Obama, Patriotism, and Cosmopolitanism

Speaking in Independence, Missouri, on June 30, Sen. Barack Obama gave what may be called his “I am a patriot” speech. He said that “the question of who is — or is not — a patriot all too often poisons our political debate.” He then displayed his own patriotic credentials by declaring, “Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given.” To be patriotic, he said, was “how I was raised. It was what propelled me into public service. It is why I am running for president.” 

I am willing to stipulate that Obama is a sincere patriot. Even though I’m not a great fan of his, I have no doubt that if he’s elected president he will do the best he can to protect and advance what, to his lights, are the best interests of the United States.

At the same time, I think there is some merit in the suspicion that some people have, namely that there is a not-quite-patriotic aroma about his candidacy. It is not Obama personally whose patriotism is “soft”; the softness is found in the patriotism of many of his supporters, his contributors. I refer to the “Move-on-dot-org” wing of the national Democratic Party.

These people, in addition to being hardcore supporters of abortion and same-sex marriage as well as semi-pacifist when it comes to use of American military power, are cosmopolitans. The English word comes from two Greek words, “cosmos” (world) and “polis” (city). Thus these Obama cosmopolitans are “citizens of the world,” and their world-citizenship, a universal thing, takes precedence in their minds over their American citizenship, which is a somewhat parochial thing.

Of course, the fact that you’re a citizen of the world, a cosmopolitan, doesn’t mean that you cannot at the same time be a loyal and patriotic American, just as being a patriotic American doesn’t prevent you from being a loyal citizen of, say, New Jersey. In fact, being a loyal American may help you to be a better citizen of New Jersey than you would be otherwise; for you can improve your smaller community (New Jersey) by bringing to it the higher values you have acquired by being a citizen of the larger community (the United States). By the same token, won’t you be a better citizen of the United States by bringing to it the higher values you have acquired by being a citizen of the largest community of all: the cosmopolis, the world-city, the universal community of mankind?

The trouble with this argument is that there is no such thing as a community of mankind; except as a metaphor, there is no world-city, no universal community. Perhaps someday there will be. Someday maybe there will be a single organized community that will embrace the entire human race — a society that will have a world government, a world capital city, a universal language, a universal legal system, a universal police force, a universal school system, a single currency and banking system, etc. And maybe we’ll be better off when that happens. Or then again, maybe we won’t. Who knows?



But at the moment there is no such community, and it won’t be until some distant future date, if ever, that such a cosmopolis comes into being. We easily fool ourselves on this because nowadays we tend to use the word “community” in a loose and careless way. Often one hears the word used to refer to some quite unorganized or barely organized category of people (e.g., the “community of motorcycle riders” or the “heterosexual community”). But there is all the difference in the world between an unorganized “community” and a genuinely organized community. 

In the realm of religion, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest community, and it is a community in the literal sense, i.e., it is organized. It has a president (the pope), it has a capital (Rome), it has a structure of government, it has laws, it has common beliefs, it has common values and morals, it has regular meetings that all members are expected to attend (weekend Masses), etc. When somebody says, “I am a Catholic,” he is asserting something positive, namely that he holds membership in a very definite organization. By contrast, when somebody says, “I am a cosmopolitan,” he is not saying something positive; he is not asserting membership in any organized community. Just the opposite: He is saying something negative; he is saying, “I have risen above patriotism, above narrow loyalty to a nation-state. I am at best a ‘soft’ patriot.”

In the realm of secular affairs, the nation-state is the highest organized community. It is probable that the age of the nation-state — an age that began roughly at the time of the American and French Revolutions — is coming to a gradual end. In Europe two horrible world wars plus the rise of the European Union have made it increasingly difficult for people to have feelings of strong national attachment. Fewer and fewer Europeans are any longer able to view their particular nations as communities having absolute value, communities it would be worth dying for. But the EU, despite the omnipresence of its flag in many parts of Europe, is not an adequate emotional substitute for the fading nation-state; the EU does not attract the loyalty and love of individuals that nations once did. Not many Frenchmen are still willing to die for France, but there is no Frenchman willing to die for the EU.

In the United States, patriotism of the highly nationalistic kind still thrives — at least among a very sizeable portion of the population. Very many Americans still have a strong and rather old-fashioned belief in our particular nation-state. Flag-waving patriotism, though it seems rather a narrow-minded thing when looked at from a cosmopolitan point of view, is still a powerful emotion in the United States.

