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Watching America’s Crack-Up

By Benjamin Kerstein Quillette

When you have lived long enough in a foreign country, you eventually begin to realize that the one you left behind, once accepted as utterly unique since it was all you knew, is not particularly different from anywhere else. One can call this perspective, but it is more a recognition of the essential contingency of any nation.

This is especially true when observing a country like the United States, which raises its children to believe that it is exceptional and, being exceptional, also immortal. Indeed, living in a country like Israel, which must be ever-vigilant about existential danger, I am struck by America’s extraordinary sense of invulnerability. An unthinkably bloody civil war did not break it, nor did Pearl Harbor or even 9/11. America and Americans, by and large, think they are going to live forever. Like most Americans, I grew up reflexively believing this. It was never said or taught outright, but it was a kind of cultural assumption. America was born of the virgin Liberty, and like the son of God in which it still largely believes, will always rise from the dead.

From afar, however, you eventually realize that, just as no man is immortal, nor is any nation. It is possible, of course, that it may survive for a very long time—much longer than the lifespan of any individual citizen. But even Rome fell, and while the Jews and perhaps India and China appear to prove the possibility of perpetual existence, it is in the nature of existence itself that survival is by no means inevitable.

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