Patrick Deneen has a great post at Front Porch Republic about America’s constant quest to be “Number One.” Deneen responds to a recent New York Times column by Thomas Friedman lamenting the fact that America has fallen behind the Indians and the Chinese in a host of important categories that help define world superpowers. He writes:
Friedman doesn’t ask the obvious question: how is it that the children of the “Greatest Generation” became such slackers? How great could they really be if they couldn’t do the one thing needful of any generation, namely, raise their children to be responsible, motivated, hard-working, even self-sacrificial? To what do we attribute their monumental failure?
Might it have something to do with the deeply ingrained idea and evident reality – certainly rampant by the time of the end of the Second World War – that the U.S.A. was and must forever remain Number One? What, after all, is the point of being Number One? If the evidence of the half-century of the post-war is any indication, to be Number One means you have earned the right to be lazy, irresponsible, self-indulgent, short-sighted and hedonistic. You have accumulated the power and the wealth to demand that the world serve you – whether through currency seignorage, energy proctorates that foster clientelism and radicalism, cheap overseas labor that keeps American “consumers” in a permanent condition plastic-addiction, and a popular culture that promotes indolency, irony, disrespect and a general worldview that nothing is to be taken very seriously. If we wonder what has happened, we might start by looking at the “Greatest Generation” and the ways in which they enjoyed the spoils of being Number One – and in which they transmitted that sense of entitlement to their children.