In This Review

America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked
America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked
By Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes
Times Books, 2006, 288 pp

Using a wealth of domestic and international polling data, Kohut and Stokes ask just how exceptional Americans are and examine the impact of this exceptionalism on world opinion. Overall, they find that Americans are unique but not uniquely unique -- that is, the differences of opinion between Americans and others on a range of topics (happiness, religious conviction, and individualism, among others) are striking but not shocking. Because liberal and democratic values have been in the ascendancy since the nineteenth century, Kohut and Stokes argue, Americans are less out of step with the global mainstream than they were a century ago. The most significant differences between Americans and others have to do with individualism: whether from red or blue states, Americans tend to be more optimistic than most people about their ability to shape their own lives and more pessimistic about both the propriety and the efficacy of using government action to solve social problems. As individualists, Americans tend to be skeptical of organizations like the United Nations; as optimists, they underestimate the dangers and obstacles that lie ahead. These attitudes, Kohut and Stokes suggest, are likely to create enduring problems as long as the most individualistic people on the planet continue to bear the greatest responsibility for solving problems that demand united global action. Kohut and Stokes make a strong case for this central contention, and the results of their global surveys and their interpretative essays make for interesting and enlightening reading.