Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Quotable: Larry Diamond on “What is America fighting for?”


Tuesday, December 22nd 2015

“The United States has been at war with ISIS for more than a year, and with Islamic extremism for nearly a decade and a half. But beyond defending the homeland against terrorism, U.S. leaders have not offered a compelling answer to this vital question: What is it that America is fighting for?”  This comes from Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.  His essay, “What is American Fighting For?” appeared on the website of The Atlantic on December 17, 2015.  “You can’t beat a surging ideology with no ideology or higher sense of purpose,” he said.  Here are some of Diamond’s main points:

  • America will not defeat the grave challenge it faces by retreating from its core principles. When societies fall out of touch with their most elevating, unifying beliefs, they decline into cynicism and sloth. This is how states and civilizations decay and disappear.

  • From the very beginning, the unifying American principle has been freedom. For almost two and a half centuries, Americans have held these truths to be self-evident: that all people “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

  • Among these were the natural rights to institute a government “of, by and for the people”; to think, speak, publish, worship, assemble, and organize freely; and to have these rights protected by an independent judiciary.

  • When these principles were first codified in 1776 and in 1789, in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they embodied a uniquely American creed. . . . the founders advanced them as universal values. Since America’s founding, the principles of equality, freedom, and government by and for the people have been increasingly embraced around the world . . . .

  • Over the last decade, democratic progress ground to a halt and freedom has been receding, for a number of reasons.

  • The debacle of American intervention in Iraq, which was justified in part as a “democracy promotion” exercise, soured the U.S. and other Western publics on the goal of trying to support the spread of democracy, even by peaceful means.

  • The shambles in Iraq, the rise of China, the aggression of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and the tentativeness of American leadership have also diminished American prestige and influence in the world. And in poorer countries, democracy has struggled against long odds due to weak states, massive corruption, and low levels of education.

  • You can’t beat a surging ideology with no ideology or higher sense of purpose. In the face of the persistent challenge of violent Islamist extremism and the global recession of freedom, what the world has needed is a powerful reaffirmation of the universal relevance of liberal values.

  • Instead, the democratic West has been retreating into moral relativism and illiberal impulses.

  • , , , the nativist lurch tends to end badly for a country, and never more so than in an era when increasing global trade and competitiveness place a premium on openness, innovation, and cooperation. Xenophobic nationalism and ethnic chauvinism stifle the flows of capital, talent, and ideas that are the true lasting foundations of prosperity.

  • Freedom and pluralism do not just confer a long-run economic advantage. They also generate the deeper cohesion, flexibility, and resilience that have always enabled America to prevail over authoritarian and totalitarian challengers. It is not just electoral choice but an abiding commitment to the freedom and equal worth of every individual that makes the United States and its fellow liberal democracies the envy of most of the rest of the world.

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