But it is not an emotion that is universally shared. There is an important section of our population — well-educated, fairly affluent, not very religious — that has adopted the cosmopolitan point of view. They don’t precisely sneer at old-fashioned American patriotism. But they smile at it. They regard it as a characteristic weakness of their socially and intellectually inferior fellow Americans.

For the most part, these cosmopolitans are Obama supporters, and “hard” patriots have an intuitive sense of this fact. That’s why many of them wonder about Obama’s patriotism.


David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • David

    You do indeed, Mr. Carlin!

    Gee. I’ve been on this earth for 60 years and I’ve never ever heard one person I’ve met anywhere describe himself by saying, “I am a cosmopolitan.”

    “Of course, the fact that you’re a citizen of the world, a cosmopolitan, doesn’t mean that you cannot at the same time be a loyal and patriotic American…” unless, of course, you are a Democrat and/or a supporter of Barack Obama. Then, you are well-educated, fairly affluent, not very religious, semi-pacifist, a supporter of abortion and same-sex marriage, quasi-sneering and unpatriotic. Oh, and YOU STINK. (“…there is a not-quite-patriotic aroma about his candidacy.”)

    So, here we have, amidst faux high-minded meanderings about community and the nation-state, yet another fantastical, overly generalized, stereotypical, partisan, narrow-minded, omniscient, intolerant and sneering (full, not quasi) attack against anything Obama. Surprise.

    “I am willing to stipulate that Obama is a sincere patriot.”

    How small of you.

  • Deal Hudson

    Carlin has hit the nail on the head with this one — he’s put words on something I have struggled to express, that is, the world view of those who condescend toward traditional expressions of patriotism.

  • Carol

    Thanks, Mr. Carlin.

    For these “cosmopolitan” Obama supporters, patriotism is “divisive”, the new code word to strike down traditional values and conservative positions.

  • Joe

    Are you willing to die for your country? Are you willing to protect and defend the rights and privileges that millions of Americans enjoy and take for granted on a daily basis?

    John McCain has my vote because I am Catholic and agree with his position on abortion. I disagree with his position on stem cell research.

    If McCain and Obama had identical positions on all of the important issues, McCain would still have my vote because of his military service.

    Does lack of military service make Obama less of a man?


    Does lack of military service make Obama less of a leader?

    Yes, in my book, at least.

    McCain was willing to die for our country. He protected and defended us in a time of war.

  • Carol

    McCain was willing to die for our country. He protected and defended us in a time of war. [/quote]
    What more could you ask for in a leader?

  • Ann

    My entire life I have heard every single position or philosophy that has any sort of belief in objective right and wrong, objectively measurable good or evil, or any other set of solid absolutes described as bad or divisive.

    The accusation is that to hold any sort of standard to which one seeks to conform is divisive or evil even.

    Relativism is as old as the garden.

  • Doug Moore

    I have not had anyone refer to themselves as a cosmopolitan. However, I have had several people self describe as citizens of the world. I felt on both occasions that I had understood them completely in the way you outline. A very fine description of this wide spread worldview.

  • R.C.

    A good piece.

    On one aspect, though, I wonder if it doesn’t strike a glancing blow. There is no world “cosmopolitan” community; however, the values of some kind of community are embraced by those who embrace cosmopolitanism. Whence these values?

    I think it’s fair to characterize the group of cosmopolitans as having their own group culture: post-national, post-ethnic, post-religious, post-moral. Chesterton refers to a state of society in which “its blessings no longer bless” where a successful society is “bored with its own success.” This, I think, captures the secular, cynical, skeptical mood of the cosmopolitan group culture.

    So it does have values to communicate. That they are bad values is beside the point; that they are vague values occludes the fact that they represent a distinct message.

    I raise this point because I see the battle between “American nationalism” and cosmopolitanism a bit more broadly.

    The cosmopolitan message is at war with another message, but I don’t think that message is entirely encompassed by calling it “American nationalism.”

    Instead, I propose the phrase, “Western Christendom culturalism” …for want of a better phrase.

    For although the wording is clumsy, I think what Americans are really behind — and what cosmopolitans really abhor — is a set of values of which the U.S. culture and government is merely an excellent example: Free markets, individual responsibility, upward mobility based on work ethic, personal charity rather than institutional dependency, constitutionally instituted and limited democratically elected republican government, love of the traditional family and of celebrations of the noble and the heroic, and respect for others’ beliefs which is, however, balanced with a longing to know the truth even at the cost of the “friction” of public debate.

