Ethics as Convergence or Divergence?
Cosmopolitan and Communitarian Roots
How Moral Can We Get?
What Kind of Internationalism?
Human Rights, Security, Economics
Behind the Myths

My remarks throughout this lecture series are unified by two shared concerns: to evaluate the institutional arrangements that govern our interactions at the international level; and to evaluate choices we make as individual citizens, consumers, employees, policy makers, and members of civic and religious groups. In the first instance, we looked at both formal and informal arrangements, including the mechanics of international law, the rules of the global economic market, and the dynamics of national security arrangements ranging from alliances and deterrence policies to the realist convention known as the security dilemma. In the second instance, we examined the points of decision making within these given arrangements. In both of these roles—as evaluators of systems and actors—we are engaged in confronting the Socratic question of how one should live. My goal has been to confront Socrates' question by articulating some of the values and standards that we hope will guide us in distinguishing just and unjust social arrangements, and better or worse courses of conduct.

Today I want to focus on both system and actor yet again. The system at issue is international society itself, or what is commonly referred to as "the international community." This community is best recognized as the community of nations referred to in the UN charter, and the nations and civic groups that are proposing increased international cooperation on issues ranging from economic justice to environmental protection to de-militarization and disarmament. Specifically, I will address three issues before the international community today: the promotion and protection of human rights, the pursuit of peace and security, and the regulation of the global economy. The actor at issue is the United States. We inherit a mythology of America as a moral nation. My question is this: To what extent has the United States contributed to and/or detracted from a "just" or "better" international society? Can we make an assessment of America as a moral nation, and if so, what does that assessment show? Ethics as Convergence or Divergence?

It is important to stipulate that the liberal view of international peace and security is not the only way to think about international ethics. The cartoon version goes something like this. Since Westphalia, we have seen an increasing normative consensus around a body of ever thickening international moral norms. This convergence is seen as the strengthening of international law itself and the proliferation of international agreements ranging from the Hague laws of the early twentieth century to the Geneva conventions that followed. These norms and laws culminate in an emerging supranationlism reflected in instruments such as the Convention to Prevent and Punish Genocide, the Ottawa Treaty on the banning of anti-personnel landmines, and the new statute to establish a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). The key here is normative consensus, and the presumption is that ethics equates to the strengthening of this edifice.

There is of course a realist alternative that neither rejects normative consensus outright, nor goes in the other direction completely to dismiss all ethical concerns as irrelevant in the face of the imperative to maximize power and self-interest. The enlightened realist sees ethics as not so much the story of convergence, but rather the story of how one deals with divergence. The realist sees ethics as the negotiation of difference. He or she understands that contested issues of public policy are not contested because of misunderstanding or because they cannot be seen clearly. They are contested because they are matters of conflicting interests and competing moral choices.

While the convergence model is strong and important, in my estimation, it does not tell the whole story. The story of ethics and international affairs cannot simply be the story of increasing convergence around ever-stronger international moral norms, however attractive that model might be. The reality is that we live in a world of interlocking communities where differences are very real. It would be a mistake, as both Immanuel Kant and Isaiah Berlin reminded us, to try to straighten the "crooked timber of humanity." It is the temptation to purity—and the equal temptation to fix evil in the "other"—that has done more harm than good in human history. Cosmopolitan and Communitarian Roots

When asked where he came from, the Greek philosopher Diogenes would reply, "I am a citizen of the world." The Greek Stoics gave us the idea of cosmopolitanism—meaning literally, citizen of the cosmos or world. The cosmopolitan outlook holds that one's "highest allegiance must be to the community of human kind, and that the first principles of practical thought must respect the equal worth of all members of that community." This is opposed to the so-called communitarian view that emphasizes sensibilities and attachments rooted in group affiliation and national traditions. If we see the world as a series of concentric circles, beginning with self, extending to family, neighbors, fellow countrymen, and so on, the task of the cosmopolitan is to "draw the circles somehow closer to the center." As the philosopher Martha Nussbaum puts it, "Diogenes knew that the invitation to think as a world citizen was, in a sense, an invitation to be an exile from the comfort of patriotism and its easy sentiments, to see our own ways of life from the point of view of justice and the good."

Cosmopolitanism emphasizes moral commitment to all of humanity, and humanity itself serves as the ultimate reference point. This is not to say that cosmopolitanism neglects local needs; in fact, Nussbaum herself writes, "Politics, like child care, will be poorly done if each thinks herself equally responsible for all, rather than giving the immediate surroundings special attention and care. To give one's own sphere special care is justifiable in universalist terms." In this way, "our loyalty to humankind does not deprive us of the capacity to care for people closer by."

