May 10, 2002

American civilization triumphs

When one wonders what makes a civilization superior to another, one can compare the material successes of the civic and social life of competing civilizations. Wealth, technology, art, and literature are clearly some of the standards through which a civilization can boast of its prowess. However, one needs to dig deeper and understand why such triumphs occur in certain civilizations over others. What makes certain civilizations the fertile soil for prosperity, peace, and opulence? What enables its citizens to rise up against the adversities that they face every day? Such a fundamental inquiry essentially involves understanding the cultural mores and traditions of the people of that civilization.

The success of the American civilization in terms of its economic and technological might is unparalleled in the world today, or any day. Americans enjoy more wealth and comfort than any other nation or civilization at any point in human history. But how did we get here? While some may agonize over the answer, or over the entire premise, it is very clear in my opinion what got us this far. The foundation of the American spirit that gave rise to such tremendous growth of humanity is summed up very succinctly in the document that laid the foundation for the nation—The Declaration of Independence. It boldly and equivocally stated that "all men are created equal." They need no further qualification to claim their dignity and rights than their simple humanity. Such thinking was diametrically opposed to the European civilization. Although the Christian influence in Europe should have made such concepts basic and fundamental, the political life simply did not allow such luxury of individual dignity. While kings and emperors pillaged and plundered their own people in order to stay in power, our Declaration promised nobler goals. It said that not only are there unalienable rights that need to be respected, but the purpose of government is to protect and secure those rights. Although we as a nation have not always lived up to those promises, we as a nation have solved such fundamental inequities in our laws through the Declaration principles.

The belief in the unalienable rights to life and liberty, along with a form of government that respects and preserves those rights, created the foundation of the American civilization. The theories of Adam Smith and John Locke became realities in America. A government that respected liberty and freedom let a free market develop, bringing together people for the purpose of trade and commerce. Increasing opportunities opened up the floodgates of American ingenuity, which eventually led to the highly technological and industrial might we now posses. Innovators from Eli Whitney to Bill Gates are testaments to that American spirit of ingenuity and freedom. Our industrial capitalists gave us unparalleled wealth. However, technological and industrial might may not ultimately be the reason behind the greatness of America. After all, several nations and civilizations, from the ancient Indians to the Romans, exhibited levels of grandeur that no one before their time was able to accomplish. So, is the American civilization just another example on the time-scale of human history? Is there anything deeper about the American psyche that led Daniel Webster to believe that America is "the shining city on the hill?" In my opinion, there is and it can be found in the Declaration of Independence as well. And, I believe that finally it is this spirit that makes America great.

After the Declaration established a divine right to freedom and charged King George III with several violations of those rights, it concluded by saying, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." This statement epitomizes the depth and the steel of American resolve, which has provided us hope and solace even in our darkest hours. Washington, Jefferson, and others, were already affluent and powerful members of the American nobility. What motivated them to put their name, fame and fortune on the line, so they could establish a free nation? They could have had all the wealth they desired, and some more, if they just accepted the rule of the king. What inspired them to pledge everything they had in order to be free? Their example set the precedent for subsequent generations of Americans who rose up against unjust oppression in order to establish their divine rights to be free as codified in the Declaration. We saw this spirit in the resolve of the abolitionists. We saw the Confederate patriots be the heir of this tradition as well, in their vigorous defense of their homeland against the north. In the past century, the American resolve and courage beat back two of the worst evils in the world—Nazism and Communism. The civil rights struggle saw at its core an appeal to establish for every man and woman the equal station of dignity that was guaranteed to all Americans. From the countless many who settled in the American frontiers to the men who charged the beach at Omaha, from the patriots of the Confederacy to the many who braved the dogs at Birmingham and Selma—the American spirit of dedication to uphold humanity and perform countless acts of courage lives on. Just as Washington and Jefferson were willing to give up everything in their lives in order to secure freedom, hundreds and thousands have followed suit in order to preserve the blessings of liberty. The testament of courage to preserve freedom and liberty is the gift of America to the human civilization. It is this unique virtue of securing freedom and liberty for all in the face of the most formidable enemy that makes America the greatest civilization. Our tradition to carry the torch of freedom to every corner of the world is what makes America a beacon of hope and "the shining city on the hill."

The heir to the above legacy is not a just a 12th-generation Virginian. Any and all Americans can lay claim to that tradition. In fact, an immigrant from a non-Western culture can even stake a claims to such honor. Dinesh D' Souza, a noted scholar, and an immigrant from India, values such traditions just as much as a native would. He will deliver a speech on May 13 at 8 p.m. in Hutch Commons. He will speak on the greatness and superiority of American civilization in light of our traditions and mores. I invite you all to come hear and participate.