“The American Exception” is a series of research projects led by Jason Ralph, Professor of International Relations at the University of Leeds.  It explores the evolving character of liberal international society and American exceptionalism. 

It used to be the case that Europe was portrayed as the continent with an overdeveloped sense of the political.  America was different because it was able to temper politics through the rule of law.  This was reflected in the US Constitution and in the republican commitment to replicate its successes at the international level. ….  The neoconservative interpretation of American exceptionalism has reversed this traditional understanding.  America is still represented as being unique within the liberal world.  Yet it is now different from contemporary Europe because it is said to recognise that liberalism is defended by politicians and not by lawyers.  It is Europe that now holds an ‘overcivilised’ commitment to global constitutionalism and it is America that now embraces politics.  In contrast to the selfish politics of old Europe, however, American neoconservativism is said to have a moral purpose.  For neoconservatives, America still seeks to promote democracy and the rule of law but it recognises that this can only be done with a degree of political ruthlessness.  America must be above the law in order to defend the law.  That is the new American exception.

Jason Ralph, Law War and the State of the  American Exception forthcoming Oxford University Press, 2012.

The website is structured to reflect three distinct stages in Professor Ralph’s research on the American exception:

  • American Opposition to the ICC (2002-2007).  This project explored the impact of the International Criminal Court on the laws and norms of international society of states and why the US was opposed the Court when it was widely supported among the community of liberal democracies.  The main publication to arise from this project is Defending the Society of States. US opposition to the ICC and its vision of world society, Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Law, War and the State of the American Exception (2007-2012). This project, which was part funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK, examined post-9/11 US policy on the use of force, and the detention, prosecution and interrogation of terrorist suspects.  It argued that the American exception was underpinned by an implicit coalition of offensive liberals, offensive realists and neoconservatives.  The existence of defensive liberal and defensive realist arguments within the US policymaking community suggests that the exception is not a permanent feature of American international relations and the project examined how the election of a notionally liberal President in 2008 impacted on the political strength of exceptionalist arguments. The main publication to arise from this project is Law, War and the State of the American Exception Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2012.
  • International Law, the American Exception and centre-left British foreign policies before and after the Iraq War (2011-13).  This project is funded by a British Academy mid-career fellowship.  It examines how Prime Minister Blair could have concluded in March 2002 that supporting American-led regime change in Iraq was ‘obvious’ from a centre-left perspective.  In response to the concern that the UK has too often adopted a ‘slavish’ attitude to the American exception, the project also considers how the UK may distance itself from the US when it acts outside of international law without damaging the ‘special relationship’. Initial publications include: ‘After Chilcot. Tony Blair’s new doctrine of international community and the UK decision to invade Iraq’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations 13 (3) 2011, pp.304-25.


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  1. Pingback: GTMO’s 10th Anniversary: the war on terror in its second decade (v) | The American Exception

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