If the United States was truly exceptional, what has happened to it?
How did the U.S. fall from its place as the world’s beacon of freedom and individual rights? How did the nation of achievers and owners become the “entitlement state” of looters and moochers?
It was not an economic argument that shifted American policy.
The idea that more wealth can be created by inhibiting and restricting man’s free activity is not taken seriously. Even in America’s “red decade” of the 1930s, we did not look at Soviet Russia as a model for achieving material prosperity. Instead, Americans called communism a “noble experiment.” Noble—because the people were willing to sacrifice their own prosperity for the sake of some future state of equality accepted as a moral ideal.
Collectivism never wins by practical arguments. It wins by dominating the moral narrative. Have you heard it said that communism is good in theory but it never works in practice? That’s a confusion. It fails because it is wrong in theory, for it says man does not own his own life and he must be a slave to other people.
Ideologically, 19th Century America never lived up to the stature of its fathers. The founders had understood individual rights, though imperfectly, and had set these rights in place. Men of the 19th Century had to determine the moral meaning of this achievement. But while the average American was busy discovering the practical benefits of freedom, American intellectuals began to undercut its foundation.
How did this happen?
America was born during the lifetime of the Prussian philosopher Emmanuel Kant. His influence can be understood by the fact that we measure philosophic history by reference to him. Before him was the Modern Era in philosophy. After him is the Kantian Era.
Kant was the chief corruptor of the American achievement. His two main contributions to the intellectual life of our nation were to convince our professors that:
1) Knowledge does not exist.
2) Virtue consists of allegiance to an absolutist state.
Anyone who has attended university can attest to Kant’s success.
It takes decades for ideas to move from schools to leaders to institutions.
The 20th Century is the story of that movement. Slowly America has absorbed the following ideals:
1) Suppression of individual freedom through taxation and regulation.
2) Duty to society and a growing entitlement system.
3) Indoctrinating our children to self-sacrifice as a moral ideal.
These same ideals took over Germany about 100 years ago. Ideologically, the United States is not more than two decades away from National Socialism. For those who don’t know, that’s what “Nazi” means. If you would like a preview of where our nation is headed, compare the platform of the Democratic (or even Republican) Party to Mein Kampf. Then read Leonard Peikoff’s extraordinary book, The Ominous Parallels.
The story of America’s decline is the story of Kant’s rise.
Piece by piece, ruling by ruling, America has given up its birthright. The cause is in its ideas, specifically its moral narrative. The case for freedom is—and can only be—the case that freedom is moral.
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