Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney stirred up a great deal of controversy when he stated in 2012 that the culture of a civilization has a great deal to do with its prosperity. In this vein, his main point was that the United State’s culture of freedom, economic and otherwise, led to the most powerful nation on earth in a relatively short period of time. This is certainly very true; and although the left wailed and gnashed their teeth, one has a hard time rejecting this argument. The tired memes that America rose on the back of slaves and Native Americans just doesn’t hold water. Yes, those were black marks on our history; but what drove economic and hence geopolitical power was the freedom to live as you saw fit, the unleashing of the human spirit.
I would like to take this argument a step further. I think in addition to freedom, what made this country great was a culture of common goals and a common view of the way things should work. A common view of the correct means to the end; i.e., hard work and sacrifice will bring you rewards in the long run. Another way to say it is a culture of assimilation and an agreement upon arrival to help further your new county’s long term values and way of life.
This culture of common societal achievement has been witnessed over and over again throughout history, whether the end result was a positive or negative effect on the human race. In the American experience, it manifested itself in the defeat of fascism, communism, and the promotion of democracy and freedom around the world as the best way to pull entire continents out of poverty and repression. Yes, America has made mistakes; but I believe overall throughout the last two centuries, American leadership has been a force for good. The world would have been a much darker place without it; and yes, America has been exceptional.
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You can also see the mirror reflection of American exceptionalism in the united effort of the German society for global domination in the early twentieth century. Although tens of millions died, and the result was one of the worst outcomes in human history, you cannot argue that the united German society did not grow into a very powerful force for achieving their goals. Just think if that force had been harnessed to grow peace and prosperity instead of destroying it. Europe would have been a much different place as well as the world.
You can see this type of negative force also in the Japanese Empire, the Soviet Union, and currently in Chinese societal trajectory. All of these societies carried a common view of the world and their place in it. It was a common culture of achievement, whether or not the result was positive. Societies that do not share a common culture of achievement typically descend into stagnation and, eventually, civil war.
Unfortunately, the United States no longer has a common culture of achievement; and the world is a darker place for it. Decades of illegal immigration and the refusal to assimilate into the historical American societal goals, combined with an elitist push for socialism and the destruction of the American success engine, have destroyed our culture of common values. Now you have upwards of half the country looking to government for survival rather than relying on the past American principle of self reliance and hard work to achieve and maintain a standard of living. I recently spent time on a college campus, and the common refrain I heard was a desire to “go federal” (work for the government) rather than a desire to “go public” or start a business.
There is one country where I see an especially common culture of achievement rising, although it is yet to be seen whether this common societal vision will result in a positive or negative result for the human race. This country is Russia. The Russian parliament, or Duma, just passed a law stating that any foreigner requesting a work or residence permit must show a proficiency in the Russian language and a knowledge of Russian history and societal goals. There is a rise of cultural pride in their history and a common desire to better the geopolitical power of their country and to influence their surroundings. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of willingness to objectively discuss the consequences of this nationalism; and much of this spirit is being fomented by governmental directive. However, I have no doubt that Russia is moving into a historical position to cause great change in the world as their culture is united in making this happen. It is yet to be seen whether the United States can regain a common view of the world and her place in it to mobilize the great power of freedom and democracy to continue to be a force for good. The alternative is to live in a world dominated by nationalist powers who do not share our past love of freedom.
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Photo credit: davelawrence8 (Flickr)
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