The place of America — in political philosophy

For those living in the United States, the conditions of American politics will, for obvious reasons, be of some interest. But given the economic, political, and military power of the US it is not surprising to discover that American politics is scrutinized all over the world. When one looks at the International media, it is striking how much attention they pay to American affairs.

Does this mean that American politics has also a particular interest for political philosophy? Well, certainly, as an exemplar of politics for American students of political philosophy. John Rawls’ classic Theory of Justice seems to have largely America in view, despite its aspirations of providing a universal theory.

It is also said that America’s political history provides a blueprint for the natural and perhaps even inevitable political development of other places in the world. In this story, the American republic and American democracy are assumed to be suitable paradigms for political order and practice everywhere else. But is this assumption realistic or will countries like China, for instance, always be following their own trajectory and one that does not necessarily lead to American style democracy? We must not forget that historically different countries have served as political models — ancient democratic Athens, Imperial Rome, and Revolutionary France. The role of America as a model for political development is by no means set in stone.

Another possibility is that because of its wealth and power the US is still serving the role of an avant-garde nation. Whatever happens here politically and economically, will eventually manifest itself in other parts of the world. So, if we find extreme forms of capitalism in the US or a deterioration of democratic life, similar forms of corruption are to be expected elsewhere. One immediate application of this thought is that the rise of Donald Trump signals a process that may extend to the rest of the world and has to be therefore of interest to political philosophy.


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