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The Un-Exceptionalism of U.S. Exceptionalism

Posted by on Friday, July 20, 2012 in Articles, Vol. 41 No. 5, Volume 41, Volumes.

This Article challenges the prevailing view that the United States acts exceptionally by examining the insufficiently considered legal exceptionalism of other countries. It puts U.S. exceptionalism in perspective by identifying European exceptionalism as well as noting developing country exceptionalism, pointing to the exceptional rules sought by the European Union and by developing countries in numerous international agreements and institutions.  It argues that most nations seek different international rules for themselves when they perceive themselves to have an exceptional need.  Indeed, in cases of exceptional need, numerous countries believe themselves entitled to exceptional legal accommodation and may even perceive other countries’ unwillingness to accommodate their needs as unfair.  Requests for special treatment even exhibit a pattern.

This Article concludes by suggesting that the present emphasis on U.S. legal exceptionalism is overstated at best, misguided and even dangerous at worst.  Furthermore, having shown that most nations seek exceptional legal accommodation, or double standards, in certain situations, it identifies some parameters for future work on the proper place for exceptionalism in international law.

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