by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Throughout my life, I have watched the world become more American. On every continent, people learn English, watch U.S. films, wear blue jeans, and aspire to live in pluralist, capitalist, and individualist societies. The dissemination of American values was one of the happiest facts of the 20th century. But I fear that the 21st century has brought an altogether darker cultural export.
The core American value used to be freedom. Freedom of speech meant no one could drag you to jail for saying the wrong thing. Freedom of assembly meant no one could close down a political party, labor union, or church congregation for sedition. People chose their jobs, their homes, their spouses. America was “conceived in liberty,” and when countries escaped fascism in 1944, or communism in 1989, they aspired to be more like America.
That was then. Starting in the late 20th century and accelerating terrifyingly around 2015, the United States has switched from elevating individual rights to elevating group rights. It has, in other words, returned to the tribal thinking that its creation was intended to defy. The precepts that drove the campaign for civil rights — race doesn’t define you, everyone is equal before the law, character trumps skin color — are now deemed reactionary and offensive. Ethnic differences (and, to a lesser degree, differences of sex, sexuality, and so forth) are deemed supremely important. They define your place in an imagined hierarchy of privilege and determine what you can say, what college scores you need, and what positions you can occupy.
We can argue about the origins of this tendency. Did it come from the notions of guilt and justification that animated the earliest settlers? … Did it arrive later, brought by socialist German academics? Or was it an overcorrection, a reaction to the ugliness of slavery and segregation?
Whatever its genesis, the American virus has leaked out and become a global pandemic.