    This is not uniquely American; you find it in the Brits, the Aussies, and elsewhere: Most prominently the former British colonies, though. It is a good thing. Though it is an imperfect thing, it is a thing worth defending.

    “My country right or wrong” is an evil philosophy. But I defend my country, and even hold a certain degree of nationalism about it, largely because of what it represents: These values which are so worthy and noble, and so undermined by cosmopolitanism. I want to make sure that the great good represented by the traditions of Christendom as they linger in the West “does not perish from the earth.”

  • Deal Hudson

    R.C., I don’t think you are saying it is “nationalistic” to attend to the needs of your own country. But I do think that some folks view legitimate self-interest in that way. As Carlin points out, nation states are real entities, the globe, the earth, the world are not, at least in the political sense. It reminds me of the lingering one-world government debate from the post-war era. Again, the meaning of serving the common good, so often mentioned on this blog, needs to be thrashed out with greater precision.

  • RCB

    Ever heard the wonderful phrase “citizen of the world”? I have. I’m 40 and attended secular private high school and college. I heard it a lot in fact. I’m sure in your 60 years you’ve run across it a time or two. Ever driven behind a car with a “Think globally, Act locally” sticker? Same impulse. There is a significant body of elite opinion that sees the nation-state as passe’ and traditional patriotism as mere jingoism and militarism. And yes, those attitudes tend to go along with political liberalism, which this year is exemplified by the Obama campaign.
    But rather then think about that, or engaging the points Mr. Carlin made, simply dismiss criticism of Obama as “fantastical, overly generalized, stereotypical, partisan, narrow-minded, omniscient, intolerant and sneering “. And then bemoan the lack of civility in our political debate.

  • david pence

    Mr Carlin, ever the sociologist, is writing about something very fundamental here. I would hope in Catholic forums this political election year we might discuss the nature of political loyalty and organized civic community with precisely this kind of seriousness. Loyalty to a particular nation state is as biblical as the promise to Abraham. The nation like marriage is a particular form of Christian friendship and love. It is a great gift from our forefathers that this national brotherhood is so clearly expressed in local institutions of city and state.(Very mindful of the diocesan character of the Catholic church) The fact that Europeans have a diminished love of country and willingness to die for their public community is not a sign of the “progressive future” but a sure indicator of decadence. They do not love a real God(but are spiritual)nor a real country(but are citizens of the world) nor a partiuclar woman forever(marriage is an institution– who wants to live in an institution?).
    It is not an distraction that several respondents to Mr Carlin quickly resonate with Senator McCain’s military service. For the nation is built on a masculine wilingness to form a fighting group ready to die and prepared to punish enemies and threats to the common good(Blessed are these peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God). As surely as the Catholic Church is built on a masculine priestly covenant sharing in a blood sacrifice so our civic life rests on the men of every city and county protecting out local communities and nation. Is it possible that if we understood the particularly masculine demmands of protective patriotism that we might find a new way also to address abortion as the cultural breakdown of female protection which was spawned in pot filled rented apartments we retired to after filling the streets with cries of “Hell no, we wont go!”. Men wouldnt be soldiers and women didnt want to be mothers but we all had a right to the “marriage act”.
    Catholics have a great deal to say about the structure of interpersonal loyalties and duties that form a real institutional Church and a real territorially and constituionally defined civic life. Thanks to Mr Carlin for getting us in the right conversation.

  • RK

    It seems to me that “cosmopolitans” is a good term to describe the liberal, globalist types alluded to above. These folks, who surely are big supporters of Obama, have never seen a government program they didn’t like.

    That said, I think there’s another type of American who wears the flag proudly and will blindly support any Republican sponsored program. The Republicans seem to have learned from their friends across the aisle and found ways to spend and grow the government. The base offers no resistance because that would be “unpatriotic.” Conservative notions of limited government and love of liberty have been replaced by worship of the state and its presumed infallibility. There seems to be a fear that our freedoms are threatened by the “cosmopolitans” and that only the government can save us from…the…ah…government! In my view this is a misplaced faith in our peculiar American dualism.

    Both of the major parties have learned to coexist and share different pieces of the federal pie. To borrow from George Wallace, there seems to be less than a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.

