Early European observers of America, notably Alexis de Tocqueville, saw the U.S. as uniquely different. Unlike de Tocqueville's France, for instance, America had no experience with Feudalism, and therefore did not have the hierarchies in place that governed the social structure of the Old World.
In today's lesson, a panel of experts explore how the concept of American Exceptionalism is often misunderstood. While the idea of America as a country of self-made and self-reliant individuals is central to our understanding of ourselves, it is a mistake for us to believe this automatically makes us the best. That attitude, experts like David Gergen, Chris Matthews and Lisa New argue, leads to the idea of American triumphalism, the idea that the U.S. must serve as "the world's policeman."