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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

American vs Russian Exceptionalism

A myth of exceptionalism lies at the basis of every nation-building process. As we know, a nation is an invented community, and everybody prefers to imagine their community as the best at something or maybe even at everything. If the purpose of nation-building is to create an emotional attachment strong enough to convince people to lay down their lives for the imagined community, then nothing is more reasonable than to imagine the nation as exceptional.

Everybody’s exceptionalism is different, however. The American version is what I call “a triumphant exceptionalism.” Its narrative is celebratory and goes as follows: 

We have the greatest freedoms, we are proud of our constitution, we are a land of opportunity, anybody who comes here can advance on his or her own merits, American Dream, Civil Rights movement, life, liberty and happiness for all, only here you can achieve everything you want if only you try.

It is completely beyond the point to which extent the myths of nation-building are grounded in reality. They don’t have to come from reality but they do end up shaping it.

Now, the Russian version of exceptionalism is what I call “aggrieved exceptionalism.” Its narrative is sulky and self-pitying:

We have the most spiritual of all cultures, the most beautiful of all languages, the richest of all literatures, the most glorious of all histories but nobody recognizes our achievements, everybody steals our inventions and appropriates our victories, we are surrounded by enemies, we keep saving the world but the world is ungrateful and persecutes us.

Imagine repeating “there are enemies everywhere and everybody hates me” to yourself for ten days in a row. How will that make you feel? Will that have an impact on your life? And what if you were to repeat it for 100 years? All day, every day, nothing but this. 

Yes, these narrative are manufactured, constructed but they, in turn, manufacture reality.

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5 thoughts on “American vs Russian Exceptionalism

  1. Crystallizing Chaos on said:

    This is very close to Indian exceptionalism, with some judicial use of the past-tense:

    “We have the most spiritual of all cultures, the most beautiful of all languages, the richest of all literatures, the most glorious of all histories but nobody recognizes our achievements, everybody has stolen our inventions and knowledge in the past without ever acknowledging it and we are surrounded by enemies, who want to force their vile way of life upon us and we must protect ourselves by any means possible.”

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  2. As befitting a country with severe internal political divisions I think there are conflicting ones in Poland, both kind of downers…

    “Over the course of our tragic history we’ve suffered unimaginably from our rotten neighbors and some rotten apples here. But by staying true to our values of God, family and country we’re still here and not going anywhere are maybe someday things will get better… though probably not”

    the second, more modern one

    “Are we the worst country ever or what? Everything we do turns out badly. We’ve got a lot going for us if we could just get it together. Maybe some day things will get better and we’ll stop sucking so much.”

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  3. Pingback: Links | XIX век

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