C 3 C Mark R. McDowell Throughout early American history there was a direct correlation between national interest and national identity, but with the changes of the 20 th century regarding America’s status in the world came changes regarding America’s nature. American national identity has shifted away from alignment with the creed and vision of the Founding Fathers while American national interest has strived to continually act in accordance with that creed and vision. This shift is most evident when comparing America in the 1990 s with America in the 1790 s.
By analyzing American national identity and American national interest in the 1990 s, and then comparing the two to the America established and sought after by the Founding Fathers, it will become evident that American national identity has truly deviated from the path which the founding fathers had hoped for and America had strived to walk for nearly two centuries. It will also become evident that American national identity affects national interest, but national interest does not derive from national identity as Samuel Huntington suggests (Erosion 1).
In order to approach these issues, two questions must first be answered. What are national identity and national interest? How do these two terms apply to America? The answers to these two fundamental questions provide a foundation on which numerous other questions may be asked, analyzed, and answered. It can be seen that the first question is itself two questions which must be answered separately.
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Only then can the connections between the two be distinguished. So, what is national identity? National identity provides a basic description of the oneness that a nation has and what provides that oneness, where oneness is a semblance of consistency in character which distinguishes the object in question-the nation-from others in an objective frame. In simpler terms, a national identity can be considered to be the matters that unite a given nation and separate it from other nations. In order for a country to have a national identity, it must first be a nation and more specifically have a general consensus of oneness to which the people subscribe. Secondly, the people may or may not have a unified conception of their oneness. When this definition is applied to America, the conclusion can be drawn that Americans’ desire to do good, to find and provide the concept of freedom for all, to live in light through the institutions in place, through our democratic legal tradition, is the American national identity.
This identity distinguishes America from every other country in the world because the desire to do good is so rooted that America feels obligated to rid the world of pure evil and in turn finds itself involved in the affairs of countries around the globe. Having defined national identity and applied it to America in a basic sense, the question of national interest must be resolved. In “The Erosion of American National Interests,” Samuel Huntington argues that a national interest is “a public good to all or most” people in that nation (6).
The Commission on America’s National Interests seems to agree with Huntington in stating that “national interests are conditions that safeguard and enhance…
survival and well-being” of the people in that nation. Specifically, America’s national interests stem directly from the fact that the purpose of the American government is to act for the greater good of the people. American government also has an obligation to do what is right and true. At this point, it is important to note that the terms “greater good,” and “right and true” are relative to the morals of the people involved. One person may not consider the government to be acting on their behalf and on the side of truth if their morals-their worldview coupled with their perspective on the hierarchy of what is important, right, and true-differ from those of the government. It shall be the purpose of the remainder of this paper to illustrate that the heart of American national identity is the morals of the American people which can be referred to as the creed that the people believe in, that the morals of the people have become unaligned with the creed of the government, and that this misalignment has led to the confusion of American national interests.
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Having defined National identity as a oneness-something common that distinguishes one nation from another-America can only contribute its national identity to the American creed, which in the time of the Founding Fathers was a belief that there are laws established by Nature’s God which govern how humans ought to live, and that these laws were not debatable. In the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers call upon “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” to justify the decision of the thirteen colonies to break apart from England. This justification reveals the belief of the Founding Fathers in a standard, a moral code, which was right, true, and above all others. The people of that age apparently believed the same, for that is the platform on which colonists took a stand for in fighting for freedom from England.
Some may argue that the colonists and Founding Fathers believed that there was this higher code because the majority of people were of Christian heritage and that people of different religions may believe that a different set of moral laws are governed by Nature’s God. C. S. Lewis, who has a “reputation as one of the leading writers and thinkers of our age,” disagrees with this line argument (232).
In his book Mere Christianity Lewis argues that what he calls the “Law of Human Nature” has been evident to everyone throughout history and that this law is consistent. On the subject he writes: But in the case of Man… The Law of Human nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else-a real law which we did not invent and which we ought to obey (21).
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What is of critical importance of Lewis’ argument is that he comes to this conclusion, not by reading the Bible, or being a Christian, but by looking at the world around him and stating conclusions that are evident.
