The greatness of America is not an "ethnocentric" prejudice; it is an objective fact.
Not since the Revolutionary War has America faced a greater threat to its existence than it does today. A worldwide network of terrorists is bent on destroying us and everything we value. All the more reason to make clear on Flag Day the principles for which we stand.
In this age of diversity-worship, it is considered axiomatic that all cultures and countries are equal. Western culture--and its most consistent and highest expression, America--it is declared, is in no way superior to that of any other culture, not even to tribes of cannibals. To deny the equality of all cultures, claim most modern intellectuals, is to be guilty of the most heinous of intellectual sins: "ethnocentrism." It is to flout the "sacred" (and false) principle of cultural relativism. But the relativists are wrong--absolutely.
There are two fundamental respects in which American culture is objectively the best. The core values and achievements of American civilization--the values that made America great--are:
1. Reason. The Greeks were the first to identify philosophically that knowledge is gained through reason and logic as opposed to mysticism (faith, tradition, revelation, dogma). It would take two millennia, including a Dark Ages and a Renaissance, before the full implications of Greek thought would be realized. The rule of reason reached its zenith in the West in the 18th century--the Age of Enlightenment. "For the first time in modern history," writes one philosopher, "an authentic respect for reason became the mark of an entire culture." America is the epitome of Enlightenment thought.
2. Individual Rights. An indispensable achievement leading to the Enlightenment was the recognition of the concept of individual rights. John Locke demonstrated that individuals do not exist to serve governments, but rather that governments exist to protect individuals. The individual, said Locke, has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness. This was the founding philosophy of America. (America made a disastrous error by tolerating slavery, which originated elsewhere, but it was too incongruent with America's core principles of reason and rights to endure and was corrected in the name of those principles.)
The triumph of reason and rights made possible the full development and application of science and technology and, ultimately, modern industrial society. Once man's mind was freed from the tyranny of religious dogma, and man's productive capacity was freed from the tyranny of state control, scientific and technological progress followed. Men began to understand the laws of nature. They invented machinery. They engaged in large-scale production, that is, the creation of wealth. This wealth, in turn, financed and motivated further invention and production. As a result, horse-and-buggies were replaced by automobiles produced by Henry Ford, wagon tracks by steel rails produced by Andrew Carnegie, and candles by electricity harnessed by Thomas Edison. At last, after millennia of struggle, man became the master of his environment.
The result of these core achievements was an increase in freedom, wealth, health, comfort, and life expectancy unprecedented in the history of the world. These Western achievements were greatest in the country where the principles of reason and rights were implemented most consistently--the United States of America. In contrast, it was precisely in those (third-world) countries, which did not embrace reason, rights, and technology, where people suffered (and still suffer) most from both natural and man-made disasters (famine, poverty, illness, dictatorship) and where life expectancy was (and is) lowest. It is said that primitives live "in harmony with nature," but in reality they are simply victims of the vicissitudes of nature--if some dictator does not kill them first.
The greatness of America is not an "ethnocentric" prejudice; it is an objective fact. This assessment is based on the only proper standard for judging a culture or a society: the degree to which its core values are pro- or anti-life. Pro-life cultures acknowledge and respect man's nature as a rational being who must discover and create the conditions which his survival and happiness require--which means that they advocate reason, rights (freedom), and technological progress.
Despite its undeniable triumphs, America and its flag are by no means secure. Its core principles are under attack from every direction--not only by foreign terrorists but by people in our own country--by religious zealots who want to undermine the separation of church and state, and by our own intellectuals, who denounce reason in the name of skepticism, rights in the name of special entitlements, and progress in the name of environmentalism. We are heading toward the destruction of our core values and toward the dead end of nihilism. The Stars and Stripes, which represent the core values and achievements of America, must be waved proudly and defended to the death. And the values underlying the flag must be understood. Our lives depend on it.
Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Motivation at the University of Maryland at College Park and is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.