Communitarians do not necessarily disagree with the ends of cosmopolitans, but they get to where they are going in a very different way. Communitarianism does not rule out universalist values; it anchors these values in a specific time and place—a specific community. The knock on cosmopolitanism, from the communitarian point of view, is its thinness. As Benjamin Barber writes, "we live in this particular neighborhood, that block, this valley, that seashore, this family. Our attachments start parochially and then grow outward. To bypass them in favor of an immediate cosmopolitanism is to end up nowhere." For the communitarian, universal human values are best served by enhancing local moral communities. Here we can again invoke Gandhi's advice that the world does not need a world religion or even a harmonic convergence of the world's great religions. What the world needs is for Muslims to be better Muslims, Hindus to be better Hindus, Jews to be netter Jews, and Christians to be better Christians. Through these particular communitarian commitments, certain universal cosmopolitan values are pursued.

How then do these competing ideas of allegiance inform our discussion of America as a moral nation? To put it simply, America's tradition is a paradox, a blend of universalism and particularism, patriotism and cosmopolitanism. Why? Because America's founding was based on universalist principles: "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…." To be an American patriot today is to be, in some sense, a cosmopolitan. This is not to say that there are not titanic struggles over "what America owes the world." But it is to say that the United States has always had within its DNA the appeal above local community and nation, the appeal above government itself—an appeal to natural law, the creator, or in other words, the cosmopolitan commitment to reason and equal justice for all. It is the presence of this DNA that made the civil rights and women's liberation movements possible, and it is the same DNA that fuels the human rights movement today. It is interesting to note that the great reformer Martin Luther King, Jr. did not appeal to some vague cosmopolitan ideal in ending apartheid in America. He appealed to the American tradition itself, the ideals expressed in the documents of the founding fathers, and the words of Lincoln and others who helped to turn them into the basis for a viable moral community. How Moral Can We Get?

If America does indeed stand for universalism in its very essence, this still does not answer the question of what America owes the world. Does the United States bear the responsibility for promoting human rights, preventing and punishing genocide, and otherwise righting wrongs all across the globe? How does the cosmopolitan/communitarian distinction help us decide? The distinction—and the paradox it presents—cannot help us to decide. It can only clarify what is at stake.

American history shows us examples of American-style communitarianism and cosmopolitanism in ascendance. The theme of American exceptionalism is spun out in two varieties: the promised land and the crusader state. The historian Walter McDougall in his book of this title gives us the two main narratives of America's role in the world; the first being a new Jerusalem in a new world, free from the corruption of the old world, and meant to avoid entangling alliances and crusades to remake the world. The second is the Wilsonian vision of the United States as vindicator, as the champion of democracy and human rights, and the engine of progressive change around the world. McDougall makes the point that both traditions are very much with us, deep in the American grain. Each tradition begins with the premise that morality springs from self-interest; that is, policies are deemed to be moral because they serve the interests of Americans.

McDougall argues that when policies shift from promoting American interests to making the world a better place, the trouble begins. Since the end of World War II, he has noticed a shift to what he calls "global meliorism," the proposition that "morality enjoins the United States to help others emulate it, and that the success of the American experiment itself ultimately depends on other nations escaping from death and oppression."

Global meliorism is a dangerous proposition, according to McDougall. Left unchecked, it is an open-ended commitment to make the world democratic. It involves economic development, protection of rights, environmental preservation, and the guarantee of rights worldwide. The problem with these desirable goals is that they are not possible to achieve, and in fact, the pursuit of them may do more harm than good. Failures in places like Vietnam, Haiti, Somalia, and elsewhere are obvious examples. Would it not be better to form an internationalism that is attentive to moral concerns, but based on traditional national interests? Instead of global meliorism, why not develop an interest-based new internationalism—an internationalism that says America is a global power with global interests? The pursuit of those interests should be accomplished in ways that are true to American principles and ideals, but the goal of United States should remain the promotion of U.S. interests, not the improvement of mankind globally.

McDougall's argument is, "Do not confuse ethics or morality with the quest for purity." It is this quest for purity that tends to get us in trouble in the first place. Ethics and morality properly conceived is based on a non-perfectionist idea—as we mentioned before, ethics properly understood is politics, the understanding that life is full of impurities and competing claims, and that the best we can do is to negotiate difference.

