Against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, we hear more voices predicting the upcoming decline of the United States from its complete position of dominance in the realms of economics, diplomacy, and culture. However, it appear that the most appropriate response to such predictions can be found in the words of American writer Mark Twain, who said that rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.
The dry figures show us that the US, whose population comprises roughly five percent of the globe’s population, is responsible for more than a quarter of global production. For sake of comparison, the Chinese, who make up roughly 20% of the world’s population, are responsible for a bit over five percent of global production. If we combine China’s production with that of India’s Russia’s, and Brazil’s, we still won’t reach even half of America’s production.
Even though American production declined in the wake of the crisis, production in other countries in the world declined even more. The most successful American products are those that other nations cannot produce. Technological advancements, movies, television shows, and even academic trends are much more than profitable economic industries – they express cultural domination.
There is no country or countries at this time, neither China nor India, neither Europe nor Brazil, able to offer something that comes even close to an alternative. The Americans are the only ones who offer the world (and certainly the Free World) symbols and ideas; the “software” that makes the international system’s “hardware” work.
The sources of this unique success story may have been best expressed by someone who is not American: French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, in his masterpiece Democracy in America. Tocqueville wrote that despite the advantages of a large country possessing a wealth of natural resources, these are not fundamental sources of America’s unprecedented prosperity. After all, states such as Mexico and Brazil, which enjoyed similar conditions, never got close to matching America’s success.
Religion plays key roleTocqueville suggested that the source of American prosperity is its unique customs and ideas, and particularly three of them: Political freedom, religious belief, and economic ambition. In his view, although these phenomena can be found in other countries as well, their dosage, and particularly full integration among them, created in America the blessed cycle that features constant reinforcement and mutual embrace by all three elements.
America’s political freedom emerged from the grassroots; the local communities in the New World, which were established and are still
being managed independently. The state structure and federal government were premised upon them. This self-management became possible to a large degree because of Christian religious belief openly inspired by the Bible that stressed not only community and personal responsibility, but also integrated political freedom and economic ambitious as rights, and almost duties, of the believer. The economic ambition in the Torah was perceived (and is still perceived) as an essential part of political freedom and religious belief.
Despite immense changes in the US over the years, these characteristics remained intact. Today, these characteristics are not about to stop influencing the American spirit. As long as no state or doctrine offers an alternative to this spirit, the US will continue to lead.
Dr. Ophir Haivry is an Associate Fellow at the Shalem Center's Institute for Philosophy, Politics, and Religion