Intercultural Human Rights Law Review

First Page



Early in his presidency, Barak Obama observed that "the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas." The American exceptionalism police were quick to charge him with heresy. Then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal lamented, for example, that "[t]his is a president who won't proudly proclaim American exceptionalism, maybe the first president ever who truly doesn't believe in that." The presumption that whatever America does or creates is invariably right and better has hardened into a pervasive ideology. Naturally, it includes our system of justice. And so we are able to conclude with little or no familiarity with the more popular inquisitorial model, that our adversarial model is superior in garnering truth, protecting the rights of the accused, and meting out justice. The result of this, however, is not harmless error. It ultimately renders any assessment of our present system unnecessary, blinds us to the potential insights of a comparative perspective on the various models of justice, ultimately stands in the way of reforming aspects of our own system, and impedes the wholesale infusion of morality into our nation's law and legal procedure. And as if to buttress this thread of American exceptionalism and ensure a set of handy talking points to slap down any seditious talk about the merits of continental justice, a variety of misconceptions about the latter model have, over time, evolved and hardened into standard retorts.