Let’s Topple Notions of National Supremacy

Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

In an age of recrimination, revision, and transformation, citizens around the world are seeking to right historic wrongs, expose predators, confront bullies, fight systemic discrimination, and aspire towards societies that value justice, equality, and respect. It is therefore imperative to identify and challenge all forms of divisiveness, domination, and malevolence, whether in individuals, communities, or countries. One such form is the notion of national supremacy, whereby a country disparages and demeans other nations whilst eulogizing and glorifying itself. It is a toxic and dangerous phenomenon predicated on prejudice, propaganda, and delusion, and it is time, therefore, for the ideology of national supremacy to be toppled.

Just as white supremacy deploys contrived and warped notions of racial difference and racial superiority at an individual and group level to justify segregation, domination, and brutality, so national supremacy embraces differentiation and superiority at a national level to portray other nations as lesser, inferior, and the Other, thereby validating similarly offensive policies and behaviors.

The United States is a prominent exponent of national supremacy (others include Russia and China), with its media and wider public discourses relentlessly promulgating narratives that deride and denigrate other nations (inferior portrayal) whilst lauding and extolling America (superior portrayal). Such narratives present everything in America as good and everything outside of it as bad; America as always right and other countries as always wrong; and America as righteous and honorable and every other nation as immoral and corrupt. From this self-flattery and self-elevation — however inappropriate, irrational or disingenuous — phrases such as “greatest country in the world,” “beacon to the world,” “city on a hill,” and “American exceptionalism,” have entered the national lexicon and become ubiquitous in public narratives. Indeed, notions of national supremacy are so normalized in the United States that they have generated an almost unquestioning mindset and unthinking perception of the world. As the filmmaker Oliver Stone suggests, “Is American exceptionalism the US equivalent of the ‘master race’ theory? Yes, it is, because you don’t think about it. I lived thirty-five years of my life, maybe more, not questioning it.”[1]

Of course, the national supremacist rhetoric of the United States is a contrivance and quite galling in its chutzpah. For many, such supremacist talk immediately rings alarm bells and suggests that the “lady doth protest too much”; any country, as with any individual, that has to keep telling itself, and anyone else that will listen, how great it is, invariably means that it is not so great. Yet, as Oliver Stone notes, much of the American supremacist rhetoric is simply accepted by many Americans without question or critique.

Perhaps, in defense, there were some mitigating circumstances for American national supremacism during the Cold War when the Soviet bloc was widely perceived as a genuinely existential threat and thus the country needed to bolster and elevate itself. Nevertheless, times have changed and the claims of supremacy in contemporary American public discourses now appear shriller, affected, and a seemingly desperate attempt to evoke some elusive golden age in an era of domestic upheaval and international restructuring.

Without question, the United States remains an economic and military powerhouse, but it is distinctly mediocre compared to other developed nations on almost every measure of societal success (e.g. human development, healthcare, education, social mobility, democracy, and quality of life), and actually performs far below average in some areas (e.g. infant mortality, equality, criminal justice, press freedom, crime, and life expectancy). Furthermore, if the present is not especially flattering, then the past to which many American supremacists cling is also losing credence and becoming more exposed by the hypocrisy and brutality that it increasingly represents. Certainly, the supremacist claims about the United States being a great ‘experiment’ and a ‘model’ for other democratic systems seem less and less notable, or even relevant, not only in light of the aforementioned hypocrisy and brutality, but because there is growing awareness and acknowledgement that the country’s political foundations were hardly unique as often claimed but grounded firmly on British democracy and English common law (like all the other English-speaking democracies, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), as well as, more essentially, the principles of the European Enlightenment. As Timothy Garton Ash writes, “Europe and America are two parts of one larger civilization”.[2]

To any moderately-informed individual, it is obvious that America is a good country, an excellent country, but it is certainly not a model, a beacon, or exceptional in any meaningful way. For some, unfortunately, it has actually become the anti-model. However, the most alarming aspect of America’s national supremacist dogma is not its solipsism, or even its insidious use of propaganda and false narratives, but the fact that so many Americans believe these claims of superiority, exceptionalism, and supremacy because they have not had the education, experience, or opportunity to know any different.Author Charles Pierce notes, “the truth of something is defined by how many people will attest to it.”[3] Conditioning citizens to think of their nation as superior and somehow exceptional compared to others simply invites a host of problems. Just as the ideology of white supremacy has fueled slavery, violence, racism, segregation, systemic oppression, division, hate, and domination, as well as generations of trauma and pain, so the ideology of national supremacy fuels war, violence, nationalism, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, the systemic domination of others, and the conviction that the superior country has a right, or even a duty, to interfere with and often impose itself on other peoples and sovereign states.

All forms of self-extolment and self-acclaim are invariably distasteful, hubristic, and usually indicative of an underlying insecurity. Thus, notions of national supremacy, national superiority, a master race, or a master nation, have no place in the modern world. Not only is there no such thing as a superior country — because every nation is a complex entity with ever-evolving societies and ever-changing domestic and foreign policies, as well as its own set of problems, deficiencies, and failings, that prohibit any country claiming any kind of greatness — but the very concept of supremacy is emblematic of the braggart, oppressor, tormentor, and bully; all of which are offensive and unwelcome in any contemporary context.

One hopes that notions of national supremacy will begin to fade from public discourses as the world continues to shrink due to technological connectivity; the immense amount of shared information and knowledge now available; the increasing socio-cultural and political homogeneity; and the capacity to travel. This means that it is much easier to learn about others and be more attuned to global realities. And, importantly, where any claims of supremacy are easily scrutinized and, as they invariably are, exposed as hollow, conceited, and often hypocritical.

If we want to create a more prosperous, peaceful, and successful world then we need to try and eradicate all forms of self-glorification and supremacism, which do nothing but divide, antagonize, and cause harm. Instead of self-proclaiming one’s greatness and supremacy, Pharisee-like, it seems that the best strategy — whether as an individual, a community, or a country — is to unceasingly ensure that one’s actions speak louder than words, and to conduct oneself with modesty, humility, and goodwill towards others.

[1] Interview with Oliver Stone, The Progressive, February, 2013.

[2] T. G. Ash, “Commentary; Calmly Contemplating the Abyss; The European Crisis may be the beginning of the end for civilization on the continent — or not”, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2005; M.5.

[3] C. P. Pierce, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 161.

Lived on the streets of New York. Visited over 60 countries. Degrees from LSE, Duke and Cambridge. RAF officer. Teacher. Novelist. Dual citizen of the US and UK

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