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America seeks liberty and justice for all, not “ascendancy” over them

As I was working on what became the two most recent postings on this site I came across a Charles Krauthammer offering, Decline is a choice: The new liberalism and the end of American ascendancy. In it he offers a cogent critique of the Obama faction’s calculated surrender of America’s position of leadership in the world. He also suggests an opposing alternative which begins with the notion that we should “accept our role as hegemon” for the simple reason that “we are as benign a hegemon as the world has ever seen.” “…resistance to decline,” he declares “begins with moral self-confidence.”

Mr. Krauthammer accurately summarizes the moral view that undergirds the Obama faction’s determination to abdicate America’s leadership position.

But the liberal internationalism of today is different. It is not center-left, but left-liberal. And the new left-liberal internationalism goes far beyond its earlier Clintonian incarnation in its distrust of and distaste for American dominance. For what might be called the New Liberalism, the renunciation of power is rooted not in the fear that we are essentially good but subject to the corruptions of power–the old Clintonian view–but rooted in the conviction that America is so intrinsically flawed, so inherently and congenitally sinful that it cannot be trusted with, and does not merit, the possession of overarching world power.

For the New Liberalism, it is not just that power corrupts. It is that America itself is corrupt–in the sense of being deeply flawed, and with the history to prove it. An imperfect union, the theme of Obama’s famous Philadelphia race speech, has been carried to and amplified in his every major foreign-policy address, particularly those delivered on foreign soil. (Not surprisingly, since it earns greater applause over there.)

And because we remain so imperfect a nation, we are in no position to dictate our professed values to others around the world. Demonstrators are shot in the streets of Tehran seeking nothing but freedom, but our president holds his tongue because, he says openly, of our own alleged transgressions towards Iran (presumably involvement in the 1953 coup). Our shortcomings are so grave, and our offenses both domestic and international so serious, that we lack the moral ground on which to justify hegemony.

He then proceeds to give an excellent summary of the policies― dangerous and perhaps even fatal to American survival― that arise from Obama’s self-righteous degradation of America’s moral standing. But while proposing that the reassertion of moral self-confidence is the first step toward correcting these destructive policies, Mr. Krauthammer offers no account of the alternative understanding of America’s actions and history that provides the basis for it. He does not address the obvious questions. What moral understanding produced what he describes as America’s benign “hegemony”? What morality therefore provides a reasonable basis for the reassertion of moral self-confidence?

In the absence of such an account, Mr. Krauthammer’s prescription risks being mistaken for nothing more than a proposal that we cling to American ascendancy for its own sake. Perhaps he believes (understandably so, given the real peril involved) that the mere fact that the alternative is so dangerous makes further moral reasoning superfluous. We may seem to be like the ancient Athenians, whose almost inadvertent establishment of an empire in the wake of the Persian Wars appeared to bring them to a point where they faced an inescapable choice: embrace their imperial vocation or see their way of life destroyed.

Sadly, Thucydides’ sobering depiction of Athens’ tragic fate in The Peloponnesian War suggests that this was a false appearance that resulted from the failure of statesmanship that in the natural course of things afflicted the Athenians, as it now unnaturally afflicts the United States. The policy consonant with the way of life Pericles so eloquently epitomizes in his famous funeral oration precisely eschewed the ambition of empire, even while acknowledging and relying upon the strength Athens derived from its commerce with the cities that had come together under her leadership to forestall the threat from Persia’s perennial imperialism. Thucydides relates that after Pericles’ death, shortsighted panderers for power misled the Athenians into “allowing private ambitions and private interests…to lead them into projects unjust both to themselves and to their allies―projects whose success would only conduce to the honor and advantage of private persons, and whose failures entailed certain disaster on the country…”

It has always been tempting to look for parallels between the situation of ancient Athens and that of the United States during the twentieth century. Ironically, that temptation may in part account for the susceptibility of America’s educated elite to the Obama faction’s sordid view of America’s actions in the decades since the Second World War. (A view largely parroted by some who supposedly stand at the opposite end of the political spectrum, as I mentioned in the article The USA- a special nation with special responsibilities.)

