Rebirth of Reason


America Alone?
by Tibor R. Machan

It would not be the first time. Certainly, philosophically America has been nearly alone all its history. While the founders learned a great deal about human liberty from philosophers in Great Britain and France, only in America were principles of individual liberty openly announced as constitutive of the political regime. Whatever shortcomings there have been in the country, as far as respecting and protecting individual rights for all persons, the official ideal -- incorporated in the Declaration of Independence and to some significant extent in the U.S. Constitution -- had been unique in human history. Its uniqueness consists of favoring individual liberty for all as against the liberty for some elite or ruling class, as the rest of the world's leadership would have it.

Because the regime of individual liberty has also produced great prosperity in the US and in other places where some elements of its economic system had been implemented, the US has often found itself respected and even admired, but rarely fully emulated. This is mainly because in most other societies the same elite that does the governing or ruling there forges opinions. Yes, ordinary folks nearly everywhere would rather live in America than where they actually live, but they have hardly any voice in their society's public policies and official opinions.

There is no other country in the entire world with a clear cut First Amendment in its legal order, not even Great Britain, so those who rule have numerous ways of silencing those who are being ruled. This is true most of all in out and out feudal systems that are, as many of those in the Middle East (especially Muslim countries), theocracies, ruled by religions authorities or families favored by them.

What about all the victims of these regimes? Most of them are carving out some kind of existence for themselves in these countries with the existing authoritarian system intact and have never experienced the status of free citizenship. They may feel discomfort and even resistance toward their regimes but they are, after all, completely dependent on them and it is always useful under such circumstances to become convinced that one's regime is right.

There are very bad habits that set in when all this occurs. We all know about many of the people of Soviet Bloc countries, often quite aware of American ideals, who, nonetheless, buckled under for quite some time and even today are sometimes nostalgic for their recent subservient lot.

In short, America is alone; furthermore, even there many people don't like what its founders stood for and are reverting to pre-revolutionary ideas of tribalism. Take communitarians, who stress the superiority of the communities to which one belongs as against one's own choices and decisions. Whenever a community is in charge of the individuals and not individuals in charge of themselves, you can be sure it means that some special, self-anointed individuals of the community take that superior position. Communities do not exist independently of who comprises them.

So, the idea of community superiority can only mean the superiority of some as against others in the community. That is the nature of the tribal society-the chief and the chief's entourage are in charge of the rest. Now the bulk of the world still thinks along these lines, either, in the case of the elite, out of sheer vested interest or, in the case of millions of compliant followers, from bad habit and necessity.

So, is it much wonder that a somewhat ambiguous American war, which even in America's own terms may be questioned, is so widely condemned? It isn't as if Americans have been pristine pure in their application of their principles in their own land and it isn't as if their interventionism hasn't betrayed those principles often enough. Yes, America has faults despite being the most human regime in all of history. But given that its basic ideals are so at odds with the rest of the world, surely when the chips are down it is no wonder that it stands alone.

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