Book chapter
Open access

Witch-hunting: American Exceptionalism and Global Terrorism

Published inAmerican Exceptionalisms, Editors Soderlind, S. & Carson, J.T., p. 268
PublisherAlbany : State University of New York Press
Publication date2011

There has emerged in recent discussions of U.S. foreign policy a series of rhetorical dependences between American exceptionalism and the idea of global terrorism. President George W. Bush's image of the “empire of evil,” to designate nation states that sponsor global political terrorism, is entirely consonant with the ideology of American Exceptionalism that posits the United States as a nation uniquely able, and charged with the mission, to oppose this kind of transcendent political evil. The colonial founding of John Winthrop's “cittie upon a hill,” depended upon an understanding of New England's exceptional destiny as evidenced by the “visible sainthood” of Puritan leaders who led God's mission into the wilderness of the New World. However, this assumption of sainthood for some relied upon the conviction that others, within the colonial community, were diabolical agents, active agents of Satan, determined to destroy God's New England experiment. This chapter explores the dark underside of American Exceptionalism—the rhetorical basis for the New World claim to an exceptional and divine status. The witchcraft hysteria of the later seventeenth century represents one attempt to engage a force of supernatural evil (an “empire of evil”) that lies outside human comprehension but which threatened the exceptional work of New England Puritanism. Later cultural productions engaging with this relationship between exceptional good and transcendent evil include Nathaniel Hawthorne's nineteenth-century narrative return to New England witchcraft, as well as Arthur Miller's use of the metaphor of the witch-hunt, and the film Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) that deals with the McCarthy-era anticommunist crusade. Popular treatments of witchcraft such as the TV series Charmed (1998-2006), and films like Practical Magic (1998) and The Blair Witch Project (1999) engage the complex representation of witches as alternatively threats of supernatural evil and also potential protectors against this invisible danger.

  • American Exceptionalism
  • New England Puritanism
  • Witchcraft
  • Terrorism
Citation (ISO format)
MADSEN, Deborah Lea. Witch-hunting: American Exceptionalism and Global Terrorism. In: American Exceptionalisms. Albany : State University of New York Press, 2011. p. 268.
Main files (1)
Book chapter (Accepted version)
  • PID : unige:92080

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