Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Auxier, Randall


This work rethinks current interpretations of American exceptionalism, emphasizing dynamic relations, especially those we could call "ironic." I am reading Reinhold Niebuhr's The Irony of American History alongside Eric Voegelin's and Woodrow Wilson's philosophical and political treatment of freedom, expressed through the ideal of American personhood. American entertainment continues to spread globally, and the spreading creates a wider nexus of efficacious relations, allowing for the interplay of hidden relations and symbolic complexes. "Ironic American exceptionalism," as I call it, highlights the positive aspects, usually overlooked, provided by "virtual integration" and the spawning of novel cultural hybrids. By "virtual integration," I mean to include the forms of entertainment that Americans export to the world, including sports, movies, music, etc. I will try to show that popular culture, specifically "entertainment," in a certain sense of the word, serves to facilitate a mythic consciousness of open selfhood to the world. It is also my contention that open selves are not scientific, religious, political, economic, or otherwise, at least in any limiting sense. When freedom is concentrated under any of these movements or cultural interests solely, then the openness and inclusiveness associated with being "American" (in the sense I will explain) is jeopardized. I want to suggest that popular theories of exceptionalism, those revolving around these limited interests, misconstrue what "Americans," as exemplary open selves, aspire to be. Assembling symbolic icons, images, and artifacts, consumed widely, generates the pluralization associated with American identity and liberty. The spreading and exporting of these complexes produces novel hybrids between elitist and low cultural trends, bringing them together in subtle ways. Inquiring into exceptionalism through a philosophy of culture shows that American open selfhood is not peculiarly democratic, Christian, or capitalist. By resisting exemplarist or expansionist exceptionalisms, the "American" service to humanity is exceptional without serving some higher moral cause or false sense of superiority.




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