Exporting America


Thaddeus_Kosciuszko_sculpture,_Public_Garden,_Boston,_MA_-_IMG_5481In Still the Best Hope, Dennis Prager argues that American values — roughly, the small-l liberal values that underlie the Declaration of Independence and U. S. Constitution — demand to be exported. Elsewhere, Prager describes these values as the American Trinity: the beliefs in a transcendent God, in liberty, and in the emphasis of culture and values over ethnicity or race. These values, he says, can be adopted around the world and integrated into existing national identities. We can quibble with the definitions and the choice of words, but Prager’s onto something profound here.

While there’s much Americans — or those from Anglosphere countries with similar values — can and should do to help others, the ultimate burden falls on those elsewhere. Doing so often takes tremendous effort and even great courage. July Fourth seems as a good a time as any to honor those who’ve risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to further the ideals exemplified by the American Revolution.

For starters, I’ll nominate Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817). Kościuszko is one of those figures whose biography is too rich to summarize easily, so what follows is only a very rough sketch (cartoonist Kate Beaton gave the task an effort here; it’s great if you don’t mind a little language). Born a Polish-Lithuanian noble, he emigrated to the United States in 1776, where he served in the Continental Army as an engineering and a combat officer. He oversaw the fortification of West Point, fought in the South Carolina campaign under Nathanael Greene, and befriended both Washington and Jefferson. If you’ve ever been to Monticello, you’ve likely seen his famous portrait of Jefferson.

After the war he returned home, where he became active in liberal (old sense) Polish politics, and advocated against serfdom, beginning with liberalizing the obligations of his own serfs at great personal expense. He later gained a commission in the Polish army and won a number of impressive-but-pyrrhic victories agains Tsarist and Prussian forces. When King Stanislaw decided to throw in the towel, Kościuszko refused and — after a brief exile — returned and started a peasants rebellion (wherein — I’m not making this up — most of the peasants were armed with scythes). Though he again won a number of small victories, he was eventually wounded and captured; the rebellion fell shortly thereafter.

After being freed by the new Tsar, he returned to the United States, then went back to Europe to continue to work for Polish freedom (though he refused to aid Napoleon). To the end of his days, he continued to work both for Polish nationalism and against serfdom.

Kościuszko’s story is unfortunately, a sad one — to top things off, the poor guy had a very unlucky love life — but there are happier ones. Which other non-Americans best exemplify American values?

Image Credit: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Published in Culture, General, History
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  1. user_891102 Member

    Menachem Begin.

    I’ll also add Binyamin Netanyahu — and indeed, Bibi far outclasses Begin in his embrace of a classic American free-enterprise economic model — but Begin showed the way politically and in terms of the three attributes listed in the OP.

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  2. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins

    When I visited Krakow many years ago I was interested to see that Kosciuszko was interred in the catacomb under Wawel castle.   His sarcophagus was in the same chamber and just a few feet from that of Jan Sobieski, who is most famous for winning the Battle of Vienna in 1683.  By his actions Sobieski saved Western Civilization from being overrun by the Turks.  Clearly the Poles intended to honor Kosciuszko by placing him so close to that great national hero.

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  3. AIG Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: We can quibble with the definitions and the choice of words, but Prager’s onto something profound here.

    Not really. He’s in essence describing a phenomenon which has already happened in virtually every developed country in the world. Something that happened many decades, or even a century ago.

    Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, HK, India (post 90s) just to name a few in the east, all followed this example. Heck, once can argue that this was the intent of China in 1912 (which then turned into communism).

    But fundamentally, his argument is much more basic then what he’s trying to make it. It’s the argument economists have been making: i.e. institutions matter, and some institutions are better than others, and those eventually get copied. And they were speaking specifically of US capitalist institutions. And although they were speaking after the fact (this theory was formalized only in the late 80s)…they were describing a pattern which had been happening for 100 years.

    Look at any E.European country, and you see the same today.

    At an even more basic level, this can be distilled to just one word: capitalism.

    Unfortunately, evidence from 100 years of this happening isn’t all that rosy. In most cases, it doesn’t work out. I don’t know of any country that hasn’t tried to copy US institutions (or what you’d call culture), other than NK maybe…but most have failed.

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  4. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne

    Dr. Sung Zhong-Shan (known in the west as Dr. Sun Yat-Sen) based his Three Principles of the people (San Mingchui) off of Abraham Lincoln’s, “of the people by the people for the people” line. Of the people was his nationalism, he wanted China to be ruled by Chinese. By the people was democracy, he wanted elections, initiatives and he wanted to reintroduce tests for government officials. For the people was capitalism and something of a welfare state. (Dr. Sun Zhong-Shan was more to the left of Abraham Lincoln but he had one of the best insults against the economics of communism. “Communists always say that capitalism creates poverty and everywhere it makes wealth.”)

    Taiwan’s national anthem explicitly references San Mingchui. Thus the greatness of Lincoln echoes through the ages. If China ever becomes democratic, expect them to carry pictures of Dr. Sun Zhong Shan in their protests.

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