The idea of America has always been to claim freedom and democracy as a right not just for ourselves, but as a universal right. This has been true ever since the founding of our nation, ever since the opening lines of our Declaration of Independence were written and embraced.
That Declaration, of course, is not a legally binding document, and America has often failed — often spectacularly — to live up to its lofty assertion that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "certain unalienable Rights."
Yet despite its many failures, inconsistencies and hypocrisies, America remains a standard bearer for freedom and democracy. Promoting the spread of these values has always been an essential part of our national character. We have promoted them through treaties and trade, through diplomacy and suasion, and — most compellingly — by example.
And, when necessary, we have defended them through military force.
The current Big Idea is that America's military might can be employed not only to defend freedom and democracy, but to promote or even impose them in countries where their lack is a source of suffering.
This is not a new idea. A similar idea was the driving motivation behind the medieval Crusades. Those ambitious campaigns sought to spread Christianity at the point of the sword. If you consider the premise of the Crusades — that the unbaptized heathen were doomed to eternal hellfire if they were not otherwise convinced or compelled to convert — then you can understand how the crusaders came to believe that such a forceful intervention was a moral obligation.
In retrospect, the Crusades seem like a Bad Idea. They were a missiological disaster that continues, centuries later, to haunt and hamper the spread of the Christian gospel.
And the Crusades are only one of many historical examples that lead me to believe that the point of the sword and the barrel of the gun are not the most auspicious or appropriate tools for promoting the spread of democracy, freedom and human rights.
Because I believe this, and because, as I said, I believe the most compelling and powerful tool for promoting these values is to set an example — to model and embody democracy and freedom — I propose the following Grand Scheme.
Here is my plan: To create a model outpost of democracy, freedom and human rights at the very gates of tyranny and despotism.
This outpost — a little piece of America — would create a clear demonstration of the contrast between our values and the values of antidemocratic societies.
Ideally, to make this contrast as clear and stark as possible, this City on a Hill should be directly adjacent to one of the countries that persists as an opponent of American values. We would want this beachhead of democracy to stand in contrast to the tyrannical regime alone, uncomplicated by cluttering comparisons to other neighboring countries in the area.
The best situation, then, would be an island nation, preferably one nearby, where democracy and human rights were routinely denied. Our model American outpost could be established on a small part of that same island — some distinct cove or bay. And there our model outpost could demonstrate in microcosm who we really are and what we really stand for.
To multiply the impact of this bold example, we could find people from all over the world — especially people from places where tyranny is rampant and democracy is only a vague, foreign word — and invite them to come and live for a time in our model island outpost. There our guests would see and experience our American values firsthand.
Word of this experience would spread to their countrymen and their homelands: This is what America is really like. This is what America is all about. No amount of rhetoric on behalf of freedom and democracy could compete with the message such an outpost would provide. Our ordinary rendition of democracy and freedom is powerful, but this model, this extraordinary rendition, would be even more powerful.
If only we could find such a place.
[update: slight edit]