But there is a way in which the question does
make sense, as an expression of concern about what the rise of a "non-universal"
nation will mean for the rest of the world.
Through the centuries of Western military,
technological, and economic dominance, "universalism" of some sort has been so
basic a part of international relations that it barely needed to be discussed.
The leaders of the French Revolution issued their Declaration of the Rights of
Man -- not the rights of Frenchmen. The Declaration of Independence began,
"When, in the course of human events," not "events in the colonies of North America."
With varying degrees of sincerity, Western colonialists tried to create replica
British, French, or American citizens in their colonies. Long before the
colonial era, Christian missionaries wanted to bring people worldwide to their
view of the one true universal faith.
The idea that anyone could -- and should -- "aspire"
to Western standards is simultaneously the most and least admirable part of the
Western tradition. Most admirable in advancing the principle that people of
different origins, races, and religions should be judged and valued by the same
standards. Least admirable in the gap between that principle and a
discriminatory reality, and in the condescension it implied for the unfortunate
non-Westerners of the world.
The best and worst parts of the American model
are intensified versions of this Western universalism. In theory, anyone can
become an American. Most Americans innocently, or pridefully, assume that in
fact most people around the world want to become Americans, and would if they
only had the chance. (And many do want exactly that.) The self-satisfaction of
this view can make non-Americans roll their eyes, but it is connected to the
factor that is the enduring secret of American national strength.
Modern America's power is often calculated in
material terms, from the size and strength of its military to the scale of its
corporate assets. But everything I have learned convinces me that these are finally
reflections of the country's success in attracting and enabling human talent.
That success, in turn, has depended on the fortunate interaction of many
different circumstances, rules, and decisions.
For the United States these have included
immigration policies that made it attractive for ambitious people to migrate
and realize their ambitions within American institutions and companies.
Persecuted Jews, Hungarians, Cubans, Vietnamese, Iranians, Ethiopians, Chinese,
in periods of turmoil in their respective countries; highly motivated Indians,
Mexicans, Dominicans, Russians, Nigerians, Irish, Poles, Pakistanis, and many
others through the decades. At their best, the levels of America's public-education
system, from grade school through Ph.D. programs, created opportunities for the
ambitious. A research establishment leveraged their work for public and private
benefit; an American pop culture kept renewing itself with outside stimulus
until it became for better and worse the pop culture of the world.