But the United States is not Athens. Its moral understanding differs from that of the ancient polity precisely with respect to the fact that greatness and the prideful sense of honor that results from it do not essentially define or shape the American character. This difference is eminently clear when we compare Pericles’ funeral oration with the archetypal American oration for soldiers who met death in battle. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address deals not with the habits or achievements of the American people, but with their common allegiance to certain principles of right. The nobility of their war dead does not shine in the light of merely national pride. It rises in light of God’s goodwill toward creation, and the lustrous hope of all humanity for liberty, dignity and justice.

It does potentially fatal injustice to this nobility to use the benignity of American “hegemony” as moral cover for a reassertion of American leadership based on little more than an expedient hunger for preeminence. To attempt to restore America’s moral confidence by discarding (or is it benignly neglecting?) the morality that justifies it is a project that can only reproduce in foreign and national security policy the fruitless futility and ultimate failure characteristic of the barren, ‘hollow Republican’ betrayal of our political process and institutions.

After WWII America did in fact show a degree of restraint in the use of its preeminent position of power in the world that is without precedent in human history. The use of unaccustomed power inevitably entails some abuses, just as people who grow into great physical strength or stature sometimes hurt others before they “know their own strength.” But had America behaved as every other preeminent power in history behaved, we would not today be living in a world filled with nations robust and confidently independent enough to applaud and ruthlessly exploit Obama’s dangerous policies of national derogation and appeasement. Japan would not only have endured the awful experience of the first demonstration of nuclear war making power, it would still languish in subjection because of it; so too would others who only witnessed it, like Germany and even the the countries that once made up the Soviet Union. A whole host of nations, including most of those in the Middle East who now are willing incubators of the terrorist threat against us, would never have tasted anything but perpetual colonial subjection and oppression.

Mr. Krauthammer inadvertently discredits this historically unique American repudiation of power enforced global supremacy with the use of terms like “hegemon” and “hegemony” which imply a Caesar-like dismissal of what is actually coveted and enjoyed. (He even tacitly assumes moral equivalency by using the term “co-hegemon” to refer to the U.S. post-war position in relation to the Soviet Union.) Whatever may have been, and may now be, the arrogant caesarism of America’s power elites, most of the good and decent Americans, from all walks and stations of life, laid to rest near now quiet battlefields of wartime sacrifice and courage did not thirst for power, or glory or fame. They simply did their moral duty. Whether they lived or died they did so longing for no possession but the safety of their own home and life and liberty, and to restore to humanity a decent share of hope that all might in peace enjoy the same.

America did not rise to world leadership in the twentieth century because the American people thirsted for domination and preeminence. Neither will we strive to hold on to leadership for such reasons, no matter how often Mr. Krauthammer or others obliquely flatter us with good assurances of what a good master we proved to be. Real American common sense acknowledges the simple truth that people who genuinely reject being slaves to others reject with equal fervor the claim to be their masters. Human nature is as much degraded by the one as the other.

Mr. Krauthammer is right, though, about the benign intention that distinguished and ought still to distinguish America’s leadership among nations. But by neglecting to recount the connection between that intention and the self-evident truths from which it arose, he is led to neglect the wise symmetry of the self-evident truths that make this distinction possible. We assert liberty on the basis of moral ideas that constrain power within the confines of justice. It was no accident that in our use of supreme power, we were mindful of that constraint. Being all too human, we were and are from time to time misled, as were the ancients, by people serving only their own power, wealth and pride. But time and again, we withdrew our confidence from such people, sometimes even when expediency would have said it was not wise to do so. I have no doubt that Mr. Krauthammer and others like him are sincerely seeking to oppose the unwisdom of just such a withdrawal from our special responsibility for ‘the last best hope’ of earth. But there can be no success for such opposition until the false hope of surrender and abdication again faces the true hope grounded in the faithful commitment that defines our identity both as Americans and as human beings. It is not a willful commitment to maintain the hollow ascendancy of power, but rather a reverent determination to keep faith with the principles of liberty, and with the will of the Creator God whose justice makes us free.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • chiu_chunling November 2, 2009, 12:48 am

    "You are concerned about state control over health care but appear to have little concern for those who are dying or losing their homes from lack of money."

