Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The USA- a special nation with special responsibilities

[This post begins a series on Foreign Policy and National Security issues that I'll add to periodically over the next two weeks. I will call the series "Liberty for All", for reasons made clear below. By the way, when I settled on the title of today's post, I had the species in mind.]

"It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force….a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind." (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #1)

Over the years I've noticed that many black Americans seem to regard their ethnic identity as a bitter burden. I know that from time to time I've certainly felt the way. But I have also felt it to be a special responsibility. That's probably because, when I was growing up, my parents found ways to make that responsibility clear to us, especially when it came to speech and behavior. What we said and did reflected on the family. It affected what people would think of black folks in general. It would shame or encourage others. I have learned over the years that this sense of responsibility for the good or bad name of the community is part of what it means truly to belong to a community, because human communities form in light of common moral ideas and sensibilities. As we embrace the communal identity, our respect for that common sense of right and wrong affects what we say and do. In the way that we carry ourselves, we acknowledge that we carry the community as well.

Obviously, in some respects this has to do with incidental things- eating habits, accents, patterns of speech and expressions that by themselves may have no moral significance. But it can also have to do with how we treat other people; how we assess the impact our words and actions have on them; whether we feel bound, as we set goals and priorities, to take account of the contribution we make to their welfare or misery.

Since the United States first emerged as a nation, its best statesmen have found ways, as they dealt with its affairs, to make it clear to the American people that they have a special responsibility to humanity as a whole. Though many of the Founders thought and wrote in the context of an English heritage, during the Revolutionary period they consciously chose to frame their arguments for independence in terms of unalienable human rights, rather than the rights of Englishmen. In such terms they enunciated the founding principles stated in the Declaration of Independence. In such terms they debated and framed the provisions of the Constitution.

They consciously chose to accept their responsibility for the welfare or misery of the human race, not just their own. These days shallow politicos from left and right just as consciously reject the choice they made. On the left, they reject the moral concept of our humanity in favor of a materialist conception that literally dehumanizes everyone, beginning with human posterity in the womb. On the right, they reject the comprehensive moral concept of our nation in favor of a narrowly ethnic conception that betrays the special American responsibility to humanity heretofore acknowledged, in some way, by each new generation, sometimes at the cost of much blood, treasure and sacrifice.

The tragic consequence of their abandonment of the principled American commitment to do right by humankind is an approach to foreign and national security policy that abandons the challenge of prudently thinking through a global strategic vision; prudently maintaining international relations that serve and support the prospects for liberty; and prudently using the strength and resources Providence has granted to our labor and ingenuity to safeguard and promote the moral ideas, practices and institutions that have been recognized as the special trust of the American nation since it first resolved to establish for itself a free and independent state.

Not coincidentally, this abandonment of strategic vision leads to policy decisions that damage the national security of the country. The original sense of acting on behalf of all humanity has encouraged the true statesmen in each succeeding generation to see America in the context of the larger world for which its ideas and actions can serve as inspiration, encouragement and aid. Long before we actually had the power to make good on our intentions, the most prudent American leaders took an interest in the fate of other people, starting in our own part of the world, but extending with our commerce to faraway places as well. Great ideals and good intentions were by no means always the motives. In fact, in ordinary times Americans were prone to fall into the selfish, narrow minded patterns of ordinary nations. But like the outwardly cynical, self-serving heroes common in our books and movies, the hard-boiled everyday exterior harbored a persistent sense of humanity, lurking to surprise the oppressors and enslavers of mankind in the periodic crises when injustice comes to a head, and the human path is decisively marked out for good or ill.

The point is that we never lived permanently with the delusion that we could cultivate our happiness in our own little corner of the world and let the rest be saved or damned as may be. Even in the midst of continent subduing self-absorption; even in the grip of fanciful isolationism and post-war traumatic withdrawals, voices were always raised on behalf of our commission for humanity, even when they dared recommend as policy little more than the good wishes we could convey by our example. And when the great crises came the American people rose time and again to the occasion. Whatever the demoralizers may try to argue, people don't suddenly conjure up from nothing the willingness to sacrifice and die for supposedly noble ideals they never really cared for. They sustain hardship; they endure to victory precisely because somewhere in the midst of their ordinary selves they doubted that the satisfaction of their own needs and material desires fulfilled the whole meaning of their existence as individuals or as a nation. Something in them waited for the call, and knew it when it came as the echo of a truth that whispered in their spirit all along.

