Gilbert, Felix
July 1976
Foreign Affairs;Jul1976, Vol. 54 Issue 4, p635
The most perilous legacy which has come down from the eighteenth century is the American claim to world leadership. Certainly, the United States is one of the superpowers, one of the decisive forces in the world of today. But this is not identical with the idea that it is the one leading power, superior to all others. It is this notion, however, deeply ingrained in American thought, which is still strongly held and which one finds in the speeches of politicians and statesmen. World leadership is a dangerous term, for it has a vagueness which invites almost limitless application, it has been presented as implying that the United States must be the most powerful, the economically strongest, the militarily best-equipped power. If leadership is weighed in material and quantitative terms only, it seems a means to justify domination and control rather than an appeal to cooperation, it becomes an impediment to what must be the paramount aim of foreign policy in the nuclear age the preservation of peace. Perhaps the most valuable lesson which the bicentennial can impart to the foreign policy of United States is that world leadership is not a possession which can be inherited, but a privilege, for which every generation must strive.


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