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The phrase “American exceptionalism” has become a commonplace term of concern in American political journalism.  Politicians who claim said exceptionalism, so the conventional story goes, are more prone to be militaristic, to impose America’s will on America’s peers, and otherwise to misbehave.  But when this notion of exception arose, in what sense was America exceptional?  Was it always America that was exceptional?  And why didn’t anyone tell me as a kid that the Pilgrims and the Puritans were entirely different groups?  Abram van Engen’s book City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism proposes an answer to some of these questions in the ideas of origin stories, nationalism, history, and rhetoric; and Christian Humanist Profiles is glad to welcome him to the show.

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