Mark Mitchell’s reflection on the meaning of conservatism in America from last week is worth reading. Here he is addressing the proposition that “America is the last best hope of the world”:
Finally, is America the last best hope of the world? So-called liberals and conservatives both seem required to at least pay lip service to this notion, and to question this axiom would be the kiss of death for a politician, especially on the right. The religion of Americanism is the belief that the nation can do no wrong, for it possesses a divine mission to spread the ideals of free markets and political liberty to a waiting world. While not all conservatives are religious, many are, and conservatives, both religious and non, reject the idolization of this nation or any nation for that matter. For the Christian, the last best hope of the world is the church, through which Christ is made manifest. The conservative recognizes the theological danger of confusing the State for the Church, and he also sees the political danger, for baptizing the nation undercuts any ability to criticize its actions. “My county, right or wrong” is not the cry of the patriot but the chant of the idolater.
I don’t disagree with any of this, but there are a few things that need to be added. Thinking of America as the “last best hope of earth” is an important part of the religion of Americanism, but not everyone who accepts this idea necessarily endorses all of the beliefs listed here. For instance, many liberals may still believe that the U.S. has an obligation to promote its “values” around the world without falling into the trap of thinking that the U.S., and particularly its government, can do no wrong. Put another way, adherents of Americanism can agree that America should embark on crusades without believing that America is without sin. Indeed, some liberal interventionists express support for crusading overseas explicitly in terms of atoning for past national sins. One has to think of salvation in earthly and political terms to accept this idea fully, but it is also possible to confuse political salvation with the workings of Providence if one also accepts that America is a chosen nation.