Whether it's Barack Obama's treacherous apologies, retreats and clear betrayals, or Ron Paul's rhetorical surrender to cynical misinterpretations of our willingness to care for the fate of liberty throughout the world, from right and left the mere politicians of our times willfully ignore this spiritual dimension of the American identity. Sadly, those who will not, for popularity's sake, mimic their willful ignorance, gain favor from neither extreme. Unlike Obama, I will not surrender my allegiance to America's special vocation, its responsibility to uphold the moral ideas that define justice for humanity; its record of service and sacrifice in the name of those ideals. For these reasons, I believe we need apologize to no one.

But unlike the supposedly conservative or libertarian purveyors of a cynically narrow nationalism, I cannot forget that America's liberty is not now and never was properly defined as the possession of one community, race or nation. The freedom we assert, the liberty we conserve, is rooted in the nature we share with all human beings. It calls to them as to us with the quietly powerful voice of our Creator God. We love, serve and conserve it more for His sake than for our own, fully becoming Americans only when we act, as He does, not for ourselves alone but for all the world.


Anonymous said...

Reagan imagined America as a shining city on a hilltop, a beacon of freedom. A compelling vision, but it may be noted that even at the height of America's power in the world it has always been the example of freedom that has had a more profound impact on the world than all the foreign policy and strategic alliances. After all, deployments of armies and shipments of goods had their advent long before the rise of a free society. Empires and kingdoms have long used both as tools to dominate or influence the other nations around them. Neither is uniquely suited to the promotion of liberty, even though circumstances may demand one or the other.

It is probably sufficient that America act out of a strategic vision that regards free nations as inherently friendly (disagreements notwithstanding) and despotic nations as inherently dangerous. To consistently choose allies from among the former, and prepare for the enmity of the latter, with the vital understanding that no despotic nation can indefinitely tolerate the existence of freedom, nor can those who truly love freedom embrace any despotic regime.

This simple principle, constantly applied, is all that is needed to show the people of other nations what America stands for in the world. Conversely, no amount of engagement with the international community can be of lasting benefit to the cause of human freedom in the world unless it is undertaken by a free nation.

America is not a free nation today.

One can easily argue that most other nations are even less free, or that the American people will not long endure despotism. Such may be the case, but it does not change the fact that, applying rational or even historical standards of authoritarian intrusion into the common life of the people, America does not currently qualify as a free nation. And what benefit can you expect to provide to the cause of human freedom through the agency of a national government that is the greatest single obstacle to the freedom of its own people?

Until America is again a free nation, it can have no influence to effectively promote freedom through engagement with other nations. Cast the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. This is not a matter of condemnation, but of simple good sense.

In truth, your situation is rather more desperate than a beam in the eye. I think you'll realize how much more serious soon enough, but deal with it you must before aspiring to show other nations the way.

texan_4_keyes said...

Dr. Keyes,
I have great respect for you. You never back down(even when the cops say they are going to arrest you) and that is honorable. I will definitely vote for you in 2012 if you run. The thing about spreading freedom in other nations that bugs me though is the fact that we don't even secure our own borders. If our national security is at risk from terrorists, shouldn't we be defending our borders and make sure we know who is coming to our country. I just find it hard to believe our politicians have our best interest in mind when we fight two wars on the other side of the world to prevent terrorist attacks while our borders are wide open.
KEYES 2012

Terry Morris said...

Chiu wrote:

One can easily argue that most other nations are even less free, or that the American people will not long endure despotism.

Yes, relative to, say, Massachusetts, my state Oklahoma is a hard-right conservative state. But Oklahoma is not a hard-right conservative state. It is, if anything, a right-leaning liberal state. It only appears to be hard-right conservative relative to hard-left Massachusetts et al. But conservative Okies know that Oklahoma isn't very conservative.