This theme of America's quest for purity is well documented. In early 1977, just after Jimmy Carter took office as president, the journalist James Chace wrote a New York Times Sunday Magazine piece titled, "How Moral Can We Get?" In it, he discusses the dangers of President Carter's newly announced human rights policy. "Innocence is not always admirable," he writes, "experience is achieved at great cost." The innocent can do great harm despite good intentions. We have many examples from literature making this point. Chace reminds us of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "The Birthmark." In it, the scientist Aylmer cannot abide the single small blemish that mars the beauty of his wife.

"The mark itself is in the shape of a small red hand against her pale skin, a symbol of his wife's liability 'sin, sorrow, decay, and death.' These very characteristics are, of course, the signs of mortality. But Aylmer cannot accept them. In an attempt to enforce man's control over nature, he gives his wife a potion he has invented to remove the flaw. The experiment appears to succeed, for the birthmark fades away. Her beauty is perfect. But she is dead. Thus, the quest for perfection ends in death."

This theme echoed in Philip Roth's recent novel The Human Stain that purports to reflect on American society at the end of the twentieth century. Roth writes that the essence of being human is that "we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse error…there is no other way to be here." For Roth, it is the fantasy of purity that is dangerous. We must build our ethics on the realization of our imperfections.

For me, the ultimate expression of the problem with innocence theme is Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American. Greene's portrayal of the young, idealistic CIA man in Vietnam—just out of college, fresh with crew cut, textbook knowledge, and a firm ideology—is really no match for experienced natives. Innocence here has its price, a high price indeed. A more sober assessment of the situation in Vietnam, complete with more experience and less lofty expectations, might have been the more moral course. For Greene, like McDougall, Chace and other realists, it is the temptation to crusade that is to be avoided, as well as the illusion that the United States can be all things to all people. Morality must be anchored to interest and power. Without those anchors, morality is apt to do damage. What Kind of Internationalism?

Debate over America's role in the world has more often been about the nature of American internationalism than about the isolationist alternative. Ever since the Spanish-American war and America's emergence as a global power in 1898, most strategists have acknowledged that the United States cannot help but be engaged in the world. The question is, "What sort of engagement is best?" In the early twentieth century, the debate was joined between conservative internationalism and progressive internationalism. Conservative internationalism was embodied by Theodore Roosevelt. His vision was one of national interest based on strength and balance of power politics. Progressive internationalism was championed by Woodrow Wilson. Progressives pushed a vision of internationalism grounded in law, deriving its strength from cooperation with others.

The conservative vision sought modest, incremental change in international relations, not radical reform. The conservative vision maintained the centrality of the Westphalian model in which nations were acknowledged to have sovereign control over their territories and domestic policies. The idea was to ameliorate conflict between states by building up precedents in international law, and by providing legal mechanisms (such as a league of nations and a world court) to facilitate the arbitration of disputes and the enforcement of decisions.

The conservatives were clear about what they were not doing: they were not promoting comprehensive social reform in societies outside of the United States. Ideas such as pacifism, democratic reform abroad, the redistribution of wealth along socialist lines, or even a redefinition of social welfare policies were anathema. The conservative internationalists were content to build American military and economic strength, and they remained committed to the idea of promoting America's "national interests" in the most traditional (geopolitical, mercantilist) sense of the term.

Progressive internationalism was more reformist in nature. It sought to bring the reforms of the progressive era in the United States to the rest of the world. In a 1912 campaign speech, Woodrow Wilson said, "The same exploitation and injustice within our borders applies to international questions." Taking direct aim at Taft's "Dollar Diplomacy," Wilson said, "The nations look to us for standards and policies worthy of America. We must shape our course of actions by the maxims of justice and liberty and good will, and think of the progress of mankind rather than the progress of this or that investment."

In analyzing the influence of progressive thinking on Wilson, the historian Thomas Knock reminds us that "the quest for peace provided a new frontier and logical common ground for many liberal reformers, pacifists, and socialists." For these progressives, writes Knock, "domestic politics and foreign policy had suddenly become symbiotic: Peace was essential to change—to the survival of the labor movement and of their campaigns on behalf of women's rights, the abolition of child labor, and social justice legislation in general." It was Wilson's genius that he wanted to satisfy the demands of his conservative constituents in promoting the League of Nations idea, and his progressive supporters who saw the cause of social justice as global as well as national.

