The Un-Exceptionalism of U.S. Exceptionalism

49 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2007 Last revised: 23 Apr 2009


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 patterns.

I conclude by suggesting that the present emphasis on U.S. 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, I identify some parameters for future work on the proper place for exceptionalism in international law.

Keywords: International Law, International Relations, American Exceptionalism, Unilateralism, European Union, European Exceptionalism, Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, Kyoto Protocol, Landmines Convention, International Trade, International Environmental Law

JEL Classification: K33, K32, F10, N40

Suggested Citation

Safrin, Sabrina, The Un-Exceptionalism of U.S. Exceptionalism. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 41, p. 1307, 2008; Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper No. 039. Available at SSRN: or

Sabrina Safrin (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

NJ 07102
United States
973-353-3243 (Phone)

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