The point being, of course, that measuring a nation's freedom by pointing out the lack thereof of other nations is not very useful in any case, and can in fact be extremely misleading and destructive of freedom. But in any event that argument -- that America is [even today] more free than most -- isn't that difficult to make. As to the other -- that Americans won't long endure despotism -- well, that one's a bit more difficult. And with the passage of time it becomes more and more difficult to make as we naturalize and thus empower large numbers of peoples from various parts of the world where liberty does not exist in any appreciable way. Obviously where liberty has never existed the people are unacquainted with its principles, of how to establish and maintain it. As Noah Webster once wrote:

"I consider it a matter of infinite consequence the cautious admission of foreigners to the rights of citizenship. Many of them come here with violent prejudices against arbitrary government, and they make no great distinction between arbitrary government and a government of laws founded on free elections."

I believe in the equal worth of every human being, but I do not believe in the idea that a society can long sustain itself which invites and celebrates societal incohesiveness. After all, the preamble to the Constitution states "...and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," which would seem to exclude most of the rest of the world.

As Chiu intimated in his post, we need to do a lot of internal house keeping before we go about trying to sweep the dirt out of everyone else's houses. Indeed, some folks prefer to have the dirt over the effort it takes to sweep it up and keep it swept up, president Bush's palpably false notion that 'everyone desires freedom' notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

Well, there is something to be said for the syllogistic equation of any felt desire with a desire for freedom. I don't know the most familiar way to phrase it in English, but basically all genuine desires must be for things that are possible but not certain, which can be attained through choices reflecting that desire (the actions motivated by a desire are the only objective standard for measuring the strength of that desire, and the only way to associate actions with a desire is by reasonable estimation that such actions are intended to secure the object of that desire). Thus freedom is essential to acting out desire, and so all desire entails the need for freedom as part of it.

Not exactly the pithy aphorism I should like to have said, but as I mentioned I don't know your aphorism for the idea.

Of course, not everyone has desires...a peculiar but true point of fact. I'm not even sure how an entity without desires fully qualifies as a person, but the fact remains that one cannot relegate a person to the status of object simply because said person does not evince desire. To do so disparages the truly essential value of persons. But I sense that I'm way off-topic now.

Terry Morris said...

Let me put it a different way:

Not everyone in the world (and probably not most people in the world) desires what we in America generally refer to as freedom, or, American-style or Western-style freedom if you prefer. My impression of Bush's remarks on the subject (which he stated in various ways) is that American/Western-style freedom is what every human being desires, and that is what I'm contending against. I don't deny that most everyone desires some form and measure of freedom, just not American/Western-style freedom.

gilbertabrett said...

Well if the media has anything to do with it, we have plenty of desires all right... they can even advertise for digestive healthy yogurt and make it sexy... oh yeah, we have desires. So while we have turned from Mr. Whipple and the Tidy Bowel Man in the 70's & 80's, we are now taking pills for anything and using sex to promote most of them. Our desires seem to revolve only around temporal, fleshly, carnal things...

In the midst of all that hope and change, I am sickened to learn that there are over 800 FEMA camps across this nation. State of the art security, plenty of barbed wire fencing and gas furnaces included. No people are in them as of yet. There are railroad tracks leading to them. I wonder did the Jewish people know that the concentration camps were being built for them in WWII. I can't see any other reason why the National Guard would put job postings on their website for interment camp guards unless there was something ominous behind the scenes for which they are preparing.

I imagine waking up one morning and hearing that "President" Obama has gone to an undisclosed location because of a "human caused disaster" or whatever they are calling terrorism now. One major strike on our soil and he can implement all kinds of chaos and no one would be the wiser. On the train and heading off to camp...

I noticed that millions of people have seen the FEMA camp video on YouTube, but I have NEVER heard anyone talk about them OR seen or read anything in the "news." Not even Fox News. And they love to brag, boy...

Dr. Keyes, I just hope and pray that GOD will have mercy on this nation one more time for the sake of those who are growing up now. They do not have the chance that I had just a few short 10 years ago. It is sad. Not without those of us who are adults NOW standing up, giving up a lot of our petty wants and sacrificing for them as our parents did for us, and theirs before them. I pray we have this chance... and take it.