Ironically, the first chapter of the book of Romans makes this same basic argument. Never-the-less, it is this line of logic which the Founding Fathers used as well, for they saw the goal of the government of a free people to be to search for the truth, which nature has provided, and apply that to every decision. This line of logic contrasts strikingly with the line of logic which many Americans adhere to today. Moral relativism is a theme that pervades American society, but in all practicality disagrees with the foundation on which America was built. An encyclopedia of philosophy defines moral relativism in the following manner: “Moral relativism, as opposed to other forms of relativism, is the view that moral standards are grounded only in social custom” (1).
There are many arguments for and against moral relativism, but the point is that American culture has lend itself to a belief that nearly any action or decision is justifiable if seen in the proper moral light.
Francis Beckwith writes the following on the issue: In moral debate in the United States today, many people resort to moral relativism. They argue that there are no objective moral values which help us to determine what is right or wrong. They claim “everything is relative.” In order to defend this position, the relativist puts forth two arguments: (1) Since people and cultures disagree about morality, there are no objective moral values; (2) Moral relativism leads to tolerance of practices we may find different or odd. These two arguments are seriously flawed. In addition, the moral relativist has a difficult time explaining moral progress, moral reformation, and clear-cut cases of moral saints and moral devils (1).
Even more important is the realization that moral relativism is one way in which the American people have turned away from the teaching of the Founding Fathers.
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This turning away from the Founding Fathers has had serious implications for American society, one of the most apparent being the degradation of the American family. On March 8, 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King spoke from the pulpit on courage and said: Deep down in our non-violent creed is the conviction there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they ” re worth dying for. And if a man happens to be 36-years-old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the door of his life-some great opportunity to stand up for what’s right (1).
Rev. King had an understanding of the things that are “eternally true” and he stood up for them just as the Founding Fathers had done years before.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton saw the turmoil that America was going through in regards to the truth and justice which the Founding Fathers had sought and which King died for. In Memphis, President Clinton addressed this issue and said: “‘But,’ [King] would say, ‘I did not live and die to see the American family destroyed. I did not live and die to see 13-year-old boys get automatic weapons and gun down 9-year-olds just for the kick of it… That is not what I came here to do… I fought for freedom,’ he would say, ‘but not for the freedom of people to kill each other with reckless abandonment for the freedom of children to impregnate each other with babies and then abandon them, nor for the freedom of adult fathers of children to walk away from the children they created and abandon them, as if they didn’t amount to anything'” (1).
President Clinton goes on to say that “it is our moral duty to turn this around” (2).
He realized that America had a moral obligation to do the right thing and that this moral obligation was not some idea of right and wrong that changes over the years and across cultures, but that it was the same laws of human nature as those sought after by the authors of the Constitution. Americans’ understanding and view of equality has also changed since the 1790 s. Since the establishment of the Constitution, America has continually strived to become a nation without racism, sexism, or any kind of prejudice.
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America had its struggles with slavery, with suffrage, and with racial discrimination, but all of these struggles have been in the hope that the American creed, the Protestant work ethic (Erosion 3), and the foundations of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, would be adopted to the fullest extent by every American. In the 1990 s, there has been a move away from this hope as well, and it has come in the form of multiculturalism. In the introduction to his Government 1582 class at Harvard, Professor Samuel Huntington argues that “In the decades before September 11 th… Multiculturalism was the rage in important intellectual circles… Race, which had been eliminated from the legal definition of national identity in the 1960 s, reappeared in law as the foundation of group rights. In academic and political circles, patriotism was denigrated” (1).
In his “The Erosion of American National Interests” Huntington stated that “the ideologies of multiculturalism and diversity… question a central element in the American Creed by substituting for the rights of individuals the rights of groups.” He also stated that America embodied “democracy, equality, republicanism” (4, 2).
If Americans’ understanding of one of those three crucial underpinnings of American existence has changed and lost its original purpose, has America not lost the very thing that embodies it? It is here that there is the disconnect between American national interest and American national identity, for the American government strives to uphold the tenets of truth that the Founding Fathers provided, while the people have lost sight of that truth. It is evident that the American national interest, embodied actively in the yearly release of the National Security Strategy, has in its interest those same tenets of truth that the Founders held so dear. The Preamble is quite clear about American interest. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America (1).
