I stood in awe before the immense building. In all of New York dizzying crystal towers reach towards the sky, cathedral to business and enterprise, but unlike gothic churches which aspired to reach up to heaven, these modern marvels, stretch skywards with not the least profane purpose, to stand proudly as testaments of human greatness. And none is greater than the Rockefeller building, which dwarfed and humbled me there in New York, despite of it not being the tallest structure.
The building rendered me quite emotional. The quaint ice skating rink was already full with happily swirling people, the christmas tree was being erected, and I found myself in the ever present Home Alone movie, conjuring up image of yet not disenchanted Christmases of childhood past. Behind stood the state of Atlas, of Ayn Rand fame, resolutely holding up the skies, an idol and pilgrimage for objectivist libertarians.
These, however, were not the reasons for the feelings which took over me, all these I had no eye for as ny gaze was drawn in by the words of Rockefeller himself, chiselled in stone in front of the building: “I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (…)”
It was the supreme worth of the individual which put another dimension to the otherwise flat island of Manhattan, which build the greatest democracies of the world, which took pride in all the grandiose work it undertook to celebrate human achievement, whether as a praise of God’s work, or of mankind’s own work without any other higher power than an individual’s own iron will and resolution.
This will, this praise of greatness is what distinguished the USA from other countries, and this is one of the greatest contribution of America to the world. This driving force, that before was considered a vice, much akin to profit, which the seeking of which used to be immoral.
William Casey King writes in his book, Ambition, a History: from Vice to Virtue: Wresting ambition from the panoply of vice and reconstituting it as a virtue was [sic] a necessary ideological precondition to the establishment of the United States. Without ambition, there could be no America.
Understanding ambition within a historical and ideological context illuminates a facet of our Declaration of Independence, our Revolution, and a fundamental aspect of our national character. The War for Independence was not just a political struggle, it was a contest over the very definition of good and evil. Formally a manifestation of original sin, ambition was transformed into “another name for Public Virtue.” (p. 190)
America prevaled and succeeded in proving that the liberal world order, which emphasises the supreme worth of the individual is the best system. When the UK stood as a lonesome island in Europe’s darkest hour, one of the greatest man who ever lived, Winston Churchill stood up to prove the worth of these values yet again, and he never gave in, no matter the past blunders, the “apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”, whether foreign or domestic. The Western world won yet again in defeating the inhuman terrors of Communism in the Cold War.
Yet we must not relent. It is not the end of history, our ambitions must not falter, our praise of achievement must not subside, and our will to succeed must fule our every deed. As I stood there marveling at the Rockefeller building, I couldn’t help remembering Captain Pike’s words with which he convinced Kirk to join starfleet in the 2009 Star Trek film: “You know your father was Captain of a Starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives. Including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”
I sure want to see a future where we prove again the supreme worth of the individual, where our children can stand on awe in front of new cathedrals of success. And so, despite us living in the best of times, still, I too dare you to do better.