by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In my own younger days, I was on the Left, and from the utopian vantage point to which leftism invariably transports its adherents, it was the flaws in American society—the radical 1960s trinity of war, racism, and poverty—that stood out most vividly. It rarely occurred to me or my fellow leftists to ask a simple question: Compared to what is America so bad?
From our modern perspective, much more was wrong with Periclean Athens, or the Italy of the Medicis, or England under the first Queen Elizabeth, or 19th-century Russia under the Romanovs. But this has not disqualified them from being universally ranked among the highest points of human civilization and achievement. After more than 40 years of pondering the question “Compared to what?” I have come to believe with all my heart that the United States belongs on that exalted list. …
… We have excelled by following our Founding Fathers in directing our energies, as our Constitution exhorts us to do, to the preservation of the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, as well as to the pursuit of happiness tacitly understood by the Declaration of Independence to require prosperity as a precondition. (In his original draft of the Declaration, of course, Jefferson used the word “property” instead of “pursuit of happiness.”) By remaining faithful in principle—and to a considerable extent in practice—to the ideas by which the Founders hoped to accomplish these ends, we and our forebears have fashioned a country in which more liberty and more prosperity are more widely shared than among any other people in human history. Yes, even today that holds true, despite policies unfaithful both to the letter and to the spirit of the traditional American system that have resulted in a series of political and economic setbacks.