For better or worse, philosophical acceptance has rarely been America’s default frame of mind. As the Historical Analogy Police might hasten to note, here’s one place where analogies with a previous superpower, imperial Rome, break down badly. The Roman elites were a supremely self-satisfied lot whose motto might well have been the old advertising slogan “It doesn’t get any better than this.” With a faith that’s sometimes messianic, sometimes endearing, and often very destructive, Americans believe they can always make it better than this. From diets to diplomacy, we’re suckers for regime change. Is it possible that a little less faith in our convictions, and a little more skepticism toward our capacities, would itself be a form of self-improvement? It may yet be a while before Waking the Tiger and Getting to Yes are knocked off the shelves by If It Happens, It Happens and The Seven Habits of Humbly Accepting People. What we can say for sure is that many hundreds of thousands of Americans have endured tours of duty in Iraq. They are writing blogs and e-mails with a new word at their fingertips. They are returning home with a new word on their lips. It will have an impact on the American Experiment, inshallah.
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