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The first line of the 1996 National Security Strategy reflects this resolve which the American government is called to embody: “Protecting our nation’s security-our people, our territory and our way of life-is my Administration’s foremost mission and constitutional duty” (1).
However, this straight forward objective is coupled with a vast array of objectives which seem to have no clear direction. This problem can be attributed to the ending of the Cold War and the lack of an enemy to stand up against on the side of truth and justice (Erosion 1), but it can also be attributed to an unfocused national identity in the sense that the people have lost sight of what is important. This problem of establishing a clear set of national interests in the face of a changing national identity had to be addressed.
The Commission on America’s National Interests was established in order to help ensure that the US does not “lose its way” (1).
This commission has come to the conclusion that US national interests are hierarchical and fall into categories of vital and less vital interests (2).
Their definition of vital national interests is “conditions that are strictly necessary to safeguard and enhance Americans’s urvival and well-being in a free and secure nation” (5).
These are the elements which are necessary because they are required in order to uphold the objectives stated in the Preamble of the Constitution and discussed earlier. The elements which the commission have deemed vital are (1) to prevent, deter, and reduce threat of weapons of mass destruction; (2) to ensure allies’s urvival and commitment to developing a thriving international community; (3) to prevent emergence of hostile states; (4) ensure strength and stability of major global systems; and (5) establish productive relations consistent with national interest (Commission 3).
These national interests are consistent with the interests and objectives discussed in the 2002 National Security Strategy. They also comprise a sufficient group of national interests because if any one of these interests were to fail, the entire group would fail. If each aspect of the group is successful, America will continue to have the strength it currently enjoys. It is this group of interests which are vital because any other national interest, if compromised, would “not strictly imperil the ability of the US government to safeguard and enhance the well being of Americans in a free and secure nation” (6).
Some examples of these interests which could be considered important to the nation, but not vital are (1) to prevent, deter, and reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction anywhere; (2) to “promote the acceptance of international rules of law and mechanisms for resolving or managing disputes peacefully”; (3) to “prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon”; and (4) to “prevent massive, uncontrolled immigration across US borders” (Commission 6).
Despite many objectives being national interests, only some are vital national interests, and most are interests which every first world country must incorporate into their objectives.
The 2002 National Security Strategy is a crucial document for understanding the ties between national identity and national interest because it was released after the attacks of September 11 th, but not so soon afterward that it reflects the shock of a nation. Instead it reflects a nation with resolve to return to its roots of moral truth in order to defeat the evil of terrorism. The National Security Strategy of 2002 has more of a moral direction than that required by the general set of vital national interests already established. This moral direction is possible due to America possessing “unprecedented and unequaled strength in the world” (1).
On top of the vital national interests, America has the opportunity to use its strength for decades of peace and prosperity as well as “championing aspirations for human dignity” (1).
The National Security Strategy for 2002 sees America as having a duty to the world to defend liberty at every corner of the globe and states that America will fight for “a peace that favors liberty” (1).
Samuel Huntington appears to have been correct in his “The Erosion of American National Interests” in arguing that it is in times of danger that people are truly able to reevaluate who they are and come together as a unified nation (1-3).
Despite the fact that America has been able to unify following the terrorist attacks, the issue still remains that American society and American national identity has changed over the years, but it is possible that the September 11 th attacks provided an opportunity for Americans to consider whether their beliefs about the hierarchy of truth are consistent with the historic American creed upon which the nation was founded. In this light, it is possible that the attacks of September 11 th were a blessing for the American nation despite at the same time being a tragic event in American history. Having analyzed American national identity and American national interest, it has become clear that there is a tie between the identity and the interest, but that the national interest does not derive directly from the national identity. Instead, it appears that the national interest strives to stay aligned with the Constitutional teachings of the Founding Fathers, even when those who compose the national identity-the people-have lost sight of that truth and foundation.
Since American identity is so tied to the morals, the belief, the creed of the people, it is essential that Americans come back to the realization of the Founding Fathers-that there are inalienable truths and America should be about the business of finding and establishing those for the good of mankind. Works Cited Allison, Graham. “America’s National Interests: A Report from The Commission on America’s National Interests.” 18 Apr 2003 web > Bassano, Luigi. “The Bankruptcy of the Republican School.” EbscoHost. Chisholm, Shirley. House of Representatives.
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