Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Saturday, April 10, 2004
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America's Glory Is Not Dominion


Last October in a post for Open Source Politics, I quoted a Hoover Digest article by Niall Ferguson:

Power...is partly about material things: guns, butter, men, money, oil. But it is also about morale. In a world characterized by the diffusion of most of the material elements of power, real power may therefore come to depend on having credibility and legitimacy. Faith cannot move mountains. But it can move men.

Power comes in many forms. Albert Camus knew that moral power was the most important mover in the world. The problem America faces today is that it holds military might in the highest esteem, ignoring its limitations. We seem to have traded our moral authority for arrogance.

As the situation in Iraq deteriorates and the comparisons to Vietnam begin to become more apt, I'm reminded of what Senator J. William Fulbright wrote in The Arrogance of Power in 1967:

The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission. The dilemmas involved are preeminently American dilemmas, not because America has weaknesses that others do not have but because America is powerful as no nation has ever been before and the discrepancy between its power and the power of others appears to be increasing.
...
I do not question the power of our weapons and the efficiency of our logistics...Our handicap is well expressed in the pungent Chinese proverb: "In shallow waters dragons become the sport of shrimps."
...
If America has a service to perform in the world - and I believe it has - it is in large part the service of its own example. In our excessive involvement in the affairs of other countries, we are not only living off our assets and denying our own people the proper enjoyment of their resources; we are also denying the world the example of a free society enjoying its freedom to the fullest. This is regrettable indeed for a nation that aspires to teach democracy to other nations, because, as Burke said: "Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other."
...
[W]e have the opportunity to serve as an example of democracy to the world by the way in which we run our own society; America, in the words of John Quincy Adams, should be "the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all" but "the champion and vindicator only of her own."

If we can bring ourselves so to act, we will have overcome the dangers of the arrogance of power. It will involve, no doubt, the loss of certain glories, but that seems a price worth paying for the probable rewards, which are the happiness of America and the peace of the world.

Fulbright alludes to an Adams speech that inspired a post I wrote for OSP last September: In Search Of Monsters To Destroy. I still hope against hope that my conclusion will prove to be wrong:

In future history books, the war in Iraq will likely not be recognized as the cause of America’s decline; rather, it will be seen as a signal that our power was already waning, just as power has waned for all the empires that have preceded us.

Even in this season of rebirth, I don't have a lot of faith that we can reawaken our moral power, but I'll keep trying to do what I can.

ntodd 
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A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.

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