On this day, let’s take another brief look at the question of the twin foundations of America’s super power status, and of its broader position in history as a great nation.
We addressed, a short while ago, the mystery of how we got from there to here, from our perilously tenuous condition at our founding to the dominant world power we see today. We like to ascribe this largely to our political institutions and our national character.
Indeed, it has been said that America has succeeded in stepping out of the river of history, having established societal and governing mechanisms that are seen nowhere else on such a scale; while the rest of the world remains mired in old systems and ancient cycles, we avoid being swept along in the relentlessly repeating currents. We have found a way to determine our own course through time.
While the argument for American exceptionalism is strong, it is yet too much to argue that this status arises solely from national virtues that we, ourselves, clearly viewed with robust skepticism when framing our founding documents and constructing our societal institutions. There is a strong argument as well that, while many of the benefits we enjoy may be more or less as described, their sources may be rather more the result of plain – if spectacular – good fortune, than of the peculiar political institutions we have devised and of the national character they helped create.
Consider this, then, from the highly recommended monograph by the geopolitical analysis organization Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), referred to a few weeks ago:
The American geography is an impressive one. The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin.
Accordingly, argues Stratfor,
the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live.
Well, perhaps it’s because of both. American and world history has not proceeded through all the challenges and stresses it has faced, survived, for example, the disastrously punitive decisions of European governments after the first world war, and blossomed largely as a result of the inspired, intelligent and – for all that – generous decisions of the American government after the second world war, solely as a consequence of who was best positioned geopolitically. But, then, neither did we – from our Founding Fathers on – fail to accord due respect to the importance of our advantages in that regard.
As we proceed here in these pages, we also will do well to try to bear both of these factors in mind.
In the meanwhile, please do allow me to suggest once more that you invest some time, which will be richly rewarded, in reviewing Stratfor’s brilliantly conceived and presented analysis, in two parts, here, and here.