    That might have something to do with the fact that the reason people are losing their homes is entirely a result of government regulation of the housing market. Which has now collapsed the entire economy, resulting in the vast majority of other personal monetary shortages currently being experienced. Which doesn't do genuine charitable giving a lot of good either.

    "I do not feel that love and compassion that is the root of the Christian life."

    Well, honesty at least…if unintentional.

  • Dawg_em October 27, 2009, 1:56 pm

    Back to the subject at hand.

    Dr. Krauthammer is wrong on at least 2 counts: first, China doesn't have to worry about their people growing old before they grow rich. Since they have far more workers than they need their solution will mimic their one-child policy. They won't blimk an eye when the useless eaters become too many.

    Second, new information technologies will not put to work those in the auto industry who have permanently lost their jobs or the workers at Boeing who will lose their jobs to China by the end of next year.

    As for the title of this article we should differentiate between benevolent middle America and malevolent elitists who dictate foreign policy.

  • fox artist October 26, 2009, 10:46 pm

    Regarding truth and moral principles, which America are you talking about? On what planet?
    With the continuation of deeply entrenched prejudices and oppression of the poor and the black you are too divided a people to speak about the moral principles and commitment before God Who is full of mery and compassion. Let's be honest. Do you speak aobut the reality of America or your hopes for your country?
    You are obviously brilliant man Alan, but within it, I do not feel that love and compassion that is the root of the Christian life. I read judgment, a fixation with constitutional laws but with the exception of the unborn, lacking in mercy and compassion for the living. You are concerned about state control over health care but appear to have little concern for those who are dying or losing their homes from lack of money.
    The health care of a citizen of any country is a universal right and should never be in the hands of those who are in this business for profit and not for the wellbeing of others.

  • chiu_chunling October 23, 2009, 11:59 pm

    Well, a while has gone by without anyone challenging that last statement, and it kinda bugs me, so…sorry for the late response.

    First off, I have to wonder if there was supposed to be a 'not' in that last sentence. I mean, just given the whole situation.

    But first I'll treat the case as if it's not a typo. I can see how it might be a bit incongruous to refer to a nation that is apparently being ruled by the anti-Christ as a "Christian nation". It is rather ironic, but I don't think that it's necessarily blasphemy. Particularly when the nation in question was founded by Christians and remains majority Christian to this day. It may be a debatable statement, given the current government, but it can be presented as a point of view based on indisputable facts.

    Even if it was simply throughly untrue, how would it be blasphemy? Japan isn't remotely Christian by most standards which could be objectively applied, but I think that there are many people who still feel as though it is, in some subjective sense, a Christian nation. I would disagree, the Japanese don't even have a concept for "forgiveness", a lack so profound that they honestly think it simply refers to any display of mercy (to be fair, many 'Christians' don't really understand the difference that well either, but most can spot it in extreme situations). They are similarly challenged by Western monotheism. But whether or not there is any case at all for the statement, saying that Japan wasn't a Christian nation would merely be incorrect, not blasphemy. It would be like calling a person you like 'Christian' without careful regard to whether they actively try to follow Christ's teachings. I get thought of as a Christian all the time just because people know I like Christ and His teachings (and I'm not even as nice a person as Japan is a nation). That's just a matter of fuzzy thinking, just because I like Christ doesn't mean I actually make an effort to be like Him.

    Now, in the case that the statement was a typo (which I think is more likely)…saying that America isn't a Christian nation can at worst only be regarded as impugning the holiness or sacral character of America…not of God or Christianity. It's the same as saying that someone isn't a Christian because you don't like him or because he's not perfect. Sure, it's a negative thing to say about someone, but it doesn't cast any aspersion on God or Christianity to say it even if you're wrong and the person in question is making a sincere effort to do what Christ taught.

    There are, of course, special cases.

