Thinking about the challenges and opportunities the United States faces . . . in the grand scheme of things . . . I started to think that we are writhing in the face of a lot of specific challenges ( . . . mortgage crisis . . . China on the rise . . . conflict with the Islamic world . . . .) but the more important question is: what is our larger purpose? To put it more starkly: what is a national purpose that is worthy of us as a nation?
I'm particularly intrigued by the phenomenon of other countries "catching up" to us -- particularly after they have gone through difficult periods of trying to "learn from" the United States and the West. (I've personally spent a lot of time studying China and Japan.) Often this learning is heavily slanted in the direction of how to imitate our military might. And, unsurprisingly, those other countries have found a way to learn those lessons well.
The United States found itself in a peculiar situation in the second half of the twentieth century. We had saved the world during WW II through an assertion of superior might. We came out of that conflict with a head of steam that made it hard to deny the proposition that, when the chips are down, the big guns are a good thing.
But does that circumstance adequate define our purpose in the future?
What would we define as our purpose, if we knew that we could choose the purpose that truly had value, and that we could prevail? Would we identify a purpose that transcended such things as home ownership, a favorable balance of trade, and a cessation of hostilities with our ideological foes?
What if the purpose the United States aspired to was something of historical proportions? A purpose that hadn't been tried before? But one that would be worthy of us precisely because of the obstacles our own size and strength puts in our way?