American Exceptionalism, Exemptionalism and Global Governance

45 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2004

See all articles by John Gerard Ruggie

John Gerard Ruggie

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: February 6, 2004


Are America and global governance on a collision course? And if so, with what consequences? I make two arguments in this chapter. First, unlike the situation in 1945, when the U.S. truly was the world's political Archimedean point, global governance in the 21st century is being stitched together by a multiplicity of actors and interests - in considerable measure reflecting the success of America's own postwar transformational agenda. Indeed, the very system of states is becoming embedded within an increasingly mobilized and institutionalized global public domain that includes not only states but also non-state actors involved in the promotion and production of global public goods. While the American state remains by far the most powerful force among them, platforms and channels for transnational action that it does not directly control have proliferated - and are deeply entwined with American society itself. Enacting a strict exemptionalism posture, therefore, has become much harder than it seems. Second, although the debate fueled by the recent upsurge of U.S. resistance to global governance involves highly technical questions of constitutional law, on which I, a non-specialist, touch only lightly, it is also fundamentally a political debate, requiring us to make political choices. For on close inspection, many of the solutions proposed by the exemptionalists not only are unnecessary, but also impose a greater burden on us than the problems they seek to solve. In the conclusion I spell out some implications for the future of global governance of the continuing dialectic, if you will, between the two forms of American exceptionalism, acknowledging that the path ahead does not promise to be smooth, but noting that neither has it been getting to where we are today.

Keywords: International Affairs, Globalization, Political Science

Suggested Citation

Ruggie, John Gerard, American Exceptionalism, Exemptionalism and Global Governance (February 6, 2004). Available at SSRN: or

John Gerard Ruggie (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-384-7569 (Phone)
617-496-0063 (Fax)

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