The New York Times put out a video op-ed on the “mythology” of American greatness, maintaining that since other countries are also free and some have better standards of living than we do, America is not “great,” just “OK.” In the course of his response to that video, in which he basically takes apart its argument and the assumptions behind it, columnist Marc Thiessen cites some facts that I hadn’t realized.
Today, he says, a majority of the world’s nations are democracies, and the economic state of the world has improved to the point that a majority of its population can be considered “middle class”–thanks to the U.S.A.
He points out that in the late 18th century, the founding principles of our nation–the government being answerable to the people, rather than vice versa; the ideal of liberty as the basis of a nation; and the practice of self-government as defined by the American Constitution–were utterly unique. These innovations have since spread throughout the world and are taken for granted, but the world owes the United States a great debt.
From Marc Thiessen, “America is Greater than ‘Just OK‘”:
For most of our history, American democracy was a global outlier. In 1938, on the eve of World War II, there were just 17 democracies. It was not until 1998 — just two decades ago — that there were more democracies than autocracies.
That dramatic explosion of freedom didn’t just happen. It was the direct result of the rise of the United States as a global superpower. The U.S.-powered victory over Nazi tyranny in World War II and our triumph over Soviet tyranny in the Cold War defeated the hateful ideologies of fascism and communism, and unleashed a wave of freedom that has spread across the world. Today, 4.1 billion people live in democracies. (Of those who do not, four out of five live in China.)The unprecedented expansion of liberty has produced unprecedented prosperity. Last September, the Brookings Institution reported that “for the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind … some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered ‘middle class’ or ‘rich.'”
That some countries have become even more affluent than the United States does not negate the role that the United States has played in making their wealth possible, with our technology, our promotion of free markets, and other contributions to the world’s economy.
Furthermore, says Thiessen, the role of the United States’ military in protecting other nations’ liberties and economies–including those countries that seem to be doing better than the USA–also deserves worldwide respect and gratitude. He concludes:
So, let’s be clear: Every country that enjoys democratic governance today owes its birth of freedom to our Founding Fathers, and the continued existence of their democracy to the U.S. military.