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Humanity has experienced thousands of years of Empire but less than a century without emperors. Civilizations are massive. Culture changes slowly. The collapse of the imperial world led first to the rise of dictators rather than republicans. If World War I was the war to make the world “safe for democracy” it was, like so much President Wilson did, well meant but ineffectual.
America, its allies, and other anti-imperial forces, did bring about the collapse of empire. Emperors were however succeeded by dictators, not republicans: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao and others. It took World War II to bring democracy and human rights to Western Europe, and to Japan and to the world’s largest democracy, India. America was the force, intellectual and military, that brought this about.
It took American victory in the Cold War, World War III, led by Reagan and proclaimed by him at Moscow State University, to bring basic democracy and human rights to the former constituent republics of the USSR and to Eastern Europe. Victory brought republicanism to Latin America, no longer a venue of proxy wars dominated by military dictatorships, ruling juntas, and corporals’ coups. Latin America, in the wake of American victory in the Cold war, is a continent full, the atavistic despot Hugo “Huey Long” Chavez, aside, full of vibrant republics.
After the Cold War China, beginning with Deng Xiaoping, liberalized. China embraced capitalism and was moving toward democracy when the USSR broke up. China too is vulnerable to break up, which would be bad for China and for the world. China is far more fragile than it might seem. Moving from within a 6,000 year history China moves far more deliberately than the impetuous West. Yet China reveres Sun Yat-sen. Dr. Sun left an unambiguously republican testament. China leans toward reform.
Left behind, so far, is Africa, still struggling through its post-colonial period, shamefully neglected by the wealthy nations of the world. And left behind, of course, was the Middle East. The Middle East, except for our ally Israel, is the world’s last major refuge of kings and dictators.
It looked as if America went to Iraq to wage World War IV — removing its monstrous dictator in our epochal revolutionary spread of democracy and human rights, militantly bringing republicanism to the world’s last bastion of monarchs and dictators. Our effort to spread democracy and human rights throughout the region faltered. Many find it unsettling to watch an American president, Barack Obama, bowing low before monarchs like the King of Saudi Arabia.
World War IV seemed, as an advance for democracy and human rights, thwarted. Yet perhaps it is premature to say so. People inherently fear the motives of outsiders, particularly those of the world’s hyperpower, America. Now, exactly as it becomes clear that America is disengaging, rather than staying on as an occupying power, the citizens of the Middle East are taking a stand in, and for, their dignity. The “Arab Street” is demanding principled republican self-government.
There are no guarantees that the peoples of the Middle East will not end up either crushed or trading in authoritarian regimes for tyrannical ones. The Iranians went from the frying pan to the fire in trading the Shah for the Ayatollahs. But let’s put the ferment into its century-long trend. Empires fell; dictators arose; republicanism emerged and prevails. The people of the Middle East yearn to join the rest of the world in what my colleague, Jeffrey Bell, astutely termed “the age of equality.”
Americans almost take republican government and civil liberties for granted. These manifested only 232 years ago with the creation of the United States. It took America 75 years to grant the vote to African Americans. It took another 50 years to grant the vote to women. Today we still deny unborn children personhood and, marginalized as African Americans and women before them, still deprive them of the constitutional right to life. Yet America, exceptionally if imperfectly, has led and still leads the world.
America stands for a few simple principles: that all … are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
America’s creed defines the trend of history. The principles of the Declaration have transformed the world. This vision continues to transform the world toward unalienable rights, toward governments drawing legitimacy from securing these rights, and that governments draw their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Americans hold the people of Tunisia, of Egypt, of Bahrain, of Libya, as it holds people everywhere, firmly within our vision of unalienable rights and human dignity.
We hold these truths to be self evident that all … are created equal.
Ralph Benko is a senior economics advisor to The American Principles Project and author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World. He is working on a new book, called "A Golden Age: the political consequences of the peace."The article which first appeared in the Forbes - Blogs was submitted to the ARRA News Service editor for reprint by contributing author Ralph Benko
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