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Comparative National Exceptionalisms: Notes on an Inchoate Research Agenda

Monday, May 6, 2024, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Abstract / 

Nations sometimes cultivate narratives celebrating their superiority on some critical dimension. Yet, while there is an immense literature on American exceptionalism, scholarship on other countries’ exceptionalist narratives is meager, and cross-national comparison is especially rare. Scholars have too often unhelpfully conceptualized exceptionalism as uniqueness, explored exceptionalism as a falsifiable empirical claim, reproduced exceptionalist assertions, and ignored exceptionalism as a political phenomenon. Countries do not always embrace exceptionalist narratives to the same degree and with the same intensity, and these narratives vary substantially—in their scope and domain, in the bases on which they rest, and in the universality of their ambitions. Meanwhile, exceptionalist narratives have legitimated and thus made possible a diverse range of foreign and domestic policies—from wars of imperial expansion and foreign-imposed regime change to cooperative institutions of global governance providing public goods and leading humanitarian initiatives, from the illiberal repression of dissent and concentration of executive power to the expansion of political publics and the installation of reforms bolstering political contestation. This talk will set out a preliminary research agenda on comparative national exceptionalisms.

Bio /

Ron Krebs is Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is author of the award-winning Narrative and the Making of US National Security (Cambridge UP, 2015) and is coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Grand Strategy (Oxford UP, 2021). Ron Krebs is also co-editor of In War's Wake: International Conflict and the Fate of Liberal Democracy (Cambridge UP, 2010) and author of Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship (Cornell UP, 2006). Krebs’ articles on a wide range of subjects in global affairs and international security have appeared in leading scholarly journals, including International OrganizationInternational Security, and Security Studies, as well as in general interest outlets such as Foreign AffairsForeign PolicyThe National Interest, and the Washington Post(for a complete list, see his website). Krebs is immediate past editor-in-chief of the leading scholarly journal Security Studies.