America’s role as reigning superpower
It has been said that the international community with America at its center is history’s masterpiece. Yet many people would say, “If this international community is history’s masterpiece, then history is a poor artisan.” According to Michael Hirsh’s book, “At War with Ourselves (2003),” the role of the United States with regard to the rest of the world is unprecedented and paradoxical in many ways. For example, unprecedented might is mingled with unprecedented vulnerability. In spite of its overwhelming military power, the United States remains a part of the global network of peoples.
The United States is the centerpiece because it is the most significant political, economic and cultural factor in the world today, even though that China is a distant second leading world economic power. In order for it to play this part most successfully, the United States must be interested in creating congenial conditions around the globe. In essence, it must establish the same values and rights in all parts of the earth as an extension of itself. Henry Kissinger once said: “The dominant trend in American foreign policy thinking must be to transform power into consensus so that the international order is based on agreement rather than reluctant acquiescence.”
We must be committed to building and sustaining this international community with the help of other world powers, because it is a system that provides a high degree of openness and democracy to the world’s people. Yet it has been said that neither our military nor our economic intervention in the rest of the world has been innocent. No empire with any duration has ever believed in its own innocence. Humility about who we are and what we can do is essential, if we are to avoid the many disasters that await us.
According to a statement made by German theologian Jurgen Moltmann on self governing, America is what Franklin D. Roosevelt called the bold and lasting experiment of modern western times. This democratic commonwealth is indeed, as Bill Clinton has said, a human invention. The United States was consciously founded on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. American civil rights are derived from human rights, which point to the fact that all men are created free and equal. In this respect the United States is a country, and the first country for all humanity. Its claim and its promise is a body politic for humanity founded on human rights for each and all, which will surmount national states and guarantee world peace.
Consequently, the United States will remain historically unfinished and imperfect until this political experiment that humanity is making with itself succeeds or fails. American democracy remains incomplete as long as the whole world has not been won over for democracy. That makes this effort a messianic experiment. If it succeeds there will be an era of peace for all human beings; if it fails the world of human beings will perish in violence, injustice and war, not only the human world, but the world of nature as well. The American experiment must become the political experiment that humanity is making with itself. In ideal terms humanity becomes America with room for compromise.
Way back in 1620 aboard the Arbella, the honorable John Winthrop preached a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” In it he invokes the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). It is one of these fundamentals always to be remembered by peoples and their governments. It speaks of the three primordial criteria for exercising just power as justice, mercy and humility.
Perhaps the most difficult virtue to put into practice is humility, especially with many people from our country, the number one super power of the world.
Yet humility is the virtue that keeps us close to the earth; it keeps us truthful to our human condition and one with all living creatures that share the earth with us. Humility, therefore, is of paramount importance, especially for those who are entrusted with great power. Humility is the antidote to the disorder inherent in what the Greeks called hubris, the arrogance of power that is bound to be the beginning of the end.
Bill Chevalier lives in Peterborough.