Tuesday, May 21, 2002

First time I've commented on this particular Blog:Live from the WTC, written by Jane Galt (I'm not sure if it's a Randian pseudonym or not), has an article defending the United States from European criticism that the country is unilateralist and exceptionalist. It includes a rather stirring defense of the U.S:

Because America is an idea. America is the idea that if you leave people alone to get on with things, they get it right most of the time. It's the idea that where you come from is a great deal less important than where you're going. It's the idea that if you don't like something, you can pick up a wrench, get in there, and start fixing it. It's the idea that if your solution doesn't work out the first time, there's always room to try again. It's the idea that the most important thing a person can do in life can only really be known to them, and the most important thing a government can do is get out of their way while they look for it. It's the idea that individuals aren't available in groups; they can only be packaged individually. It's the idea that liberty is worth our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. It's the expectation that you do the best you can with what you have. And it's the knowlege that if there are a bunch of people who are violating these ideas, one way or another, you don't have to beat them into submission -- you can pick up and go somewhere else, where the people are more congenial.

...and that's why we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whoever we want. That's why we can break our own rules when we want, break the rules we impose on others whenever we want, and support regimes which don't share our beliefs if it is in our own interests. We believe this and you do not, so you are not allowed to criticize us.

Does the U.S. actually do this? No, not necessarily, although there have been rather nasty cases in the past. The problem is that "a unique idea" (which is not in fact unique... these ideas largely come from European political theorists) does not in-and-of-itself grant divine wisdom. She starts the article by saying "No, I do not want to submit our foreign policy, economy, tax regime, or other important questions to a vote in which Europe carries the majority, no way nohow...because I think they'd do it wrong".

Listen: if an idea is superior, it is superior everywhere. If it isn't, then there is some nuance to the idea that eluded whoever originally thought it up. If it is superior, then (as J.S. Mill argued) it can be demonstrated to be superior, and can convince others by dint of its superiority. A state is not an idea. A state is a physical entity, with real people, real interests, and a diversity of thought. (Not all Europeans fit her simplistic stereotype; neither do most Americans). The biggest problem that the rest of the world has with the United States (North "America" actually includes three countries: it's telling that the United States took that name for its own "idea" which the other countries do not share) is that it continually mixes up its interests and ideals, calling interest ideal and ideal interest. There is no way to justify something like the support of the South American "National Security" states in the 70's and 80's by some "ideal". It was done because it fit American national interests.

The right always complains about the left and their "groupthink"... well, I can't think of any example of "groupthink" more disturbing than insisting that "either you believe this, or you aren't "American" (a problematic term, as I said above). Screw that. You're American if you were either born or immigrated there. That's it. Nothing else. If you like an idea, argue in favour if it, but don't use this sort of lame tactic to prop it up.

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