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USC Gould School of Law

American Exceptionalism and Polarization     LAW-725

This seminar explores the interrelationship between American exceptionalism and the growing polarization of American society. We will see that the very meaning of the phrase “American exceptionalism” is a matter of debate. Nowadays the concept is often understood as a faith in American superiority, namely that America is “exceptional” in the sense of “outstanding” or “magnificent.” Yet its primary meaning has historically been that America is an “exception” compared to other Western societies, if not the entire world. This comparative definition is not normative and refers to how the United States objectively diverges from international norms, for better or worse. This scholarship has itself sparked debates about how to measure American exceptionalism and whether the United States is in fact an outlier. Moreover, it has spawned competing theories on the roots of American exceptionalism. We will thus dive into a host of areas, from early U.S. history to legal institutions, culture, race, religion, economics, and foreign policy. In particular, we will discuss diverse theories on the evolution of partisan gridlock; distinctive features of the nation’s social fabric; abortion and related “culture wars” over gender, privacy, and religious traditionalism; race, immigration, and discrimination; socioeconomic matters, from prosperity to wealth inequality and health care; criminal justice, especially the death penalty, mass incarceration, guns, and police shootings; and foreign affairs, from war to international human rights and longstanding debates about the United States’ place in the world.

Units 2
Grading Options
Exam Type
Writing Requirement
Skills/Experiential Requirement

Grading Options: vary with the professor

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