  • Adriana

    There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism – as noted by George Orwell, and lately by John Lukacs, and the gist of this is that while patriotism is a legitimate love of one’s country and the desire to make it better, nationalism is a dangerous violent strain that seeks to destroy other nations for the aggrandizement of one’s own.

    Nationalism means that noting is above the nation, not even the moral law. Patriotism means being able to criticize one’s country. A great Spanish patriot, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera said in this respect “We love Spain because she does not please us”, that is he loved it with a will to perfection.

    Another great patriot G. K Chesterton said that “My country, right or wrong is the same as My mother, drunk or sober.”

    Your article does not make me doubt that Obama may not be a patriot, but makes me wonder if you are a nationalist.

  • Brian

    Is this a suggestion that we are to never look beyond our own little boundaries? Is this a suggestion that solidarity with the other is a vice? Is this a suggestion that anyone who tries to reach out to the other is automatically a leftist? Is this a suggestion that we are to never welcome other ethnic groups into our family, whatever that may be?

    Thank you for allowing me to ask questions. I apologize if I made an unintentional slur. However, xenophobia is very a danger for those overreacting to the so-called New World Order.

  • Diana

    Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.

    To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. (1918)

    When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.

  • Diana

    There are two visions of America. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, hostile to science, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America as a religious nation. It views patriotism as allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom.

    The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution and in the leaders of this nation who embraced the age of reason. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces science and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism as love of country and of the people who make it strong. It defends all citizens against unjust coercion and irrational conformity.

    This second vision is our vision. It is the vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it and strong enough to defend it against all its enemies.

  • Klaire

    Thanks David and all who commented; wish this article was running in the secular press. It’s simply excellent, as well as the comments!

  • Diana


    Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

  • R.C.


    In reading my own earlier post, I find that it too suffers from vagueness and a lack of structured focused thinking. I’ll try to do better.

    Re: “Nationalism”: The form of nationalism I could favor is something that some would not call nationalism at all; namely, the notion that a particular country’s values…or, if not all of them, then most of the most important ones, or the ones most distinctive to that country…represented an objective moral improvement over the other alternatives elsewhere in the world.

    To the extent that America is anti-slavery, for example, I could be accused of being a pro-American nationalist by hoping to export that value elsewhere (like, say, North Africa or Thailand, where it continues apace, though in not quite the same form that led to the American War of Secession).

    Of course, America isn’t distinctively anti-slavery; other countries are too. But if you look to other ideals and values where America was perhaps the greatest innovator (constitutional limited republican government, for example) and where America remains somewhat distinctive, then, in those areas, is my wish to (a.) preserve and (b.) export the “American way” rightly described as nationalism?

    Subsidiarity comes in to play: Some things should differ between countries. But let us agree that it is not a good thing that slavery should still exist in some places; ergo, there are some “American values” (yes, I know, the Brits got there first) which it has been good to export.

    Of course, American political philosophy also has its roots in the Common Law of England. So when I consider that so much of what I think is good about the U.S.A. is not, or is no longer, unique to the U.S.A., I am forced to call myself not a “nationalist,” but a “something-else-ist.”

    I am forced to look for a broader identity than that of the U.S.A., which encompasses the lands where these values tend to hold. To try to describe that identity, I constructed the (admittedly clumsy) phrase “Western Christendom.”

    Even that isn’t quite right, but I hope you see my meaning.

    In any event, my love of America is partly because it is the land in which I was raised, and I like the scenery better there than anywhere else. (Indeed, I am specifically partial to the Southeastern United States near the Blue Ridge Mountains.)

    But the remaining part is related to the values for which America stands — or, at least, ought to stand, and hopefully will continue to stand, if the cosmopolitans don’t get their way.

    And I hope that America can maintain its ability to exemplify certain good values, so that it will remain a light to the world in that way. Not the only light to the world (others have beneficial attributes, too), and not the Light Of The World (that’s Our Lord), but a light: A little mirror reflecting some of God’s justice and mercy, as enshrined in a pretty darned good political and economic system.

    The world benefits from such little lights, and I’d hate to lose America’s.

