For two centuries there was little disagreement that the USA was different from all other nations. From almost every perspective ours was a great nation. Just the fact that people from all over the world have and still are moving here—not away from here–says a lot. They come legally and illegally. I’d like to discuss some of the reasons why we were and are perhaps the greatest nation on the earth. Yeah, I know; that sounds like crazy bragging; but if not us, then whom? Seriously—if not us, then whom?
First of all, unlike all other nations past or present, ours was founded on a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Our Founders created a society in which, for the first time in history, each individual’s fate would be determined not by who his father was, but by his own freely chosen pursuit of his own ambitions. In other words, America was to be something new under the sun: a society in which hereditary status and class distinctions would be erased, leaving individuals free to act and to be judged on their merits alone. There were, of course, the two contradictions of slavery and the position of women; but they had to be and were resolved.
Almost every other nation in the world is tribally based. Most of the world today is still much more tribal than national; we can see this by looking anywhere. One classic example became known in the movie and book, Hotel Rwanda. The Tutsi and Hutu tribes didn’t think of themselves as Rwandans—but as tribal members—and killing members of other tribes is fine. We see that as members of the different sects of radical Islam seek to kill other Muslims—as well as everyone else. The absence of tribes helps us all to be Amerians.
Secondly, in all other countries citizenship was a matter of birth, of blood, of lineage. Thus, foreigners could never become full-fledged members of the society. But not in America. To become a full-fledged American, it was only necessary to pledge allegiance to the new Republic and to the principles for which it stood. In the last century we’ve added that you must come here legally—but we even care for those who are here illegally.
Thirdly, in all other nations, the rights, if any, enjoyed by their citizens were granted by humans: kings and princes and sometimes parliaments. Thus, these rights could be revoked by the same people. In America the citizen’s rights were declared from the beginning to have come from God and to be “inalienable”—that is, immune to revocation. I quote our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
One of our inalienable rights is the “pursuit of happiness.” Note that our rights do not include free stuff—including food, medical care, or housing. No, we were and are free to take control of our own lives, and we’re free to sink or swim based on our own achievement. Elsewhere, our successes could be taken by the elite. No, we are responsible for ourselves. And, we are free, through our churches or other charities, to care for the less fortunate among us.
Socialism, on the other hand has a strong central government that can and does control much of what citizens can do with their lives—if by no other way than by taking, in taxes, much of their earnings. A standard theme of socialism is “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” This is really a good idea—if everyone plays by the rules and works hard all the time to contribute to society. Unfortunately, many people won’t or don’t do that.
When comparing the US to the Soviet Union I would encourage my students to read the Grapes of Wrath—that shows the bad side of American capitalism, and the Gulag Archipelago—the story of the USSR’s prison camps for citizens. A story told by a Soviet dissident provides a funny note. It seems that Soviet authorities would encourage the repeated screening of The Grapes of Wrath, a movie about the Great Depression-era migration of starving farmers from the Dust Bowl to California in their broken-down pickups. But contrary to expectation, what Soviet audiences got from this film was not an impression of how wretched was the life of the poor in America. Instead they came away marveling that in America, “even the peasants own trucks.”
So, for those who feel our nation is so bad, I close with the question: Compared to what is America so bad? God bless America?