American Values & American Foreign Policy
THE United States is probably the only major country in the world in which it is taken quite as a matter of course that people will talk seriously about the relation of the nation’s values to its foreign policy. We in this country seem to believe, first, that there is something distinctive about our values, such that we can speak-even if with some uncertainty-about American values; and, second, that these values do, or should, affect our foreign policy. We do not drag out the theme of American values in their relation to foreign policy only because we happen to be celebrating our bicentennial and feel therefore that some special Sunday topic, some ceremonial theme, is necessary. We are used to talking about American values in many contexts besides foreign affairs-our domestic social policies, our racial policies, the urban crisis, the state of religion, or of the youth, or of the family. For Americans, such considerations are not a Sunday special-they are ordinary everyday fare.
There is one other difference between the United States and other countries in this respect. In England, France. Germany, Japan, or India, only the Right speaks of national values and insists that they be made significant in the shaping of policy. In America, however, liberals as well as conservatives are given to asserting that national values should affect foreign policy. I think there is one important reason for this: in the United States when we speak of national values, there is no implication of a primordial past, lost to memory, no suggestion that our values arise from race, blood, and soil. To speak of American values is to speak-still, and for most people-of founding documents-the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers-known to all, clearly available, existing in the full light of history, and propounding what have by now become universal values, whether or not they are realized in practice. Americans are in the fortunate position that the values asserted in 1776 have in large measure been accepted by all the world. Whatever it was Thomas Jefferson and the other founders meant in asserting that “All men are created equal,” this statement by now has nothing exclusively American about it. Everyone agrees with the words, whatever he may do in fact.
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