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Twilight of the Republic

Empire and Exceptionalism in the American Political Tradition

Justin B. Litke

Publication Year: 2013

The uniqueness of America has been alternately celebrated and panned, emphasized and denied, for most of the country's history -- both by its own people and by visitors and observers from around the world. The idea of "American exceptionalism" tends to provoke strong feelings, but few are aware of the term's origins or understand its true meaning. Understanding the roots and consequences of America's uniqueness requires a thorough look into the nation's history and Americans' ideas about themselves.

Through a masterful analysis of important texts and key documents, Justin B. Litke investigates the symbols that have defined American identity since the colonial era. From the time of the country's founding, the people of the United States have viewed themselves as citizens of a nation blessed by God, and they accordingly sought to serve as an example to others. Litke argues that as the republic developed, Americans came to perceive their country as an active "redeemer nation," responsible for liberating the world from its failings. He introduces and contextualizes the various historical and academic claims about American exceptionalism and offers an original approach to understanding this phenomenon.

Today, American historians and politicians still debate the meaning of exceptionalism. Advocates of exceptionalism are often perceived by their opponents as unrealistically patriotic, and Litke's historically and theoretically rich inquiry attempts to reconcile these political and cultural tensions. Republicans of every age have recognized that a people cut off from their history will not long persist in self-government. Twilight of the Republic aims to reinvigorate the tradition that once caused people the world over to envy the American political order.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. 1-4

What happens if a country’s worldview is radically changed? If the particular priorities and traditions that informed the life of a people are laid aside, something has to fill the void. New ones are taken up and a new worldview is formed. But what if the changes happen slowly and subtly? What if the...

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1. The Problem of American Exceptionalism

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pp. 5-21

Wide and seemingly interminable disagreements are prominently on display nearly any time the words American exceptionalism are uttered. They are today a shorthand for the popular view that America is not subject to criticism or constraint—at least not beyond any very minimal level. Those who...

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2. John Winthrop: A Divinely Sanctioned, Practically Circumscribed Colony

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pp. 23-51

First and foremost, the idea of American exceptionalism is, strictly speaking, concerned with the exceptional nature of the United States of America. Yet Winthrop had never heard of the United States. The fledgling colonies on these shores—even if most of them could be grouped together...

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3. The Founders: A Providentially Guided, Temporally Bound Country

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pp. 53-83

Some of the most prominent commentators on the question of American exceptionalism have argued that the principal figures of America’s founding generation were ardent imperialists in word and deed.1 The claim is well established, it is supposed, by the vocabulary of key figures of that period in...

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4. Abraham Lincoln: An Ideally United, Potentially Unbound Union

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pp. 85-113

Up to this point we have moved from the western shores of England to the eastern shores of New England and farther south to Philadelphia. The movement has run from the early seventeenth-century American wilderness to a thriving city in the late eighteenth century. The next jump requires yet...

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5. Albert Beveridge: A Racially Defined, Imperially Aimed Nation

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pp. 115-143

From the beginning of this book, the argument has been building toward a contemporary conception of American exceptionalism. The objective has been constant: to identify the various elements that seem to make up the idea and then to trace their evolution through the course of American history...

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Conclusion: The Possibility of a New and Traditional American Political Order

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pp. 145-154

The self-conception, worldview, and behavior of the American people underwent a great change by the turn of the twentieth century. The change, while radical, was piecemeal and sometimes slow; it proceeded nearly imperceptibly. The story is one of gradual differentiation from colonial times...

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pp. 155-167

I am grateful to the numerous organizations and many people who added to the completion of this book. First, some of my ideas found their first public forum in the Journal of Church and State; portions of this book appeared in an earlier edition in its pages and I am grateful for that opportunity and...


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pp. 157-193


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pp. 195-205


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pp. 207-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780813142210
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813142203

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Exceptionalism -- United States -- History.
  • National characteristics, American -- History.
  • Political culture -- United States -- History.
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