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The Superpower as Superhero: Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy

39 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 12 Aug 2011

Christopher Fettweis

Tulane University

Date Written: 2011


Though the United States is not the first state to have suffered from the effects of hubris, it suffers the most. No other country believes that it is the “indispensible nation,” established by God to bring freedom, democracy and open trading systems to the rest of the world. The rhetoric of the exceptionalism narrative sells with the public, and is a sine qua non for high leadership posts. If hubris only led to an inflated sense of self-worth, it would not be pathological; unfortunately, it has more pernicious effects. Leaders under its spell tend to overestimate their capabilities, and those of their country. They engage in counterproductive interventions as well as quixotic adventures in nation-building and public diplomacy; they also are rendered averse to apology and tend to believe that their power is vital to world peace and security. This paper is a discussion of the beliefs spawned by hubris and narcissism in U.S. foreign policy. Where does this pathology come from? What are its effects?

Suggested Citation

Fettweis, Christopher, The Superpower as Superhero: Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

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