Our Constitutional Principles – America’s Greatest Export
The U.S. Constitution is one of history’s greatest documents and the First Amendment’s admonition that “no law” shall be created “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and petition the Government for redress of grievances,” is perhaps its most important passage. In order to preserve freedom, people must have the ability to hold a government that infringes on the rights of the individual accountable. The First Amendment provides this ability illustrating why the Constitution and the ideals enshrined in it showcase American principles at their very best.
The world prospers when core constitutional principles such as freedom of speech and property rights, including intellectual property rights, are the international norm. Ian Bremmer put it well in his recent book Superpower. “Americans can only be more secure in a world where democracy, rule of law, access to information, freedom of speech, and human rights are universally recognized and protected, because these values create lasting strength, resilience, security, and wealth in the societies that establish and protect them.” Freedom of expression is paramount among these principles, and the creation of the institutions that safeguard them is arguably just as important as encouraging elections. While American conduct has been far from perfect, no country has done more to ensure the proliferation of these ideas than the United States.
In the years immediately following World War II America assertively exported many of the concepts found in the U.S. Constitution, including those in the First Amendment during a period that was perhaps American exceptionalism at its greatest. The United States had completely vanquished the Axis Powers and towered over its allies who had borne the brunt of the war. At this juncture, the U.S. chose to use its power and influence to establish the international institutional framework that would disseminate American values around the world. These institutions, including those that govern international commerce, still function today. The U.S. instituted the Marshall Plan in an effort to ensure that friend and foe alike could rebuild and establish the very democratic institutions that had proven so successful for America. The United States assisted in the drafting of the Japanese constitution which contains similar provisions to those found in the First Amendment, and Voice of America reached the citizens of countries trapped behind the Iron Curtain. America effectively used the most potent weapon in its arsenal – American democratic principles – to establish enduring international structures.
The benefits of this policy of engagement were swift and remarkable. Countries that had experienced complete decimation during World War II were transformed into economically vibrant democracies. The Cold War culminated with the relatively rapid integration of former Warsaw Pact nations into western institutions facilitating their strategic and economic cooperation with the West. While military strength will always be important, trade, cultural exports and other forms of soft power such as humanitarian initiatives fast became just as vital a projection of influence and power. Our post World War II period of exceptionalism was a resounding success.
However, worker dislocation, resulting primarily from automation not trade, and the insecurity that is a feature of a world in flux have prompted many Americans to reject global engagement in favor of retrenchment. Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the presidential candidates of both major parties is the most obvious example of this neo-isolationist outlook. TPP partners represent 40 percent of global GDP and ratification of TPP will give the United States a significant economic footprint in an increasingly important region. TPP will ensure that the U.S. continues to serve as the premier exporter of the rules governing international commerce and law – many of which trace their origins to the U.S. Constitution. If America opts not to continue this leadership, other nations stand ready to rewrite the rules in ways that are inconsistent with free market principles and those ideals found in the First Amendment.
The concepts in the First Amendment are a tool that citizens can use when a government places a higher priority on itself than on the people it is intended to govern. It gives citizens a stake in their country’s future. President Obama observed in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last month that “The countries that have succeeded are ones in which people have a stake.” Through continued global engagement, the United States can export these values to the rest of the world.