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New Left Review 63, May-June 2010


Michael Mann

FAMILY RESEMBLANCES

‘American exceptionalism’ refers to the supposed uniqueness of the United States in the world. This may be viewed positively, as in the writings of many American conservatives and liberals, or negatively, in criticisms usually voiced by foreigners, especially leftists and cultural elitists. No matter how many times the trope has been assailed, it keeps resurfacing. Though in principle comparisons of the us with other states should be made on a global scale, in practice they focus on the supposed differences between the us and Western Europe. With The Narcissism of Minor Differences, Peter Baldwin joins a long line of American counter-attacks against foreigners’ critiques of the country. [1] Peter Baldwin, The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike, Oxford University Press: Oxford 2009, £14.99, hardback 321 pp, 978 0 19 539120 6 He tends to quote not social scientists but journalists and politicians, especially those writing for centre-left publications such as The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Tageszeitung, plus writers like Will Hutton and Emmanuel Todd, flanked by the film-maker Lars von Trier, who makes harshly critical films about the us despite never having been there. Their attacks centre on what the former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook described in 2004 as ‘feral us capitalism’. In Baldwin’s summary, such critics portray America as ‘harsh, dominated by the market, crime-ridden, violent, unsolidaristic and sharp-elbowed’.

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