By Aaron Smargon ’11
This marks my last issue as Publisher of the Tory, and for my final “Publisher’s Letter” I wish to share a view that my Princeton professors and peers have rarely espoused, but that the Tory has always championed: American exceptionalism. It was this very concept that Woodrow Wilson channeled when in an 1896 oration he coined the University’s unofficial motto, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” A century later the words “And in the Service of All Nations” were added, ostensibly to include international students in the Tiger family. Yet this well-intentioned shift has come at a consequence. Today, not a week goes by without a plethora of Princetonians asking me why the United States cannot be more like any other developed nation. And not a day goes by without my asking myself, “Is Princeton really an American university?”
The history of America has been defined by a fierce sense of independence, which is typically non-optimal, yet which has nevertheless allowed for the world’s most prosperous era of growth. Like all nations, we have our faults—but being different is not one of them. And so it disturbs me to hear some liberals in the Princeton community constantly berating the United States for promoting our “imperial” pro-capitalism and pro-liberty policies and for not providing more welfare to American citizens. It is as if they have lived their whole lives in European grass—and they know it to be greener—but they forget the Americans who fertilized it.
I am concerned less about this ungratefulness than I am about their utter ignorance. These Princetonians honestly believe that American ideals of self-ambition and self-reliance have become obsolete in the age of globalism, and in fact that they are a source of embarrassment: America’s uniqueness is the world’s weakness. If only we were to conform, then all the world’s problems would finally be solved.
American apologists are dead wrong for two reasons. First, those who settled in America did so precisely because they were escaping the shackles of the Old World. They sought to make a new life, regardless of the risk. It was the ability to pursue happiness within an economically, religiously, and politically free society that brought them here. To return to the ways of the Old World (even if it were more convenient) would require a violation of the principles that originally guided them to Lady Liberty’s shores. Ultimately, it would be an insult to the struggle and sacrifice of those who worked so hard to make America great.
Secondly, if we come to depend too much on the policies or protection of other nations, to whom will we turn when they potentially turn on us? In his 1796 Farewell Address (a century before Wilson’s oration), President George Washington cautioned against permanent foreign entanglements and the influence of other nations, even if they are perceived as friendly. On the world stage, whether overtly or covertly, every nation attempts to pursue power over others. If we were to withdraw from our pro-capitalism and pro-liberty policies, opposing forces could just as easily fill the void and subvert our way of life and that of others.
For being the world’s superpower for over half a century, the United States has shown extraordinary restraint and respect, and we should be proud of that. The recent pro-democracy protests in the Middle East, while identified partly as anti-American, represent at least the temporary triumph of democracy in a region where authoritarianism was once thought the only feasible form of rule. Without American influence in the Middle East, such protests would be unimaginable. For this reason, we must encourage more Princetonians to serve this nation: In doing so, we serve other nations.
I am pleased to announce Samuel Norton as the next Publisher of Tory. Sam, currently Managing Editor of the Tory and an Undergraduate Fellow of the James Madison Program, understands the unique position of the United States in world history, and I am honored to call him my successor.
Aaron Smargon ’11