1. The best reason to appreciate America is that appreciation is powerful.
You can give no better gift to young people than to teach them appreciation: how to appreciate, what to appreciate, and the role of appreciation in a happy, rewarding life. Think about the impact that one gift could have on their future, along with the ammunition it would be for weathering the inevitable storms of life.
And how easy is it to teach appreciation for America? This once-in-human-history experiment—of the people, for the people, by the people—is truly awesome in the grandest sense of the word.
2. America is Western civilization’s pearl of great price.
Before the early Greeks invented Western civilization, people in the Eastern empires of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Persia and India lived miserable, brutish lives not much better than their animals. Nothing was as cheap as human life and tyrannical emperors used people—literally—to construct ancient wonders like the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse at Alexandria and the Taj Majal. It took millions of Chinese peasants to build the Grand Canal in China and more than 1 million of them died from starvation or hard labor doing it.
Western civilization introduced the revolutionary concept of individualism, where the individual had merit and value for the first time. Intellectual inquiry was encouraged and the fruits of the intellect — science, reason, logic, democracy, philosophy and rational theology — transformed the world forever.
America is Western civilization’s pearl of great price because our Founders formed a new nation from its best parts: Plato’s ideas about balancing the powers of government; the Roman law that guaranteed persons accused of a crime the right to look their accusers in the eye; the Magna Carta’s unprecedented rule of law; John Locke’s concept of private property; and Adam Smith’s arguments in favor of capitalism; to name just a few.
3. We have a fundamental belief in our ability to reason our way forward to a better future.
Back in the day, we used to teach young people the story of America, and young people appreciated it. Somewhere along the way, however, we stopped telling the good parts of the story. The counterculture of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War had a lot to do with that, but be that as it may, the upshot is that we teach young people about America today without any context.
We teach the evils of slavery but not the role the West played in abolishing it. With context, we see that every society on earth has practiced some form of slavery. It is the rule, not the exception.
Africans enslaved and sold other Africans to the British and the Portuguese. American Indians owned slaves, both Indian and African. Why did we practice slavery in the United States for fewer than 100 years when it was practiced for millennia in the rest of the world? Because Enlightenment thinking led us to see slavery as a gross violation of the rights of man.
It was the West that first abolished slavery: Britain in 1807, France in 1848 and the United States in 1862. The African country of Mauritania did not outlaw slavery until 1984.
We teach the injustice of Jim Crow and segregation but not the Western values that underly their elimination. We in the West are committed to reasoning our way forward to a better future.
With context, we see that we had a Civil Rights Movement only because we believe in progress, a purely Western phenomenon. When televised images of fire hoses and attack dogs trained on helpless black youths in the South reached greater America, Americans began to resist the degradation of legal racism. We saw where we were wrong and took substantive steps to correct it. Today, there is no legal racism of any kind in our society. Today, civil rights for every American are such a given that we take them for granted.
In the East and the Middle East, where those rights exist, they are tenuous at best. Women in late 20th century Afghanistan lived modern lives of independence, education, and self-governance. When the Taliban came to power, women were required to veil themselves completely and ask permission to leave the home.
4. There is no better or safer place on earth for women, gays, or religious minorities than the United States of America.
Without context, we think we invented homophobia, sexism, religious bigotry and injustice. With context, we see that because we reject homophobia, sexism, religious bigotry and injustice as a society, there is no better or safer place on earth for women, gays, or religious minorities than the United States of America.
If individual Americans are bigots, and of course some are, it takes nothing away from our culture’s fundamental belief in the equality of all people. Our society is organized around that ideal.
5. We knew all men were created equal before equality existed in the world.
Our Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” Without context, some people see that statement as hypocritical, that all men were certainly not treated as though they were created equal at that time, to say nothing of the women. But that’s exactly why it was such a revolutionary idea. Equality did not actually exist in the world at that time, but our Founders conceptualized it and built it into our very framework. It’s one of the reasons America is such a unique experiment in all of human history.
The truth is that America is the worst country there is — except for all the others. The truth is that in context, America is something to be very, very proud of.
This article was excerpted from the recently released book Nothing to Apologize For: The Truth About Western Civilization by Donna Carol Voss.