What’s So Great About America?
I recently finished Dinesh D'Souza’s book “What’s So Great About America”, a book which looks at America past and present and does so with a sense of history and moral clarity which is sorely needed in our day and time. It has become increasingly popular in recent decades for the political left to point to every real and perceived sin committed by America in order to advance the idea that America is no better than any other nation, or worse, that America is actually a force of evil in the world.
In doing so, the left intentionally distorts the past, and omits discussion of the tremendous good, often done with great sacrifice in blood and treasure, to advance the cause of liberty throughout the Earth. Written in 2002, “What’s So Great About America” seems even more relevant today, with the world aflame in chaos and violence, than it was a dozen years ago.
While it is proper to have a discussion of our national sins (slavery comes to mind, first and foremost), it is not just intellectually dishonest, but downright suicidal to breed such contempt for the very nation which, for the first time in history, declared that all men are created equal in the eyes of God and the law, and which declared our rights come not from man, but from God Himself. No longer would we live under the idea of a Divine Right of Kings, but instead would propose that government is the servant of the people, not the master.
In a very reasoned and well-laid out manner, D'Souza looks at the effect that Western culture has had on the world, and it is eye-opening. He shows that, as much as Western colonialism has been vilified (and to be sure, there is much to criticize), that same colonialism brought with it these revolutionary ideas to the colonized lands, and as a result introduced the concept of due process, property rights, and a rejection of slavery as a morally justified practice. Upon the departure of the colonizing nations, the native peoples were left far more peaceful and wealthy in most cases than before they were colonized. These developments would not have occurred without the influence of Western culture; indeed, as D'Souza points out, upon the abolition of slavery, African tribal chiefs, who had profited from the slave trade, sent delegations to protest the end of slavery. Maybe this dynamic was best summed up when he wrote “Colonialism had injured those who lived under it, but paradoxically it proved beneficial to their descendants.”
Regarding slavery, D'Souza writes: “The American Revolution should be judged by its consequences. Before 1776, slavery was legal in every part of America. Yet by 1804 every state north of Maryland had abolished slavery either immediately or gradually; southern and border states prohibited further slave importations from abroad, and Congress was committed to outlawing the slave trade in 1808, which it did. Slavery was no longer a national but a sectional institution, and one under moral and political siege.” To this I would add that America fought a fratricidal war, which saw spilled the blood of more than half a million Americans, in order to repent and cleanse the land of this moral evil.
With their endless, moralizing bloviations, the political left embraces the doctrine of multiculturalism, an idea that no one culture is superior to another culture, and therefore we should feel no pride in our nation or culture.
The irony and hypocrisy of this position is as baffling as it is amusing. In America today, we hear ad nauseum of the sins of American slavery, and claims of social subjugation and oppression of women and minorities, of which is offered as proof the claim of a “glass ceiling” and “unequal pay” for women in the workforce, “subtle” racism towards minorities, etc. Yet these same leftists openly praise Islamic cultures, which still sell subjected peoples into actual slavery, which consider women as property, where pre-pubescent girls are sold into marriage to much older men, where converting to another religion is punishable by death, where forced abortions maintain the “One-Child Rule”, where female genital mutilation is still the norm, where homosexuality is not only looked down upon but is a cause for imprisonment or death. Just this week I read in my daily newspaper stories of Islamic radicals in Syria who stoned to death two women accused of adultery, yet I am supposed to somehow believe that this culture is superior to American culture?
Leftists do not appreciate the irony of the fact that it is only in Western cultures where they have the right to complain about how oppressed they are without suffering persecution and death. Maybe that is why, as horrible and racist and nativist and bigoted and sexist and xenophobic and greedy and hateful and homophobic and oppressive as America supposedly is, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world risk their very lives in order to get to America each and every year. Clearly, they do NOT see America as the scourge that American leftists claim that she is.
French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, author of “The Savage Mind”, for decades argued that primitive cultures are just as valid and worthy of praise as are more complex, Westernized cultures. After decades of arguing this position he came to a startling discovery; the people living in these primitive cultures, which he long held have moral and social equivalence to Western culture, were doing all they could to leave their cultures behind and embrace Western culture.
Wrote Levi-Strauss, “The dogma of cultural relativism is challenged by the very people for whose moral benefit the anthropologists established it in the first place. The complaint the underdeveloped countries advance is not that they are being Westernized, but that there is too much delay in giving them the means to Westernize themselves. It is of no use to defend the individuality of human cultures against those cultures themselves.” D'Souza further emphasizes this point when he correctly notes that “immigrants…are walking refutations of cultural relativism. When immigrants decide to leave their home country and move to another country, they are voting with their feet in favor of the new culture and against their native culture.”
The bottom line for objective observers is that the American ideal and form of government is indeed superior to every other form of government tried in the history of mankind, even with its flaws. When individuals are given great freedom, all will at some point make a bad decision worthy of criticism, and a smaller number will use their free will to engage in immoral, misanthropic activities that demean, cheat, and harm others, for which there will be a negative impact on society. That is how we end up with such painful manifestations of the shortcomings of free will as theft, burglary, gang violence, rape, murder, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, reality TV, and the popularity of Justin Bieber.
On the other hand, there is no charity without free will, and America is the most charitable nation on the face of the Earth…and I am NOT talking about the trillion-plus dollars in annual federal welfare spending paid for with tax dollars extorted from working Americans. I am talking about the billions of dollars that Americans voluntarily give each year to The Salvation Army, Goodwill, The Red Cross, their churches, and other national and local charities. I am talking about the millions and millions of volunteer hours donated to churches, homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, children’s homes, and food kitchens, not to mention the private monetary donations made to fund these endeavors. I am talking about the millions of instances of individual kindness and courtesy shown each and every day by average Americans for whom there will be no accolades, no public commendations, no awards ceremonies…just the warmth and satisfaction that comes from helping our fellow man and knowing (for Christians) that we have followed the admonition and commandments of Jesus Christ. Are these expressions of charity exclusive to America? Of course not. But in America we do charity like we do everything else…BIG!
So while America’s naysaying leftists and multi-culturalists continue to demean and condemn American culture and society as being harsh, oppressive, selfish, racist, bigoted, and generally immoral, the rest of us thinking Americans can still strive to do more, to be better, kinder, and more charitable, even as we accept the challenge of Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, that “Americans need to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is.”