Jewish World Review July 3, 2003 / 3 Tamuz, 5763

Thomas Sowell

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The Fourth of July | Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July? After all, we are taught from kindergarten to the universities that all cultures are entitled to equal respect. Why then celebrate the creation of a nation that is no better than any other nation?

Indeed, if you heard only the litany of sins from American history that our students get throughout their years in educational institutions, you might think that the United States was worse than a lot of other places.

Most people, however, believe their own eyes, their own ears and their own personal experiences. That is why America is like a magnet, drawing people from the farthest corners of the world. Talk show host Ken Hamblin wrote a book whose title says it all: Pick a Better Country.

Nothing is easier than finding worse countries. The mass graves discovered in Iraq, the persecution of women in Afghanistan, the atrocities in Rwanda, the starvation in North Korea, the continuing slavery in the Sudan, and the brutal totalitarianism in the left's beloved Cuba are just some examples that come immediately to mind.

Those who continue to repeat the dogma of "equal respect" for all cultures and the mindless mantra of being "non-judgmental" must have a faith which passeth all understanding. Do they seriously believe what they are saying or do they think this sort of cant is necessary in order to avoid being hit with a nasty label like chauvinist or racist?

Nobody claims that the remarkable prosperity, freedom and common decency among Americans are due to race because the American population is made up of people from all the races around the world. It cannot be natural resources because the Soviet Union and its successor states have had at least comparable resources. Yet that never translated into an American standard of living for ordinary people.

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It is hard to find a tangible thing to credit with the rare good fortune of the American people. But that only shows the importance of intangible things.

You cannot see, weigh or touch a culture but you can hardly avoid its impact. One remarkable feature of the culture that we have all inherited from the Anglo-American tradition is the rule of law. When the British beheaded King Charles I, it established in unmistakable terms that no one was above the law. That has become part of the legacy of the whole English-speaking world.

In recent years, economists have begun to understand the enormous effect of the rule of law on economic progress. Where there is no rule of law, the richest natural resources and even an educated professional class mean little in terms of raising a country's standards of living.

One of the other legacies of Western civilization is a universalism that is foreign to many other cultures and is new even in the West, having developed only within the past couple of centuries -- and of course having developed imperfectly, as all things human are imperfect.

Perhaps nothing so epitomized this universalism as Queen Victoria's weeping when she read Uncle Tom's Cabin. There could be no greater social distance than that between the ruler of the largest empire the world had ever known and a slave being whipped on the other side of an ocean. But she recognized that we are all people, whatever our status or condition.

Simple as this might seem, it would never have occurred to Genghis Khan to be concerned about the sufferings of others, except as a source of amusement and aggrandizement. And it would never have occurred to those in the Middle East who danced in the streets on September 11, 2001.

How can you square universalism with slavery? You can't. That is what ultimately destroyed slavery in the West and led the West to destroy slavery in other parts of the world -- over the bitter opposition of non-Western cultures.

Tragically, it has recently become fashionable in the West to move backward from universalism toward tribalism, as the intelligentsia seek to Balkanize and promote collective guilt by race. They will never succeed so long as we all celebrate the Fourth of July as Americans.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)


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