  • RCB

    For the most part (other then nativsim of the Klan or Know-nothing variety) the US has been pretty much immune to ethnic/racial nationalism in the European mold. What much of the “cosmopolitan” class (and perhaps Obama, deep down) now objects to is the notion of American Exceptionalism.
    Samuel Huntingdon’s ” Who Are We” makes some claims about Hispanic immigration that can be debated, but his description of an elite culture whose members feel they’ve transcended national identity strikes me as undeniable.

  • David W.

    I don’t ignore the provincial, insular and at times myopic way America culturally interacts with the world. I oppose “American Exceptionalism,” because it is a modern re-boot of Americanism, a heresy condemned by the Church. That doesn’t mean I hate America, I just don’t ignore its faults and wouldn’t be so foolish as to declare that “we’re the best!” when technically, we aren’t. We are leaps ahead of other countries in some areas, and in other areas foreign countries are leaps ahead of us….but lets not blind or kid ourselves about things. America is unique in many respects, and we have great achievements that we can boast about…and I wouldn’t trade my citizenship away…this is my home, my country. But to criticize Obama because he somehow “isn’t one of us” is ridiculous. The man is an upper crust, Harvard educated lawyer. I expect him to act like an upper crust, Harvard educated lawyer. This “I’m an average joe” schtick is, to use a crude term bull**** and needs to be nipped in the bud.

  • John Jakubczyk

    …from Harvard educated lawyers.

  • Adriana

    American excepcionalism is pride, starting from the basic truth that America has something to offer the world and from then leaping to two unwarranted conclusions: that no one else has anything of value to offer, and that it is our duty to force it down the throat of anyone else.

    Both are manifestations of pride, and can lead to monumental lapses of judgement.

    It was the belief that America had to export Democracy and free their neighbors from the yoke of kings that led James Madison to attempt to liberate Canada by invading it – which led to the White House being burned down (Canadians today gleefully chant “The White House burned, burned, burned. And we’re the ones who did it”.)

    It was the same belief about exporting American ideals that led Wilson to invade Mexico to try to straighten up its politics. Did not work. Later on he got the US into World War I, a war in which may be said that there was little that was not made worse by it. Basically, it was a war that led to Kaiser Wilhelm, a crowned ninny. to be replaced by Adolph Hitler. And bumbling, well-meaning Nicholas II to be replaced by Joseph Stalin.

    The idea that you are the savior of the world and that you have the duty to act as a bull in a China shop “for their own good” is a temptation from the Evil One.

    There is one people who were Chosen. Centuries later, Tevye the Milkman would ask God “Couldn’t you choose someone else for a change?”

  • Deal Hudson

    R.C., it seems you are identifying what you like about our nation with the part of its culture shaped by natural law, which I think is more than a “glancing blow” but a direct hit.

  • R.C.

    David W:

    The man [Obama] is an upper crust, Harvard educated lawyer. I expect him to act like an upper crust, Harvard educated lawyer.

    Yes. And, to fall prey to all the kinds of sophisticated unreason and ignorance which to which the country rube is immune, and which are only ever swallowed whole by “an upper crust, Harvard educated lawyer.”

  • R.C.

    In my previous post, presumably under the hexed influence of some vexed witch, I added an extra which which didn’t belong. Please disregard the which which most makes you itch. I’d complain about our inability to edit posts after posting, but I don’t wish to b**ch.

  • Daily Prayer

    John Jakubczyk wrote: …from Harvard educated lawyers.

    If only God had saved us from the patrician C-average Yale undergrad and Harvard MBA(?).

    God please save us from the candidate who graduated 894/899 in his class at the Naval Academy.

  • R.C.


    American excepcionalism [sic] is pride…The idea that you are the savior of the world and that you have the duty to act as a bull in a China shop “for their own good” is a temptation from the Evil One.

    It is a fallen world. Some country, or group of countries, will inevitably take the leadership role in world affairs through mere exercise of initiative and influence: Thus ’twas ever, and there is no reason to believe this will change.

    Since American exceptionalism is inherently sinful, and since we are enjoined to flee from sin, there is but one Godly course: Let us not act when our judgment tells us we ought to do so; let us instead become inactive in all things save almsgiving; let our sole fault be that we are aloof to the point of indolence. We shall then be immune to the sin of prideful decisiveness.

    The world will, after all, be better served by an America who sins only by omission, and never by commission. And incidentally, having world culture, trade, and governance influenced more heavily by China, India, and Russia than by the United States is surely not too high a price to pay to reverse a history rife with the arrogance of rank assertiveness.