Alan Keyes said...

Terry Morris:
Those who talk about the "American" idea of freedom" have already abandoned it. Liberty is about what, by God's will, we are as human beings (nature), not just what by our desires we determine ourselves to be (convention). Because we have forgotten that the idea of rights arises from an idea of right, we also forget that as a right liberty is not about indiscriminate self-determination, it is about the determination to do what is right. Consciously wrong choices (in the moral sense) cannot be part of the exercise of right. Because it reflects a prior determination of our nature by the Creator God, the choice liberty involves is the choice we make to respect or reject His will. His will includes liberty, but as part of justice, which encompasses the rules that determine its rightful employment.
In light of this, we cannot get our "own" house in order unless we keep in mind that it is the house of all who share our nature. What is "our own" as Americans must therefore take account of what is "our own" as partakers in human nature. If today our liberty is in peril, the danger arises precisely from denying the natural basis for liberty, and thus misunderstanding it as some existentialist freedom of desire. In fact it is the substantive freedom connected with accepting our responsibility to and for the whole. The whole refers, however, not just to the community, but to the individuals that comprise it. With respect to the world, the nation is such an individual, with responsibility for itself and its members but also to the human community formed and informed by the God ordained nature we have in common.
Some people who profess to cherish the Constitution nonetheless folow someone like Ayn Rand in adopting an existentialist idea of freedom completely at odds with the moral principle of justice that leads to the concept of limited (i.e., constitutional)government.(Ayn Rand of course would deny being an existentialist. But she also denied the existence of God and without God the 'reason' she professed to follow in lieu of felt inclinations is just the systematic rationalization of desire.)

Terry Morris said...

Dr. Keyes wrote:

Those who talk about the "American" idea of freedom" have already abandoned it.

I don't think that's necessarily true, although it's probably true as a general rule. People sometimes (hesitantly) use descriptives like this in an attempt to make a finer point. But of course "freedom" is expressed and exercised differently in America than it is in other parts of the world where it exists or has existed. Taken as a whole I'm not sure that America represents no-holds-barred Randian libertarianism, although there seems to be that (growing) element.

I certainly agree that any genuine notion of liberty begins with a belief in the Sovereign God of the universe and his will for His moral creatures. But then again, that's what I would personally call the "American idea of liberty" since this nation is unique among nations in that vein. After all,

"...is it not that in the chain of human events the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked to the birthday of the Savior of the World?..."

In any event I think this is an important discussion to have, and I look forward to your next edition in the series.

Dawg_em said...

Should we, as Americans, care whether or not the rest of the world desires freedom? On a moral plain the answer is obvious; of course we should. It is God's desire all are free because he created us with free-will. To love Him is to love others as well. With freedom comes the responsibility to recognize whence it came and to give praise and thanks.

Which is best, imposition or demonstration? For those who crave it and are oppressively denied the opportunity, should the cavalry ride to the rescue? Iraq has Kurds, Shia and Sunni. It appears they do not respect the rights of each other. A generalization, true; exceptions, of course. Afganistan has tribal regions so separated by idealogy one is hardpressed to imagine a 12th century mindset is conducive to liberty. Not that liberty has a time stamp associated with it.

What of demonstration? Actions speak louder than words. True, simple trade/economics does not necessarily guarrantee a moral transference of the desire to be free; free to produce, free to invest, free to associate. In the 1930's Germany and England were the greatest of trading partners. The bond of commerce alone does not, will not, assure peaceful coexistence.

This leads me to the conclusion an avid, devout adherence to the Word of God is truly the source of freedom. His gift to us who are and remain faithful. Hence, the reduction in freedom in this once great nation. (As an aside, when the Spanish Armada was virtually wiped out in the English channel, would the Reformists be correct in assuming God was on their side? Or should the Church have regarded this "divine intervention" as a lesson in that autonomy? We have been created to believe as we choose, rightly or wrongly. Faith at the end of a sword is not true. Would that the radical Muslims recognize this. Hence, believe or die.)