    If you say "God is not a Christian" then you're clearly impugning either God or Christianity, possibly both. So that would count as blasphemy from the Christian perspective. But if you call blasphemy on someone else for saying that you are not Christian, it kinda seems like you're trying to invoke the previous rule. Which would be…well, kinda blasphemous.

    But let's say that someone said it about a good personal friend and acquaintance of Christ…say John. Suppose someone claimed St. John wasn't a Christian. That could be regarded as anything from incorrect to heretical, but I don't think it could really be called blasphemy. I don't think that anyone can rank America as being greater among nations than St. John was among men. Or rather, I worry about anyone who would do that.

    So, really, whether it's saying that America is Christian or not Christian, I can't agree with calling blasphemy. There might be a persuasive argument to be made for one or the other of those, but I'm not seeing it.

  • Dawg_em October 23, 2009, 10:03 am

    Dr. Krauthammer ignores a couple of facts in relegating China to a non-issue. First, their one-child policy does not guarantee China will "get old before it gets rich". They can halve their population and still have the resources needed to be a producer of goods. Besides, any dictatorship that can force women to abort their children can find a "solution" to their aging populace.

    Secondly, he says "less skilled endeavors like factory work" are more than compensated by "newer technologies and industries of the information age". Exactly what are the jobs that will put those displaced workers back on payrolls? And at what salary? If their previous jobs were outsourced because of the expense of meeting U.S.-standard payrolls who is to say the same won't happen with these newer technologies?

    As to the title of this article, I would only ask, which America? Middle America, which is most definately benevolent, but very much disengaged from the political process as to be a non-entity? Or the empire builders of the Elite who dictate foreign policy while destroying liberty?

  • Dawg_em October 18, 2009, 3:48 pm


    Why is Hillary offering Russia our nuclear secrets?

    Why did her husband give and sell technology to China? Why did the US and England provide nuclear technology to Pakistan? Why did the US support Saddam Hussein at one point? Why does this country train terrorists from the middle East and death squads from Central America? And one last question: why did our government open the flood gates of credit which caused the housing bubble and rewards the failures of the banksters, yet prints so much money that now OPEC doesn't want oil traded in dollars anymore and Russia and China are pushing for a "basket" of currencies? This will of course lead to a global currency while destroying the dollar.

    As far as I'm concerned anyone who says this country is a Christian nation commits blasphemy.

  • chiu_chunling October 15, 2009, 5:04 pm

    Heck, I already don't recognize America anymore.

  • gilbertabrett October 15, 2009, 1:45 pm

    Hearing Rush Limbaugh toady, I am reminded how many people in this country expect you to roll over and cower to their every whim (leading to a quick path to Hell) or you are termed as divisive. The way some people act makes you think they have no need for the First Amendment. Either you agree with them, or you are wrong and in the way of "progress"…to Hell. If you begin to debate, they smear your name and do their best to take your every earthly possession from you AND YOUR FAMILY. These people are essentially no better than cannibals in my opinion.

    I used to admire Charles Krauthammer, but like so many other op-ed people in the entertainment/news industry (they should really start having the news Grammies, complete with a red carpet and Joan Rivers to comment on everyone's dress) I do not care for them because they all seem to find at least ONE redeeming quality about a man whom they know NOTHING about – except what the PR people for him release. I am too critical I am told, but I do not find ANYTHING appealing about AKA Obama. And nothing redeeming in "his" policies.

    In the title of this post, I find it sad that we should seek that which we have. Such is life. Christians are 100% guaranteed victory through Christ, yet they can be some of the most worrying people with faith the size of an amoeba. And to top it all off, as Christians, we have the power to turn this whole tide around in this country, yet we still seem to want to watch our children's future be sold to China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and North Korea. Will we ever wake up?

    The Tea Parties were nice for two minutes, until "Sen." Olympia Snowe decided that history had called. History called when last year, less than half of the LEGAL and LIVING citizens of this country decided that we needed a bi-sexual Muslim leader for this country. Now where are all those people that were at the Tea Parties? Did they think that ONE march on DC would stop the train? It is going to take something drastic in this country and probably sooner than later.

