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The Liberal Man’s Burden

For over a hundred years, the United States has gone on trying to feed and cure the world, sacrificing for others and seeing nothing in return.

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Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936

Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936



The Pax Americana has not cured world hunger or disease, it has not brought peace and freedom to the world. What it has done is applied band aids, thrown off a dictator here or there, fed a few children and brought the occasional glimpse of light. But the light has never endured. Sooner or later it breaks down again, if not in the same ways, then in new and more troubling ways.

A people cannot be uplifted, they can only uplift themselves. That is the fallacy of the burden with all its weary futility. Americans cannot teach Pakistanis to be Americans. They cannot even teach them to be better Pakistanis. Only the Pakistanis stand any chance of teaching themselves that. America cannot fix Africa. Only Africa can fix Africa. And only America can fix America.

Every nation has its own journey to make and its own path to walk and no other nation can make the journey for it. Some will not make it and others will. But no nation can make another nation moral and no nation can make another civilized.

America has a duty to behave morally, but it does not have a duty to make other nations moral. The virtue of helping others only extends insofar as they can be helped. Only when that help is extended beyond the point where they can be helped or where they wish to be helped, does it become a burden. And a burden is carrying that which ought to be able to carry itself.

The difference between aid and empire, is that when aid is unending then it becomes empire, when there is no foreseeable point at which it ends and when extending it ensures dependency rather than the alleviation of a temporary condition, then it is not aid but empire. And that which can carry itself but chooses not to becomes a permanent burden and a corrupt power relationship is born built on revulsion and dependency, the familiar one of the welfare state where the master is the slave and the slave is the master, becomes a stain on two pairs of souls.

Exceptionalism is the core of nationalism. There are no shortage of nations that believe that they are fated to save the world. And to its credit the United States has saved the world, but saving the world is not the same thing as changing it. Resources and determination extended and expended in the right place and at the right time can save the world. But changing the world requires more than that, it requires even more than the big ideas that people imagine change the world, it requires that people take responsibility for their own actions and their own consequences.

The liberal man’s burden acts in direct opposition to this, lifting away actions and consequences, and retarding the development of entire nations. Instead of making the world a better place, it makes it worse and instead of bringing progress, it turns the clock back, because moral colonialism is in its own way no different from any other kind of colonialism.

The most devastating aspect of colonialism is that it destroys a people’s faith in itself, in its own power, its own judgement and its own industry. And it is doubly devastating when it had little of these things to begin with. The moral empire undermines the character of a people almost as well as its more brawny cousin does. It takes away any reason for progress and then wonders why that progress never seems to materialize.

The liberal man’s burden is based on an unspoken superiority, the superiority which attends all liberal humanitarian impulses, the superiority of the sensitive man or woman who is ethically aware over the ethically unaware. But this superiority is a fleeting thing when the savage wars of peace begin and the price to be paid for trying to teach ethics to the unethical itself comes to seem highly unethical.

War is not made for either the preservation of the moral high ground or for its export to foreign parts. It is not fought to bring about a global state of peace, but so that those who fight it shall have peace, anything else is foolishly futile and a self-nullifying act that ends up shedding more blood than it saves.

Daniel Greenfield

About the Author: Daniel Greenfield is an Israeli born blogger and columnist, and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His work covers American, European and Israeli politics as well as the War on Terror. His writing can be found at http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/ These opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.


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