    On a related note, there is a third-world hunger problem in need of solving, and I have read somewhere that “a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.” We could make the sin of abortion a thing of distant memory were American parents only aware of these details, and in the mood to forgo their usual family planning methods in favor of something more sensitive to the table-needs of the African poor.

  • Adriana

    RC, are you aware that if Wilson had not obeyed the dictates of
    exceptionalims and kept out of WWI, or at most helped to negotiate a peace:

    The Communists would not have come to power in Russia.
    The Nazis would dnot have come to power in Germany.
    The Austro-Hungarian empire would not have broken down into small nations much given to ethnic cleansing.
    There would have been no need to fight World War I
    Without Communism, there would have been no Cold War.

    Think about it.

  • R.C.

    Awareness implies knowledge.

    Knowledge implies a degree of certainty.

    I am aware that little of what you suggest is more certain than a flip of a coin. I am therefore not aware of the suggestions themselves.

    “Child,” said Aslan, “have I not told you before that no one is ever told what would have happened?

  • David W.

    I am not holding Obama on a pedestal. My point is that the attempts by both candidates to appeal to “the average person” is an insult to my intelligence and pandering of the worst sort. People accuse Obama of Elitism. I say…so what if he is? He is an elite…people talk like thats some horrible thing. I have no issue with elites, nor do I suffer from class envy or the favorite past time of “soak the rich.” The only questions a person should be asking are: Can he do the Job? AND How will he do the Job?

  • Adriana

    Please tell how much worse off we would be if the czar had kept his throne, or the Kaiser his.

  • R.C.


    Please tell how much worse off we would be if the czar had kept his throne, or the Kaiser his.

    No one could possibly tell you that.

    The answer to “What if?” questions, even on a personal level, is always non-obvious. Any person’s life is full of tiny interactions of vast significance. Change one, and the result could, equally easily, be a beatification or the gallows.

    As for a nation not entering World War I, the ripples in history are far larger, yet equally uncertain in their outcome.

    The U.S. had huge financial investments in Britain and France, whose war debt to the U.S. was tremendous. Had they been defeated/conquered, these debts would not have been repaid, and the U.S. economy would have collapsed. With what result? Who can say?

    Mexico, with a near-colonial German presence, would likely have remained adversarial toward the U.S. The result? Who can say? Would the Germans have been able to make good on their bargain with Mexico, to return to her the states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico? What then would the U.S. have done, in the atomic age? Would the first such bomb have destroyed Mexico City? With what results? Who can say? What effect would that have had on 21st century Mexican oil production? Who can say?

    If the U.S. government refused to respond in a muscular way to the mounting public outrage which began with the sinking of the Lusitania and culminated with the Zimmerman Telegram, what would have happened? Together with the economic woes, the Federal Government might have had weakened authority; and the states been strengthened. Perhaps then Roe vs. Wade would have been decided in the opposite way? Or segregation not ended until the 21st century or later? Who can say?

    For my point is not that any of these things would have happened. I’d be a fool to assert that they would, for one cannot possibly know.

    My point is that you make certain errors in your original analysis:

    (1.) You assign a motive or attitude (“American exceptionalism”) to the American entry into World War I which ignores the other nine-tenths of the actual reasons;

    (2.) You assert, with undue confidence, a chain of causality from that decision to all kinds of consequences, some of which could have happened anyway, or, failing to happen, could have caused other worse things to have happened;

    (3.) You seem to assign moral culpability to the persons who made that decision for those consequences, most of which they could not have foreseen even if we grant that (a.) those consequences were necessarily and wholly caused by that decision, or (b.) that those consequences were worse than what would have happened had the opposite decision been made. I don’t grant either (a.) or (b.).

    All your argument, then, seems to assume for yourself a kind of omniscience which even 20/20 hindsight does not actually give; yet you seem ironically to fault those who made the decision, without benefit of hindsight, for a lack of the same omniscience.

    Had you confined your original statement to, “America should only believe it is exceptional in the ways that it actually is exceptional, and far from getting haughty as a result, she should be grateful to God and walk humbly with Him…” I would have sung your praises. There would have been no fault in such a sentiment.

    But the speculative-fiction view of history which accompanied that sentiment deserved correction: It was unrealistic, and if followed would lead to permanent inaction, forcing decision makers to act as moral cowards, not saints. That is why I objected.

