Friday, May 23, 2003
# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
"But if Americans are so ignorant, how did the United States manage to become the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth?"My question for Kevin is this: How exactly did we get so big, 290 million and all? It seems that talented immigrants from all across the world have chosen America as their home.
Whereas being Japanese or French or Saudi Arabian is about blood, being American is about believing in certain principles. That is the case precisely because we are a land of immigrants, founded by immigrants.
This aggressively pluralist democratic tradition has been responsible for such foreign policy innovations as the Fourteen Points, the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the Marshall Plan. While giving due credit to British influences on American thought, it is pretty fair to say that no other nation could have come up with such ideas.
Taking a longer view of history, one recognzies that America is the only dominant power ever to befriend the other leading states of its day rather than inciting them to form an anti-hegemonic coalition. Why? Because democratic nations recognize that the United States is not a threat to their existence.
For a more academic approach to the question of American exceptionalism, I strongly recommend Aaron Friedberg's "In the Shadow of the Garrison State", which shows how America's unique anti-statist culture preventing the Truman and Eisenhower administrating from militarizing American society in the opening decade of the Cold War. [See my review on the Amazon page for Friedberg's book.]
In some ways, the exceptionalist argument is offensive because it implies that America is morally superior to other nations. But that is not a position I want to defend. I fully recognize that United States foreign policy has often been the agent of wanton and immoral destruction. In contrast, the foreign policies of Denmark or Belgium have not (at least not recently).
What I am arguing is that American culture is responsible for a number of specific innovations that have amplified American power while benefitting other democratic states as well. While none of this would have been possible if not for favorable geographic conditions, it also would not have been possible without America's singular political culture.
Forgive me for waxing a bit patriotic. But if you can look past that, I think you just might be persuaded. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
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