Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2007

Center/Program

Human Rights Institute

Abstract

At least since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1831, the idea that America is distinctive from other nations has permeated much political and social commentary. The United States has been variously perceived as unique in its history, its culture, its national values, its social movements, and its social and political institutions. While the term technically refers only to distinctiveness or difference, "exceptionalism" may have positive or negative aspects-what Harold Koh has called "America's Jekyll-andHyde exceptionalism. "2 In the legal realm, claims of exceptionalism have been offered to support what Michael Ingnatieff identifies as "legal isolationism"-or refusal by domestic courts to consider foreign practices and international legal rules in the construction of U.S. law.3

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