  • Adriana


    While I enjoy alternative history (I have even written a piece of AH with Eamon de Valera as Spanish Premier – with no Spanish Civil War), my complaints about World War I, and the results of American intervention in it are not about what might have happened, but what it did:

    The collapse of the moral order prior to the war, when all restraints gone, what was latent became over.
    The importation of American-based eugenics into Europe (the first eugenic institute in Germany was started after the war, funded with American money).
    **The coming of Communism**
    **The coming of Nazism** as a panicked response to Communism.
    It might well be that if America had kept out of the war the results would have been worse, but I cannot imagine how.

    As for American exceptionalims, I want them to consider these facts about Nazism and Fascism:

    Eugenics: Fascist Italy did not have eugenics laws. Hitler copied instead the eugenics laws from the US, where thousands had been sterilized because they were of “inferior” stock.
    Institutionalized Racism: Fascist Italy had no racial purity laws. The Nuremberg statutes were very much like the American Jim Crow laws.
    Extermination of “inferior” peoples: Italy had no ideology to cover this. In America there were plenty of calls (and action) to exterminate the *savages* which impeded American destiny.

    YEs, Amercia has much to contribute to the world, but not everything that America has is to be exported.

  • David W.

    World War I is an interest of mine. Perhaps you’re correct, that the Holocaust might not have happened. There would have been no “scapegoating” of the Jews for loss of the war or a Versaille Treaty to be angry at. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean a second world war would not have occurred. The players in such a war might have been a little different, but thats all. Look at Germany for instance. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ceded virtually most of Eastern Europe to Germany to end the fighting in the East. Let us not mince words: The German war machine was superior to Britain and France combined, in BOTH World Wars. Had the United States NOT intervened, perhaps it would have been France who was the target of humiliation, as the Eastern German Army was transfered to the Western Front. Peace would have been declared eventually no doubt. Germany would have been the winner in any such settlement. Imperial Germany would have been much larger. Britain possibly would have had to cede a few overseas colonies to Germany as part of a peace settlement. France would have suffered a second humiliation, as not only Alsace-Lorraine was not recovered, but France would have had to “cut a deal” with Germany resulting in the loss of further territory. Such an arrangement would have sown anger in France and possibly Britain…fueling the fire for another future conflict. The Balance of Power would have been greatly upset, as Germany dominated central Europe. Austria would have limped on, but the nationalist tendencies were inevitable. I think that maybe Austria’s empire would have ended up annexed by a very expansive German Empire. A German Superstate would have been created, under the Hohenzollern Coat of Arms instead of the Swastika.

  • Whitcomb

    JFK, not someone normally associated with advocating world government, used the term “citizen of the world” twice in the final three paragraphs of his inaugural address, embuing the end of the speech with a strong sense of God and patriotism to boot:

    “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

    “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you–but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

    “Whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

  • Sam

    Mr Carlin,

    Spot on! As a dual citizen myself (Catholic Church and American, in that order), I can attest to the truth of what you write about. In the rather wealthy Boston suburbs I live and work in (although not wealthy myself), I see many Obama signs in the lawns of their McMansions. Plus, in the backyard of one house in Concord MA, (yes, that Concord, you know, birthplace of the American Revolution), I saw a flagpole with a white flag and a picture of the blue earth on it. This was a sophisticated citizen of the world, and not one of those unwashed rubes who still think of themselves as Americans and, gasp, pray or even, double gasp, own a gun! But the all-seeing, all-wise Lord Messiah Barack Obama will lead us out of the primitive wasteland of America into world citizenship.

  • david pence

    jfk’s speech is a remarkable reminder how individualized our public rhetoric has become. he speaks as the leader of a country and the great majority of the speech is addressed to other countries as countries. I never hear our candidates scour the world map like jfk does in that speech and speak to others as members of corporate bodies called nations. He had a robust brotherly sense of national identity as he had a robust ecclessial identity as a catholic. He never treats our citizens as recipients of the common treasury but he often evokes our civc identity as guards of a common wall. He speaks as a nation man to other nations. When he says “fellow” citizen of the world he then says wether you are a citizen of america or a citizen of the world. The way we are fellow citizens is that we are each citizens of a country. But i will grant their is kind of poetic citizen of the world that the nation man recognizes when we look to outer space and we face the physical problems which confront us as a global biosystem. And kennedy availed himself of this poetry.