To Create a New World?
American "Exceptionalism" and the Origins of the
We have it in our power to begin the world over again.
— Thomas Paine
Common Sense, 1776
America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own.
— John Quincy Adams
July Fourth Address, 1821
1989 brought the end of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the cold war, and presaged even more unanticipated drama. As these breathtaking events entered America's consciousness, the nation rejoiced in the apparent, and long prophesied, triumph of American ideals worldwide. The quick victory over Iraq in early 1991 added relish to the victory feast, causing an unusually popular President Bush to proclaim a "New World Order," by which he, and his listeners, meant a world more nearly conforming to the political and economic norms we associate with American-led western society: rule of law, democratic elections, market economics, and the advancement of individual rights, all within the context of a world of cooperating sovereign nations. The United Nations, many Americans began to say, could now be the energizing institution of that new world, just as its founders had intended, and just as it had only now, against the aggressor Saddam Hussein, proved it could be. With the cold war over, the West triumphant, and market economics intruding everywhere, there was a possibility, it seemed suddenly, of a serendipitous truce between the rival American foreign policy views of, on the one hand, a distant, cool, realistic appraisal of the outside world ("realism"), and on the other, a commitment to making the world over, preferably in the image of some idealistic vision of what we had become ("idealism"). The truce was possible because for Americans the real world now appeared to conform to our idealized version. As President Bush, surveying the worldwide rush to free markets, free speech, and