American Exceptionalism Debate

The Society inaugurated its spring Merrick season by gathering to debate, “Resolved: American exceptionalism is destructive.” On the affirmation, Miss Colleen Wood (SFS ’14) began the debate by warning against the hubris that accompanies American exceptionalism. Citing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she argued that exceptionalism cuts off the possibility for self-critique and requires a belief in the universality of American values. On the negation, Mr. Askonas (SFS ’13) defined the framework for exceptionalism as the belief in the enduring and distinct role of America in the world. Making her induction on the affirmation, Miss Bryana Tucci (SFS ’11) asked the Society to examine the destruction of foreign cultures, economies, and global stability. Mr. Pat Spagnulo (SFS ’14), also making his induction, called for the affirmation to more concretely articulate causality and also brought to light some of the positive aspects of American exceptionalism such as humanitarian aid.

With this framework in mind, the floor debate commenced. Mr. Petallides pointed out the gap between the ideal of American exceptionalism and how America is actually (un)exceptional—an idea which the distinguished alumnus Mr. Olmsted argued bred a national laziness. On the negation, Chancellor Wagner responded by asking the Society not to conflate superpowerdom with exceptionalism; American exceptionalism, she argues, represents the freedom to create oneself.

When establishing causality between exceptionalism and destruction continued to be contentious, the debate shifted to discussing the duty that underlies exceptionalism. Mr. Cantirino argued such a duty was necessary for any great nation, while Mr. Henderson pointed out that this duty was not unique to the United States.

The debate concluded with the four co-keynoters. The negation insisted on the uniqueness of American values—even our willingness to tolerate criticism—and that we have a duty to model our liberty. The affirmation, on the other hand, argued that the imposition of American values on foreign nations often only serves our immediate interests and often forsakes the very ideals of liberty for which we stand.

The Society negated the resolution 32-26.

The following outstanding speakers were awarded Merrick points:

Mr. Cantirino: 5

Ms. Wood: 4

Chancellor Wagner: 3

Mr. Desnick: 2

Mr. Henderson: 1

Mr. Spagnuolo: 1

Please join us next week to debate “Resolved: The Donation of Constantine ruined Christianity.” Particularly during Georgetown’s Jesuit Heritage Week, this debate is sure to be lively and relevant.


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