This tension between conservative and progressive internationalism remains with us. Do we seek a modus vivendi with other nations—a stable system, with balanced power arrangements, and institutions designed to play an impartial role in refereeing disputes among various factions? Or do we seek to create an international system with normative components, a value structure of right and wrong, better and worse? Do we seek to create an international society, with international institutions, that promotes certain fundamental human values?

Charles William Maynes wrote a provocative article in The National Interest (Spring 2001) raising the question of American grand strategy as it relates to this question of internationalism. He suggests three "contending schools" for how we might deal with the international system today as the most powerful actor in that system: the controllers, the shapers, and the abstainers.

  • Controllers come in two varieties: conservative and progressive. Conservatives emphasize the opportunity (and desirability) for the United States to maximize its power advantage in this time of hegemony. Therefore, its goals should be to discourage challenges from would-be competitors. The idea behind this thinking is that the international system needs a hegemon to make it run, and that the United States is a benign hegemon, certainly better than any alternative. Among the supporters of this position are Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Kristol, and Robert Kagan. Progressive controllers are fewer in number, but they see an opportunity for the United States to assert itself in areas of disorder. Maynes quotes David Rieff who advises that the United States should not impose world hegemony over states (such as Germany or China) with the inherent power to challenge America someday, but to impose order in trouble spots such as the Balkans, Sierra Leone, and Haiti. "Our choice," writes Rieff, "boils down to imperialism or barbarism." As Maynes puts it, the progressive controllers see a decency burden for America. America should use its power to compel others to behave properly.
  • Shapers come in one form, a hybrid of conservative and progressive. As Maynes puts it, shapers "argue that, rather than engage in a futile and dangerous quest for hegemony, America should work with others to try to shape the international environment in a manner that serves not only its national interests, but that of others as well." Here you see an emphasis on promoting transitions to democracy and free markets, as well as forging new alliances based on new institutions. Examples include bringing Russia into the Partnership for Peace arrangement with NATO, and encouraging China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Members of this group like to think of themselves as prudent realists, and they include Richard Haass (newly appointed Director of Policy Planning in the Department of State), and Joseph Nye.
  • Abstainers has two varieties: liberal and conservative. Liberal abstainers see the world through the lens of globalization, economic integration, and the 'power shift' paradigm where the market is ascendant and the sovereignty of the state is waning. For these liberals, politics is getting smaller in the face of the larger forces of economic might. The best thing America can do then, according to liberal abstainers like Tom Friedman, is to stay out of the way. Do not get involved in others quarrels, and do not project force. Let economics pave the way, and leave force in reserve. The best way to dominate—to reap the benefits of hegemony—is to lay back and let the market do most of the work. In this way, we can do good by doing well. The conservative abstainers—best symbolized by Pat Buchanan—believe that the United States should use its power to protect its home markets and its home industries. This is an isolationist and unilateralist view that seeks to disengage America from the world.

Maynes' article asks the right questions. How should the United States use its power to position itself vis-à-vis the international system today? Can it forge policies that are both good for America and good for the world? Human Rights, Security, Economics

How has the United States used its power to shape the current politics of human rights, international peace and security, and global economics? In these three areas, for better or worse, the United States has been architect and engine for international public policies on all three of these issues since the end of World War II. Surely the United States has limited control at best of some of these agenda items, but in the broadest sense, the United States has had the most influence.

In each of these areas, it is productive to see United States policy as a natural extension of its domestic policy concerns. As with domestic policy, U.S. foreign policy has struggled to be realistic without being amoral, progressive without being crusading.

Let us look at the United States contribution to international human rights. Americans helped to give birth to the very idea of international human rights though the work of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Even though the long struggle for civil rights at home was still far from complete, FDR began a new chapter for international human rights in his State of the Union address of January 1941 when he enunciated the "four essential human freedoms." The Four Freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear—represented the president's vision of American purpose domestically and internationally. This vision was incorporated into the Atlantic Charter (August 1941), the joint declaration of President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill outlining their approach to a more stable world order. The Charter included language straight out of the New Deal:

[The United States and great Britain] desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security…[to] establish a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford the assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.

In re-reading the Charter today, one is struck by the fact that it is in essence an early human rights document, distinguishing the anti-Axis powers from their fascist opponents by invoking the sanctity of economic and social as well as civil and political rights. Roosevelt's vision for the postwar world was of the New Deal writ large.

