Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Notes for a lecture, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"

Last summer, Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which he said that it was dangerous – in fact, he said it was extremely dangerous for any people to think of themselves as exceptional. I think it’s dangerous when Americans don’t think of themselves as exceptional, and here’s why: Because unlike every other nation on earth, we’re not formed by a common religion, a common blood, even a common culture. We’re formed through an uncommon set of ideas that all people are created equal, that we’re endowed by – with certain unalienable rights.
So we’re a country not based on blood, not based on religion, but based on ideas. And a country based on ideas has to tell its story. It has to tell its story over and over again, it has to tell its story to ourselves, to the folks abroad, and we have to test that story. We have to debate that story. That is part of the story that we are telling people all around the world – that we’re not infallible. In fact, that gentleman, Benjamin Franklin, as Walter knows, on his speech, when – the day that the Constitution was ratified and signed, he said, “Let’s all doubt a little bit of our own infallibility.” It’s, in fact, democracies that question themselves. Autocracies never question themselves. And that’s part of the story that we need to tell.

--Rick Stengel, newly appointed Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

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