Today, on a blog, I wrote a comment castigating a young man for describing America as “….still the greatest country in the world.” Prior to that statement he had gone to some lengths in describing much that was wrong with the “greatest country in the world”, hence the “still” that preceded his remark.
I was, with hindsight, a little hard on him. At least he had the intelligence and thoughtfulness not to support his government’s present policies, unlike many much older than he. It got me musing on the concept of “the greatest country in the world”, and what exactly is determined by that phrase.
One could be forgiven for allowing it to trip off the tongue. After all, it’s hardly new. As a child, I was taught that America was great. I was also taught that Britain was the greatest country with the finest empire, an empire filled with the grateful recipients of Britishness. Fifty years on, it was all a load of what Americans love to call “bullshit”; a political doctrine designed to assuage the masses and disguise the brutish and economic rape of weaker nations overpowered by force of arms.
Websters lists eleven definitions of the word “great”. The first deals with size, so in that sense America could be described as great – though not the great-est” as it is beaten into second* place by Russia.
The second concerns “large in number” i.e. numerous. Well, there’s only one America, but lots of Americans. Perhaps it is the most populous nation? But no, still way behind China and India.
Seven of the other definitions couldn’t even remotely apply, which left two that might just fit the bill. The first was a general term applicable to “greatness”, in the sense that “I had a great time on vacation in America.” Unfortunately, in this context, the word is descriptive of the “time”, rather than the place, and while the place probably would have a bearing on the quality of time spent there, even if the sentence was condensed to simply “America was great”, it only refers to that person’s limited experience of the time spent there, not the country as a whole.
Having whittled down the opposition, we are left with only one possible definition that might fit the context of our phrase, “the greatest country in the world”.
Websters defines “great” as: “markedly superior in character or quality; especially : NOBLE”
Here we run into a serious problem. Is there evidence to support the idea that America is superior in character or quality to every other nation on the planet? The obvious answer, to anyone who’s traveled further afield than the Mexican or Canadian borders, is “No.”
America may have some superior traits compared with certain other countries, but not enough to warrant the title “greatest country in the world”. Other countries are superior to America in many areas where this nation fails to reign supreme.
So, having decided America fails the test, which is the greatest country in the world?
The simple answer is: there isn’t one.
Any independent-minded, seasoned traveler will tell you that each country has its good and bad points. None is superior in all aspects, and certainly there is no such thing as a “noble” nation – the defining adjective for our final definition of “great” as supplied by Websters. In fact, given the politicians and political systems that have developed in most countries, the term “noble” would be laughable were it not for the misery and suffering caused to many of their citizens by laws designed to trap them in poverty and despair. In that league table, America only manages to achieve a place somewhere in the middle, with most of Europe having better social security and health systems than their transatlantic cousin.
Why is it then that the idea of a superior America so readily leaps from American lips, even when their country is living through an era when it is despised by most of the world?
Perhaps it is exactly for that reason – insecurity.
Here, maybe, is an insight into why my young blogger rushed to console himself and his readers after just reeling off a whole list of reasons why America was quite definitely not “the greatest country in the world”.
He needed to reassure himself that, in spite of all, maybe, just maybe, it could be one day.
* NOTE: In fact, measured by geographical size, the US ranks fourth, behind Russia, Canada, and China. My thanks to Sister Anan for pointing out the error.
Filed under: National pride