America's record on international human rights is by and large progressive. The language it gave to original United Nations documents, as well as subsequent statements that have been part of official U.S. policy makes this conclusion seem obvious. Conservatives, of course, have not made this a one-plot story. Conservative efforts to block passage of the Covenant on Economic and Social rights, or the Covenant on the Rights of the Child—not to mention the forty-year delay imposed on the Convention to Prevent and Punish Genocide—are the prime examples. Conservative objections have clustered around the issue of sovereignty—the idea that no U.S. government should subject itself to standards imposed from an international body.

As the United States moves ahead, the primary question it will face is, "To what extent will the United States try to promote human rights abroad, and to what extent will it subject itself to the scrutiny of international human rights?" The record seems mixed. The United States still seems a vigorous proponent of the idea of universal human rights, and has even gotten into more areas of human rights promotion such as religious freedom and even public health. An interesting trend to watch will be, "To what extent will the United States government itself be the instrument of these policies, and to what extent will some of this work be siphoned off to non-governmental groups as well as public and private philanthropies?"

The image I would leave you with on this issue is that of the nexus between civil rights at home and human rights abroad. It is impossible to think of the American commitment to rights without remembering that the quest for rights and dignity has been a constant struggle. This struggle is a major theme of United States history, seen in anti-imperialists of 1898 (who argued that it was wrong for America to "colonize" the non-white races of the Philippines and Cuba) to the civil rights advocates of the 1940s—60s who pointed out the hypocrisy of a United States government that during the Cold War preached universal human freedom but practiced Jim Crow segregation. Whatever the future of the human rights movement in the United States, it will surely reflect domestic preoccupations with race, class, gender, and ethnic issues.

What will the United States do—or not do—regarding international peace and security? Will the United States try to lead in the promotion of a new, multilateral, post Cold War regime to establish world order? Or will the United States robustly project its own power, unilaterally when necessary, to fight the "savage wars of peace" that inevitably confront a hegemon?

As David Rieff and others suggest, the United States must decide how it views its own hegemonic position. Will it assume the traditional role of empire—that is, establish and maintain a Pax Americana—or will it assume a posture similar to that of the European powers in 1815 who sought a "concert of powers" system based on a core set of mutual interests and values? Numerous issues have come up recently to test this question: the pursuit of missile defense, the future of European security arrangements (NATO and/or a European rapid deployment force), the use of sanctions against Iran, Iraq, Cuba, and in other non-military areas such as regional and global environmental policies.

The United States must also decide what it considers its interests to be regarding the use of military force. Certain potential conflict sites will be judged on traditional security terms: these would include the middle east and Persian Gulf, Korea, Taiwan, and the maintenance of long-standing security pacts with NATO and Japan. But in other areas, especially with regard to peripheral or humanitarian concerns, the decision to use force will remain complicated. Will the United States see the prevention of genocide as its vital national interest? Will it see it as a worthy "milieu goal?" If so, will it prefer to act unilaterally when it has to, or will it work with other willing nations to form multilateral structures to deal with these problems?

The image I would leave you with here is that of the current situation in Kosovo. Kosovo captures the essence of our era. The United States and the West entered this fight for good cosmopolitan reasons—the prevention of ethnic cleansing, and to put a stop to the brutal politics of Serbian nationalism. The United States and the West entered with the idea that the right solution was to create the opportunity for a multiethnic state. Now, more than a year into the intervention, there are problems coming from all sides, including the ethnic Albanians who were the victims seeking protection in the first place. Is the West wrong to try to force a solution here? Is the West trying to straighten the "crooked timber of humanity," to perfect a political situation that cannot be perfected? As a superpower, the United States will not be able to turn its back on those in desperate need. The challenge is to find ways to respond, to stop the worst and promote the best, but to do so in ways that share the burden, share the risk, and share the consequences. The missions will not go away, so perhaps now is the time to refine our responses so that the United States can lead without shouldering all of the responsibility.

Finally, on the issue of the regulation of the global economy, the United States bears responsibility commensurate with its great power. If there is a Clinton Doctrine, it would have to be "the great embrace of the global economy"—the idea being that in the new global economy, the American economy will benefit from increased international trade: the bottom line, better jobs, better wages for Americans. The promotion of NAFTA and WTO for the Clinton administration was deeply rooted in the idea that the trend toward global economic integration could and should be good for the American economy. The theory nodded in the direction of non-zero sum thinking—or trickle down for the more cynical. But the point was that America's gain did not necessarily have to be the rest of the world's loss. In fact, as Clinton administration personnel were quick to point out, it is the weak states that cause instability and trouble because they are weak. The response was to provide aid and even bailouts in places like Mexico and Russia.

