Time and time again throughout history, the key element of what drags down great societal processes into oblivion is the crisis of spirit. The Roman Empire, so dominant in technology, commerce, unifying legal rights regardless of nationality for nearly a thousand years, crumbled under the stress of the lack of the individual’s sense of investment in keeping the whole sclerotic edifice going. The British Commonwealth of nations, bringing the tradition of rights of the common man, education, justice under the law to a billion people and driven by the force of a “can do” spirit, took a considerably shorter period to give up the mantle of leader and developer. World War II drained the British of their last sense of exceptionalism and within a decade the flower of the best elements of British experience and structure had wilted in most of the developing world. The United States, since 1776, the citadel of individual freedom and exceptionalism, has been the world’s primary force in accomplishment in technology, literacy, elimination of poverty, and creative thought based on the simple premise that the individual, unbounded by statist restrictions, holds the capacity for unlimited creation, progress, and betterment of society. This spirit, this “can do” nature, is now under attack and serious strain in this country, the most developed society founded on human potential in the history of man.
The deterioration of the “can do” spirit now in place holds many similarities to previous historical processes. The loss of the spirit is usually self inflicted. The individual, comforted by the society’s wealth, assumes that the “can do” spirit by others amply supplies sufficient force to remove the individual responsibility for his own outcomes, that others “can do” it for him. The external forces eternally threatened by examples of what is possible in environments of unfettered human creation, look to any weakness of the spirit and the subsequent will of the free, in order to destroy, and prevent the viral nature of freedom among their own. The price of sustaining energy across generations is often enormous, with the need to maintain the principles of achievement in future generations who did not experience the sacrifices necessary to achieve progress, yet must accept their responsibility in maintaining them. The final blow is a loss of confidence that leads to the loss of exceptionalism- “we are no different, no better than others”. This final crisis is not one of racial superiority, but rather, individual superiority, the sense that while all others around me may fail, my own success is predicated only on my own will and effort.
The threats are manifold to humankind if this particular American brand of exceptionalism dissolves. The loss of the impulse of free markets. The rise of regional hegemony and conflict. The return to statist principles of stability, at the price of individual freedom. The neglect of the world’s neglected populations when the rest of the world internalizes. America for all the good and ill it creates, has been responsible for one primary force the world would miss, the energy to fail, fail, and try again, until the failure is righted, and is crowned by success.
It may be a naive spirit, but naivete masks an overwhelming force for good, that even against the worst odds and the most dire conditions, if we try hard enough, we can soar.