge the concept of American Exceptionalism?

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Introduction

To what extent does the Conflict perspective on US history challenge the concept of American Exceptionalism? The USA is perhaps the only country in the world where by its own admission, citizenship is a state of mind. To explain this it is necessary to compare it to my own British citizenship. One of my grandfathers' hails from Northern Ireland, the other from Wales. The fact that I was born in England and my relatives are from other UK countries makes us all British. In the case of the US, being an American is not due to ethnic origin or place of birth, but a belief to a set of ideals and a constitution. In this sense it is possible for any American to stop being an American by not holding true to these ideals and the US itself. This is the basis for the concept of American Exceptionalism. It is also not difficult to see the economic, political and cultural factors which may be used in the argument for American Exceptionalism. Many Americans see the good fortune of their own country as putting it in the position of having a 'unique mission in the world'1. ...read more.

Middle

The other school of thinking is that of consensus theory, where history progresses through peaceful continuity; and politics are always consensual. It is now necessary to apply these perspectives to American history, see which is prevalent and if a synthesis between the two can be created, and then assess whether or not the idea of American Exceptionalism is viable given the contradiction of the conflict perspective. The key difficulty in using the conflict and consensus perspectives is that they can not be picked or chosen. The US historian Hartz undertook a study on US society. He found that the study "does not permit us to choose between "conflict" or "consensus"...American history contains both of these elements in the proportions which make it, in relation to other national histories, explicable"3 The first thing to be looked at is groups of people in the USA. Affiliations or member groups in the USA are interest groups. These fall into the conflict perspective as interest groups protect consumer rights and empower members. This does not challenge exceptionalism however as it demonstrates Americas pluralistic society in action, definitely a factor of American exceptionalism. ...read more.

Conclusion

American political traditions must be looked at using a synthesis of the two perspectives. Although there is clear conflict in politics, there is also a deeper consensus of opinion. Even though a synthesis of the two must be used, this definitely challenges American exceptionalism as all western liberal democracies are similar. In looking at the USA, it is clear to see that there are two different types of synthesis to be compiled from the conflict/consensus perspectives. The first is drawn from dealing with social structure and political groups. There may be visible conflict all the time but there is a deeper underlying consensus. This means that the ends are agreed upon but not the means, a superficial conflict. After looking at affiliated groups, history and the nature of change in the US I believe that it is more the other way around, that there has been an underlying conflict in US history, which is given the appearance of consensus due to compromise. This does challenge American exceptionalism, although not to the extent I originally believed. American politics, history and the bloody nature of change offer nothing to call different or exceptional in the world. ...read more.

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