The American Empire

America has a notorious tendency to view itself as elite.  We think that simply because we have “the best” government in the world and the best God in the world that we are entitled to prod other countries to  conforming to our ideals.  I beg the question, “Why do we think this way?”

To answer this question, we must take a step back in time to 1803.

When Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from France, he claimed that he was doing what was “best for the people”.  By tripling the territorial size of the country overnight, Jefferson claimed the land as property of the USA.  While a Utopian dream of prosperity suddenly emerged in the minds of Americans, so did a nightmare of persecution for those that were not white, not American, or simply not a person at all (blacks, which were viewed as property).  By fostering the belief of Manifest Destiny (the idea that westward expansion was a direct result of prosperity and God’s favor on us), the Louisiana Purchase gave American citizens the right and obligation to expand Westward to “achieve their dream of freedom.”  However, a glaring paradox was overlooked by frontier settlers: by achieving their dream of expansion and prosperity, white Americans robbed Native Americans and blacks (slaves they took with them) of the very privilege they themselves felt entitled to: freedom.  The quick reaction to these statements is to say, “Well it wasn’t me that persecuted those people.  Blame my ancestors.”  Such reactions are egregiously negligent of history and oblivious to those that privileged white Americans have trampled on over time.

So the question I ask again, “Why are we like this?”  While the answer is a bit daunting, it can be found in the very rhetoric we use in our culture today.  For example:

  • By having a military presence in the Middle East, we can assure that democracy thrives.

Rhetoric like this statement often conceals the truth.  The truth is that we as a nation want to impose our will on the rest of the world because we think we are the best nation in the world and surely everyone wants to be like us.  However, this line of reasoning removes any inkling of the fact that countries may want to have the right to choose to be like us or not.

We deny other countries (and certain cultural groups) the very entity we sought after so passionately for almost 250 years ago: complete freedom.  Elitism has caused us to be an empire.  My only hope is that we acknowledge this fact before it’s too late.

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