What is America’s proper place in the world? For a nation whose decisions shape the world’s future, especially a nation that is also embroiled in several wars and faces severe economic, budgetary, and financial challenges, this question should be at the front of our collective mind. Yet it is not. Instead we see partisan bickering and a complete evasion of this critically important question. While leaders from both parties spew shallow talking points and engage in ad hominem attacks, the true hallmark of democracy is vibrant debate. As we continue to avoid constructive debate on critical issues—especially foreign, economic, and national security policy—the future of our country and our ideals will slip out of our hands.
Why are we worried about the slippage of our country? Because we believe in our ideals. This is neither blind patriotism nor arrogance. The principles our nation was founded upon, embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, make the world a better, safer, and more prosperous place. Although we possess a measured pride in our country for making great leaps in fulfillment of these principles, we are more proud of the ideals themselves—individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, the rule of law—and the positive impact that they have had in each of the corners of the world. Our country, by virtue of our economic engine, has a responsibility to safeguard these fundamentally sound principles both at home and abroad. Failure to exercise our power prudently in pursuit of our ideals will irreparably damage these fundamental principles. Thus, we hope that our nation will continue to act responsibly in defense of these principles.
Pride in ideals and in the country that strives to embody them is not a revolutionary concept. From Saratoga to Gettysburg to Normandy to Iwo Jima, the pages of our history are filled with the stories of people who died for a cause. After the Second World War, leadership of the free world was thrust onto a victorious America by virtue of our economic strength. Yet we believe that, since then, we have lost the trail. Many of our actions have failed to live up to our principles. Even more concerning however, is that the principles we pride ourselves on no longer shape our policy. We feel that we are doing the valiant men and women who fought for their values a disservice by leading the engine of freedom, America, without being rooted firmly in our ideals.
But simply honoring our principles and acknowledging broader policy aims are only the first steps in policymaking; questions remain. If we believe in our principles, do we believe in spreading them abroad by force? Should we seek to inculcate them into other countries by nonviolent means, or do we believe they will be adopted with increasing prosperity? Are we damaged by our associations with heinous countries and unfair commissions in the United Nations, or is our membership in the organization a mutually beneficial vehicle of leadership? Is it important to support countries with similar principles, or should we support countries that satisfy our interests, regardless of moral considerations?
These are questions that must be answered. Yet there is far too little debate. Problems are poorly defined and solutions are unclear or ill-formed. Politicians and the media tend to avoid asking these questions and instead revert to talking points and sentimentalist rhetoric when discussing our nation’s policies. They skip the tough question of “Why” and proceed to “How” while even ignoring the “What”. The result is a dangerously shallow foreign policy debate that forgets the critical connection between domestic and foreign affairs. What has caused this failure of leadership? Simple—the tough questions are not asked in the places that educate these leaders—the universities. We believe that our national discourse has greatly suffered because constructive debate on foreign, economic, and national security policy has been lost in universities across the country.
Here enters this chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society. AHS is a national membership organization dedicated to promoting constructive debate on basic principles of American foreign policy and the effects on contemporary issues. Because we do not believe that the policy consequences of our ideals are always clear, we do not advocate specific answers to these contemporary questions.
Dynamic debate is essential, and college campuses must serve as the starting place to rebuild this discourse. This chapter hopes to do its part to build a network of committed, proud American policymakers, by sponsoring major on-campus debates featuring professors and other experts around the world and by providing opportunities like seminars and internships for our members. Through our efforts, we can improve the national dialogue—and therefore the quality of policy-making—on crucial issues in foreign, economic, and national security policy.
Molly A. Wehlage ‘13 is a government concentrator in Dunster House. Zachary A. Young ‘14 is a mathematics concentrator in Pforzheimer House. They are co-presidents of the Harvard chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society.