Some argue unless our national security is directly at risk all military foreign intervention should cease. But what of Christians who are being martyred en masse in places such as Africa? Do we have a moral obligation to come to their defense? And what of nations (people) who have not asked for our assistance? Is it a moral imperative to use our sons and daughters to impose a "western style democracy" on those who do not have the scriptural wherewithal to inform their consciences?

If I were to error I would tend to side with a degree of isolationism. Get our security established to the greatest extent possible. Imposing "democracy" on others is no guarrantor of peace. Engagement, commerce and dialogue would provide opportunities to demonstrate who we are. Lead by example, as it were. Imperialism, economic or otherwise, is hypocritical to that message. To do that we need to get our country back from the globalists and banksters who promote, and sometimes impose, our views on such topics as contraception and abortion.

"By their fruits you shall know them."

Just my 2 cents, more or less.

Alan Keyes said...

Dawg em: Actually it's easy to agree that we should not force liberty on anyone (I don't use the word "democracy" because it doesn't include the reference to the natural law limitations, i.e., constitutionally limited government, liberty implies.) But what of the situations where good people elsewhere are striving to establish liberty? Others in their country, with aid from outside nations or groups opposed to liberty, use force and terror to deter, terrorize and intimidate them. Do we help those striving for liberty to fight back against this or not? It's a strange and self-defeating "libertarianism" that systematically allows the armed forces of injustice to triumph over the natural desire for liberty, all the while claiming to respect freedom of choice.
I think reason and common sense lead to the conclusion that we should not help when doing so undermines our own liberty. We should definitely help when doing so serves to strengthen and secure our liberty. Within those parameters, it makes sense (in light of the dependence of our liberty on respect for unalienable human rights, i.e. justice as it applies to all human beings) to strive to do as much as we prudently can, when and wherever good people need our aid, subject to the sovereign judgment of the American people, constitutionally ascertained. Thus we err on the side of prudence (i.e. the preservation of our own liberty first,) without routinely sacrificing liberty in any respect.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Dr. Keyes is espousing a Christian idea of freedom, which Terry Morris (understandably) conflates with an 'American' idea of freedom.

This is interesting in that it is the Christian doctrine of Atonement and personal repentance that makes freedom most effective in the spiritual life of individuals. The belief that sin is truly wrong and must be avoided for the sake of one's eternal destiny is difficult to reconcile with the idea of high value eternal destinies being available to humans who--after all--have already sinned extensively. Without some notion like the Christian idea of an Atonement which allows repentance to be effective without disparaging the reality of sin, religious thought must either discount the possibility of Heaven or the reality of individual responsibility for sin.

Individual responsibility...the essential kernel of freedom. The ability to act because of the consequences of one's actions is the transcendental leap that frees persons from the chains of absolute causality. To do, not what the past dictates, but what the future allows.

As I said, not all people desire. And not all those who do desire individual responsibility. And...there are certain geographic features to the distribution of populations which have some concept like the Christian doctrine of Atonement and repentance which allows for what I would call the Western concept of individual freedom.

But then again, Christianity is essentially evangelical.

Corey said...

This was an especially inspiring post, Dr. Keyes. Thank you.

The part where you discussed the false philosophies from which both extremes corrupt and betray the true founding principles of the United States reminded me of what Orestes Brownson wrote in The American Republic. It was right in the beginning, the Preface and Introduction - his reflections about the nature of the republic in light of the Civil War:

"[I have] defended American democracy, which I define to be territorial democracy, and carefully distinguish from pure individualism on the one hand, and from pure socialism or humanitarianism on the other."

"Its idea is liberty, indeed, but liberty with law, and law with liberty. Yet its mission is not so much the realization of liberty as the realization of the true idea of the state, which secures at once the authority of the public and the freedom of the individual--the sovereignty of the people without social despotism, and individual freedom without anarchy. In other words, its mission is to bring out in its life the dialectic union of authority and liberty, of the natural rights of man and those of society. The Greek and Roman republics asserted the state to the detriment of individual freedom; modern republics either do the same, or assert individual freedom to the detriment of the state. The American republic has been instituted by Providence to realize the freedom of each with advantage to the other."

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