Although the idea of a coherent and consistent national character is rather old-fashioned and questionable, the notion of national style has proven to be of much more validity. As a clearly defined social and political construct, it manages to clear up at least some of the confusion and chaos related to the country’s key features and actions. In order to do so, it functions based on the assumption that every single nation has a unique perception of the world, which affects its policy decisions, social movements, and political strategies.
Akin to billions of individuals with their own worldview formed as a result of past experiences, challenges, and self-reflection, dozens of nations possess their own perceptions of their surroundings. Thus, the national style is a concept built on exclusion and distortion as certain things are left out, while even the ones ending up being selected can be viewed only through the prism of the country’s character and history.
The purpose of this essay is to uncover and access the aspects of America’s drive for singularity in order to explore the impact of the nation’s style on its foreign policy strategies. It is undeniable that the United States has demonstrated itself to be of the few countries that explicitly project various dimensions of its experience into foreign policy. The paper will explore these facets and determine how the national style has affected foreign policy.
Defining the American National Style
Born as a result of a revolution, the United States is a nation that has initially formed around a distinct ideology. This notion of Americanism includes a specific set of beliefs, dogmas, and convictions about the nature of the nation’s place in the world. In short, American ideology stands upon five pillars, including liberalism, populism, equality, the lack of government involvement, and individualism. The American Revolution significantly strengthened these values, especially due to the fact that they reflected the religious views adopted by the colonies at the time. Although it is important to acknowledge the United States as a modern individualistic nation, the primary notion which affects the nation’s style in conducting foreign politics is exceptionalism.
The phenomenon of American exceptionalism has undoubtedly impacted U.S. foreign policy through two main schools of thought, interventionist and exemplary. Kershaw (2018) argues that “exemplary exceptionalism was the largely dominant trend until the Spanish-American War when a turn in policy toward interventionism began – which largely became centered in the post-1945 world” (para. 3). This idea of the United States being not like the others, particularly better than others, has undoubtedly been paramount as a building block of the country’s identity throughout history. It functions on a distinct set of assumptions about America’s role in the world.
This trifecta of beliefs includes the notions that the United States is not burdened by the issues faced by the Old World, the country has the ability to avoid these challenges, and it possesses a unique destiny (Edwards 2018). Thus, as part of the country’s distinct national style, it makes policy decisions and constructs strategies based on the belief that its intentions are of the utmost purity.
It is crucial to recognize that this notion of the nation’s good intentions and exceptional place in the international arena is partially a result of the United States’ distinct religious trends. Born out of a revolution, the country could not afford itself a luxury of a government that the public despises. The only solution has been for the people to have faith in those who govern them. The Bible clearly states that the primary lawmaker and rule-enforcer is God. The authorities can be considered legitimate if they act in accordance with the word of God (Whitehead, Perry, and O’Baker 2018). Therefore, the United States became an example of following the Lord’s intent and making the world better, at least in the eyes of its citizens.
It is evident that American exceptionalism fits the conceptual facets of the Christian worldview rather well. The public trusts and supports the government only because it manages to follow Christian principles. Whitehead, Perry, and O’Baker (2018) further argue that “Christian nationalism operates as a unique and independent ideology that can influence political actions by calling forth a defense of (…) narratives about America’s distinctively Christian heritage” (147).
Arguably, one of the primary issues with American politics and society today is the nation’s attempts at shaking off its religious roots in exchange for the modern-day liberal justification of exceptionalism. The problem lies in the simple truth: it is almost impossible to destroy the foundation of the state’s identity without sacrificing public order and faxing the corruption of the national ideology.
Assessing the American National Style
As for the assessment of the American national style, it is apparent that it plays a key role in determining what the country’s interests are. Based on the recent debates over the stance the United States should take in various foreign policy scenarios, all of which are filled with confusion and chaos, the national style of the U.S. is experiencing a profound shift. The complexity and novelty of the situations challenging the American way of perceiving the world have influenced the very foundation of American exceptionalism. The American national style is rather incoherent as it implies either an exemplary or an interventionist view of the concept.
On the one hand, some groups in the office can regard American exceptionalism as a justification for focusing on U.S. affairs first and foremost, investing time and resources in internal affairs in order to make the United States an economic and developmental leader once again. On the other hand, in certain scenarios, the national style can be used to legitimize American interventions abroad, citing the fight for human rights and liberties as the primary cause. It is certainly true that the style’s inconsistencies and flexibility allow policymakers on different sides of the spectrum to manipulate external conditions for personal or national gains. Therefore, despite the lack of coherence, there is an abundance of logic and pragmatism.
Lessons of the American National Style
Although it is undeniable that the American national style has its weak points, it is important to explore its ability to provide policymakers with crucial lessons. Hastedt (2020) notes that throughout history, the American national style has frequently assisted authorities in constructing new foreign policy strategies and making changes to existing ones. For instance, it dictated the adoption of exemplary exceptionalism in the first stages of the country’s development.
This ensured that the early Republican administrations limited the number of foreign commitments, providing justifications for the reservations regarding the possibility of joining the League of Nations. The national style validated the concerns of the government regarding the resources the U.S. would inevitably have to allocate for commitments. According to the key pillars of the American style, joining the League of Nations would be un-American due to the fact that the country’s autonomy would be significantly affected.
However, policymakers soon started to consider the foundational notions of the American national style from a slightly different perspective. Following the end of World War II, the U.S. realized its exceptionalism can be reflected in an intangible yet in no way any less real right to fight for what is right. Side-stepping the established limitations associated with national sovereignty, the U.S. authorities acknowledged all the benefits an interventionist approach could secure for the nation. Joseph Nye (2019) notes that, in the second half of the 20th century, the American government adopted a distinct mission, which would reflect its identity and primary values.
As a result, the quest for democracy, human rights protection, and free market economics became a singular justification for a myriad of military interventions worldwide. The idea that the United States is above all other countries has not been destroyed. Instead, it has been simply re-imagined by legitimizing interventions by confirming that promoting American values in a troubled region would be a cure to poverty, corruption, and human suffering. Thus, the United States’ key features became those of exceptional quality, assuring the American public and the world at large of the nation’s supremacy.
In conclusion, it is apparent that the American national style, while incoherent, serves as a reliable instrument for justifying the interventionist agenda of the nation’s foreign policymakers. The United States’ rocky past as a country born out of a revolution and solidified as a result of the Civil War explains the reason why American exceptionalism has persevered. It is crucial to recognize that the American national style has helped policymakers to learn from the past. Once the country started to notice the untapped potential of abandoning an isolationist stance, the government efficiently shifted the perception of America’s role in the world by utilizing the existing values to justify an interventionist approach to foreign policy.
Edwards, Jason A. “Make America Great Again: Donald Trump and Redefining the U.S. Role in the World.” Communication Quarterly 66, no. 2 (2018): 176–195. Web.
Hastedt, Glenn P. American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future. 12th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020.
Kershaw, Milo. “How National Identity Influences US Foreign Policy.” E-International Relations, 2018. Web.
Nye, Joseph S. “The Rise and Fall of American Hegemony from Wilson to Trump.” International Affairs 95, no. 1 (2019): 63–80. Web.
Penev, Andrew L., Samuel L. Perry, and Joseph O’Baker. “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Sociology of Religion 79, no. 2 (2018): 147–171. Web.