American Exceptionalism and Human Rights

In This Review

American Exceptionalism and Human Rights

Edited by Michael Ignatieff
Princeton University Press, 2005
392 pp. $75.00
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The United States has been a driving force in promoting global human rights but is also reluctant to commit to the international laws and conventions that protect them. This important collection of essays by leading scholars seeks to explain this seeming paradox. Ignatieff identifies three varieties of American exceptionalism: the willingness to sign a treaty only if the United States is exempted from its provisions, the use of different standards to judge U.S. behavior and the behavior of other countries, and the resistance of U.S. courts to accept the legal precedents established in other liberal democracies. The authors offer a rich array of cultural, institutional, and political explanations. Paul Kahn stresses the deep American belief that the country's founding values are the universal embodiment of human rights -- and so it need not learn from or be judged by others. Andrew Moravcsik argues that American federalism and the ratification process in the Senate undercut the ability of the central government to comply with international standards. Cass Sunstein notes the impact of the conservative counterrevolution since the 1960s, which has caused a divergence from liberal-minded Europe. In fascinating essays, Stanley Hoffmann and John Ruggie argue that American exceptionalism can be quite costly to national security and global problem-solving. Together the authors wonderfully capture the complex interplay between values, law, and American power.