The question today is what kind of foreign economic policy should be pursued? Should it be conservative or progressive? A conservative policy would emphasize benefits to the American economy. We see evidence of this in President Bush's recent pronouncements regarding the Kyoto protocols and efforts to reach international agreement of carbon emissions (so-called greenhouse gases). Bush has said that he will not adopt policies that harm the U.S. economy. A more progressive policy would emphasize the need for political and social change. It would be interest-based, but the conception of interest would be different—perhaps more cosmopolitan in nature. The question here too is whether there is a distinction to be made between material and moral values. Can we say that American interests are measured solely by economic performance? Or can the notion of interest be used to explain an imperative for political reform in the area of environmental protection?

The image I would leave you with here is that of the protestors in Seattle last year who sought to disrupt the meetings of officials involved in planning the development of the World Trade Organization (WTO). What were they protesting? The more thoughtful among them—and I do understand some were just seeking an opportunity to act irresponsibly—have legitimate concerns about the course of economic integration. The consolidation of power into the hands of multinational corporations, thinly regulated by supranational and largely unaccountable (or at least politically insulated) supranational bureaucracies is worrisome. In pursuing this new commercial vision for world politics—a vision backed by the foreign policy of the United States and enforced by new structures like the WTO—what will become of labor standards, human rights standards, and environmental protection? Once again the question is raised, "will material interests prevail over other moral values."

How the United States projects its economic power will be closely watched in the coming months in years. Will it conceive of its interests narrowly or broadly? Will it see itself as a force for progressive change, or will its posture be more conservative? If it chooses progressivism, how can the United States avoid the temptation to try to make the world over in its image, and the attendant accusations of evangelism and hegemony? If it chooses a more conservative course, how can it avoid the charge of selfishness and narrow-mindedness? It seems to me inevitable that America will have to chart a middle course: one that starts with and builds upon its own self-interests. In building upon those interests, certain progressive goals will inevitably become an integral part of the mix. In that way, progressive goals of reform will be achieved, even if they are not immediately targeted for their own sake.

America conceives of itself as a moral nation. Therefore, policies that are perceived as immoral or amoral are not likely to be sustainable. Policies that ignore human rights, turn their back on urgent humanitarian crises, or exploit the world's poor will ultimately be rejected for their inherent immorality. Realists understand that the moral imperative is always a part of America's self-conception of national interest. A realist who fails to recognize this will ultimately fail politically in the American political system. Behind the Myths

To understand America as a moral nation is to understand paradox. It is to understand that the great myths of American history that guide us today may not be as simple as they first appear. One thing we can do as students of America as a moral nation is to examine those myths, taking them apart in terms of their relationship to morality, interest, and power, and put them back together again.

We must remember that the greatest free society in the world was born with the original sin of slavery. Yet it was this society that also gave us the ideas and political strength to defeat fascism, communism, and apartheid in the twentieth century.

We must remember that idealism and belief in the power of America's armed forces has often led to an arrogance of power. Yet it has been America's military that has kept the peace in Europe and the Pacific over the past 50 years, and remains the relatively benign lynchpin in the global security structure of today.

We must remember that America's promotion of a new global economy has caused severe dislocations and perhaps an increasing gap between "haves and have nots" as well as tension between those who hold differing views on economic and social rights such as fair wages, working conditions, and justifiable corporate conduct. Yet we must also remember that it was the United States that instituted the previous generation of global economics enshrined in the Bretton Woods system. At Bretton Woods, free market capitalism was anchored with a firm commitment to social welfare.

To understand morality, one cannot isolate morality as a variable unto itself. Moral considerations must be seen in context. We must be able to see America as an actor in a world system—an actor with specific interests and specific capabilities. Only after addressing these contextual matters can moral judgment be applied.

That said, what makes America a moral nation, in my mind, is it is built in sense of optimism and skepticism, moralism and realism. America, by definition, has both cosmopolitan and communitarian commitments, conservative and progressive goals. It also has an openness and a universalism that is unparalleled. Anyone can become an American and anyone can participate. In the end, it would be a mistake to equate ethics, or America as a moral nation, with realism or liberalism, conservatism or progressivism, cosmopolitanism or communitarianism. America is all of the above: it lives in paradox. It is this paradox of a universal vision wrapped in a particular national story—and our constant reconsideration of it—that makes it possible to even consider America as a moral nation in the first place.