The Founding Fathers “saw Americans as essentially no different from the general run of human beings; subject to the same limitations, affected by the same restrictions of vision; tainted by the same original sin or, in a more secular view by the same inner conflicts between the flesh and spirit, between self-love and charity.” Thus writes the American political thinker, George Kennan in his magnificent book, “At the Century’s Ending.”
The historian Arthur Schlesinger said that “the unity of the United States was an experiment – not an easy one, not one whose successes were automatically assured,” but an experiment “undertaken in defiance of history, fraught with risk, problematic in outcome.” The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, whose books I used to pore over, warned, “No nation is sacred and unique.” All nations stood before God.
The most pervading fear of the Founders was a fear of democracy. Their view was a direct anthesis of modern American democratic faith. The Founders revered the idea of liberty, but it was their view that democracy menaced liberty. To their minds, liberty was not linked to democracy but to property. Freedom for property would bring liberty, not to all men, but to worthy men. Just as the individual’s capacities were unequal, the amounts of property that men owned would correspond to their unequal gifts of intellect and capacity.
The Founders were actually a studious bunch. They studied the history of Greek city-states, medieval history, the Renaissance, and what they concluded was the history “displayed perpetual vibrancy of extreme liberty and anarchy,:” in the words of Alexander Hamilton. The dread of the propertyless masses was universal. The Federalists felt that the greater danger came from the majority of ordinary people. Of all the factions, a majority would pose the greatest danger to national stability, they said. Once in power, the majority would be eager to launch its own “oppressive schemes” to the detriment of the welfare of the nation, according to James Madison. (He probably would have fainted if he ever listened to Trump.)
Whatever their faults, the Founding Fathers were part of the “realistic school” of foreign policy, but in the wings there hovered another group that had, not a realistic view of America but a “messianic” view of it. This group saw America “as fulfilling a predetermined destiny...American was a wonder work of Providence…a journey of the elect…a salvation beyond history,” said Schlesinger. In other words, like the Hebrews, Americans were a chosen race. America, the nation, had been built by the Almighty who had created a nation that was “unique in virtue and magnanimity, exempt from the motives that governed other states,” Schlesinger said. The messianic view of history was last embodied by President Ronald Reagan. But Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, also holds such views. God has made us great.
For the messianic school, American excellence in moral or diplomatic matters is a given. American virtue and motives are not to be questioned. The goal of foreign policy is to gain power over other nations, to be sure, but this expansion is only done for their own and America’s good. We don’t wish to injure others, but if they are stubborn and resist American power and ignore what’s good for them, it is their own fault for whatever happens next. The histories of other distant countries, their aspirations, their national epics, their events, their national pride, their history and failures are going to have to give way for a vast, new American democracy that will bring peace and prosperity to all, whether the world wants it or not.
The messianic outlook asks the American public not to think of failures (indeed, it barely admits them,) and reminds them that you only gain strength by remembering and elaborating on your successes. Of course, anything as blameless and good as the America nation, will draw envious enemies to it, and American political leaders must get in the habit of increasing their support or obtaining more public unity by braying that America is encircled by a terrible, remorseless, pitiless enemies capable of inflicting massacre, genocide or any brand of ghastly atrocity on unsuspecting American citizens. The threat posed by such nations can only be erased by toppling their leaders, using unbridled American power. such a nation will only enjoy peace under American-backed leadership. Such toppling of foreign leaders is called “regime change.”