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Can America Lead the World?

No nation has ever conquered the world. It is a feat that has been logistically impossible for most of history and practically impossible forever. However, many nations have acted as global hegemons throughout history. The Macedonians, Romans, Mongols, British, French, Spanish, Ottomans, etc. have all experienced periods of global dominance in their own way. It could theoretically even be argued that, for a time, they led the world.

The United States, for the past several decades, has found itself in a unique position to truly lead the world. While world powers of the past could feasibly claim to lead their own specific spheres of influence, the only historical example of a nation that could plausibly claim to have ruled the entire world is Great Britain during the late colonial to late industrial periods (1750 - 1920).

The British Empire at its height, 1921

However, their dominance mostly came through trade and finances, using their power to enrich the various merchants, traders, and other interest groups of their nation financially.

The US has acted as the de facto world police force and the enforcer of the decisions of the United Nations since World War II. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was, practically speaking, left with virtually no great powers on the world stage that could even begin to challenge the Americans on a militaristic, financial, innovative, ideological, or cultural level. The United States led the world.

Map of countries with US military bases as of 2015. Not taking into account the presence of US troops unsupported by military bases.

The question is not whether or not the United States ever led the world. I believe we did and still do. The question I will be answering is whether or not the United States can lead the world in the future. In order to understand if the United States could lead the world in the future, it is first necessary to understand how they once accomplished that very feat.

Early America became a land renowned for its tolerance and free expression of new thoughts and ideas. Millions from around the world flocked to the US, as it was the most liberal, successful democratic republic in history to function on such a large scale.

While ideologically divided in regards to slavery and state rights, the country thrived in spite of this tension until the breakout of the American Civil War. After the conclusion of the war, with slavery abolished and state rights more clearly defined, the US spent most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries consolidating itself domestically. Meanwhile, a culture of patriotism and individual freedom based on natural rights began to enshrine itself in the public mind.

Patriotic fervor and love for one’s country became increasingly more prominent during the first and second world wars. While the United States was a power on the rise heading into these world conflicts, it became one of the most powerful nations in the world following them. A belief that the culture of freedom and democracy that the United States embodied was not only superior, but should be spread around the globe, grew in prominence during this period. It was this belief that made previously thought impossible accomplishments and innovations possible.

For the past several years, Americans have been drifting from the idea that American culture is inherently better than other cultures around the world. It is this wavering belief, this modern lack of conviction in American culture that has begun to chip away at the global dominance that previous generations worked tirelessly to achieve. With the increasing prominence of critical race theory being pushed by the left (38% of Americans view CRT in a positive light), as well as the libertarian isolationism that has begun dominating the right (50% of Americans are weary of American intervention abroad), Americans as a whole seem to have lost faith in their nation’s institutions and their culture.

It is no longer seen as morally right to have a love of country. In fact, it is becoming ever more unusual to hear someone praise America, with it becoming more likely that one might apologize for it instead. Two of our last three presidents have apologized for America during their tours around the world. In the event a person does praise something about America, many will first preface their praise by saying, “Now America isn’t perfect, but…”.

While the phenomenon I’ve described may or may not necessarily be a bad thing, a nation that intends to lead the world must first have a desire to lead it. Over the past several years, Americans have seemingly been losing that desire steadily.

America is in an ideal position to lead the world, a position few nations in history have found themselves in. That being said, it is my opinion that with the current culture of isolationism and apparent self-hate in the United States, America will not continue to lead the world. It is becoming increasingly clear that the majority of Americans simply lack the desire or pride necessary to lead the world powers on a global stage.

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