    Like my granny always said, talk is cheap. People are getting tired of talking. Sometimes you gotta put up or shut up. WHY IS HILLARY CLINTON OFFERING RUSSIA OUR NUCLEAR SECRETS? Is ANYONE awake out there? Boy at the rate this "administration" is going, we will not even have a recognizable country left by the time the 2010 elections roll around…

  • pbunyon October 15, 2009, 10:53 am

    Even a slight change in America's moral compass will take a revolution. Be it political or otherwise I believe the message is clear, "Wake up or die as the house burns down on you." How do we gauge our responses? It's no longer a matter of pearls before swine. It's a matter of mice and men being men who believe.

  • Stan Johnson October 14, 2009, 9:41 am

    I'm reminded, time and again, why I put your blog on my "follow" list. Your clarity, balance, and unflinching stances in an era enraptured by "Political Correctness" are refreshing.

    Your research, knowledge, and articulation are not only a credit to yourself, but to the ideals you espouse and promote.

    Thank you.

  • WingletDriver October 14, 2009, 6:30 am

    Dr. Keyes,

    I think Dr. Krauthammer is an atheist. It is from this perspective that he speaks, which is a difficult position from which to argue morality. If there is no transcendent truth, there is nothing to build on but a patch of loose sand. I don't mean this as a slam against Dr. Krauthammer or atheists in general, but it is a well-recognized problem. Western academia has atheism as its de facto starting point and forces every argument onto its shifting sands, thus eliminating any real argument based on morality.

    Having acknowledged that, I think it is, to say the least, admirable that he struggles with questions like the one he addresses above and hope that he takes the criticism he invariably gets to build stronger arguments in favor of American exceptionalism.

  • DixHistory-dot-com October 13, 2009, 8:12 pm

    Mr. Keyes,

    As always I'm blown away with the level of your thought process and your ability to express your thoughts so that I can get it.

    I am in hopes I can have the pleasure of doing a write-in for you as President in our great state of Georgia in the 2012 election. Even better of course would be to see your name on the 2012 ballot here in Georgia.

    While I do believe in a God. I struggle with man made or reveled religion. I have seen you use the term that is used in our Constitution, that being Nature's God. Your thoughts on that subject as it relates to our nation and our Constitution would be appreciated.


  • chiu_chunling October 13, 2009, 7:02 pm

    Perhaps Krauthammer's central failing, productive of all others in his article, is that he accepts at face value the Obamanable explanation of their motives. When he refers to the naivete of those who undertake deliberate disparagement of American preeminence in the expectation of gaining the favor of the international community, it is Krauthammer who is being naive.

    Obama doesn't want to help America in any way, shape or form. He wants to totally obliterate everything which made it the leader of the free world. The attempt to destroy America's world leadership and freedom isn't in pursuit of some greater end, the destruction of America is the entire point of the exercise.

    Ah, but I misspeak. The denigration of America does have a purpose…but no person really can imagine for a moment that it is for America's benefit. No, designating some people as slaves requires that others be appointed as masters. No matter what it is that you claim as the justification for destroying freedom, as a matter of practical necessity someone is going to have to be assigned to oversee those bound to labor under the lash.

    The idea that anyone can honestly advocate the enslavement of everyone is ludicrous. It is suggested by those eager to hold the whips. Krauthammer's refusal to acknowledge this rather obvious fact is at the heart of every defect one can find in his article.

    Indeed, it lies at the heart of most the delusions which paralyze those who should be resisting the destruction of liberty world-wide. At least Krauthammer understands that America's freedom is at stake. Most others refuse to admit even that much.

  • Tony October 13, 2009, 3:33 pm

    I love the last line of your post because it makes the most powerful statement of position. It is from our Creator God and His justice we receive freedom. And to defend it should be an American ideal.

    Sadly, even our so-called president, would abdicate that in an effort to be seen as a benevolent and open-arms proponent of "change".

    I certainly wish you would have become President so I could once again be proud of my American leadership.


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