In my previous post I made a blanket reference to "western civilization." What do I mean by that, and why do I consider whatever that term means to be superior to the numerous alternatives out there? (I hesitated to even type the word, "superior," for in our modern world, the only sin we still frown upon is that of intolerance. But it's out there.)
Back when I taught world history, I used to refer to a "cultural knapsack" in which a group of people would collect various customs, beliefs, behaviors, philosophies, etc. A group can pick up these elements through various kinds of cultural diffusion--when my group, which has invented, say, the wheel, interacts with your group, who has developed, shall we say, written expression--and this interaction can be through war, through trade, through love and marriage--well, at the end of the day, we both wind up with both writing and the wheel.
So what's in America's cultural knapsack? Without getting far too detailed and academic, a little democracy and logic from Greece, some representative republican stuff and codified laws from Rome, a dollop of Judeo-Christian religion stirred into the mix in the first through fifth centuries. Both Eastern and Western Europe had those. The western half of the declining Roman Empire also got some Germanic "barbarian" institutions, including such things as trial by jury and what would become chivalry. Where the Eastern empire developed more autocratically, with a strong emperor and an admixture of church and state, the west managed to become decentralized and feudal, with separation of the sacred and the secular. In my favorite medieval country, England, the nobles eventually forced their king to accept Magna Carta, and the ideas that even a king could be subject to the rule of law, and that those who pay the taxes have a voice came to be.
But that is not all. The birth pangs of proto-capitalism in the Italian Renaissance intersected quite nicely with the tumult of the Protestant Reformation. Back in merry old England, a group of reformers whose theology was rooted in Calvinism began to believe that hard work was a virtue and that material prosperity was a sign of grace for the elect. Some of them eventually despaired of their efforts to "purify" the Church of England. These Puritan pilgrims set out on ships (which would have been impossible without the scientific revolution) for the New World (also discovered by western Europeans). They landed in a place with no "ancient history" to overcome, a tabula rasa, a land that was purely "modern." Of course, they displaced the indigenous peoples (and now, thanks in part to their western sensibilities, they are civilized enough to regret it). But they put into place an experiment in creating a country anew. And they did a pretty darned good job.
Compare and contrast that with what is in other cultures' knapsacks. Our culture was born after western Christians had learned the lessons of the 1600s that killing each other over doctrine was counterproductive. The middle east has folks who still haven't figured that out. Our pilgrim forebears had the "protestant work ethic" deep in their cultural DNA. Have you ever wondered why we could drop a McDonalds into the middle of Moscow but couldn't make capitalism work there? A thousand generations of programming. Why do the Chinese not throw off the shackles of their totalitarian regime? Because there is no Magna Carta, no limited feudal Germanic king in their background. They have been dominated by the emperors, by the khans, by the Mongols, and now by the communists, but have never really been free (as we westerners understand it) at all.
Obviously, these statements apply to groups in general, certainly not to individuals. As the age-old debate of "nature vs. nurture" goes with people, so can we apply this thought process to races, cultures, and nations. Moreover, I would further postulate that there are universal truths and principles that apply regardless of your "programming." As a Christian, I would say that these principles are rooted in the will of God. To the extent that any system "works," it only does so to the extent that it is in line with ultimate reality, the laws of nature as established by the Creator.
At any rate, I believe that the unique combination of cultural "ingredients" that make up the "recipe" for the American branch of western civilization (democracy, equality, freedom of speech, thought, and religion, the rule of law) are best suited to creating a world in which we can most freely "live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Tim 2:2). And while it is far from perfect, I have no problem preferring that model over all its closest competitors.