I believe that greatness, if defined by power, economic and cultural influence, requires us to acknowledge that the United States of America was once the greatest country in the world. However, as it ceases to lead the world in these areas – as one survey after another shows – and other countries take its place, it can no longer be considered the greatest. If we change our definition of “greatest” however, America might still be great.
I believe we need a new definition of greatness. Americans are known throughout the globe for patriotism, and this is not something of which to be ashamed. The United States, in its mere 239 years of existence, has built great things, has explored vast areas, has developed nothings into somethings, and has undeniably made enormous impacts on the world. Unfortunately, many Americans have taken this to the extreme, perhaps subconsciously, and have concluded that that is the end of the story. America is the best. Period.
This mentality has often bothered me. I was born and raised in Japan, reached adulthood in the States, and am currently living in Lithuania. I have been to almost 30 countries. Many people are stunned when I say that I do not plan on living my entire life in the United States. Many are taken aback by the fact that my love of culture and travel surpasses my patriotism for the country of my nationality, in my case, the United States.
This is a common exchange with people I meet throughout the world; which is what sparked my interest in this blog post. Where should my loyalties lie? And where do others’? Is it where we are from, or where we want to be? No matter how much love one has for their country, I think everyone would agree that no place is perfect. But what makes a country great?
I asked more than 80 millennials from around the world “What is the greatest country in the world and why?” The people I asked were from the 25 countries listed below.
The countries that they believed to be the greatest were as follows. (This is not a scientific study, nor is it displaying official data. It is a survey I did, with my peers from around the world, in order to gain a broader international perspective.)
As shown, their answers covered an extremely large area, and this is only from my small sample. Though their views of greatness clearly differed, there are certain traits that seemed to be universally valued; traits like freedom, influence and diversity. The thing that stood out the most in this data was that no two people’s definition of greatness was equal. In fact, from the majority of people, their answer included, in some form, that this is a difficult question because every country has its roses and its thorns. So, again, what makes a country great? Here is a roundup of recent surveys ranking countries based on different factors.
2015: Heritage Foundation ordered 178 countries by their economic freedom, the top 5 being Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland. Their measure of economic freedom was based on 4 factors: Rule of Law, Limited Government, Regulatory Efficiency, and Open Markets.
2015: Freedom House researched the freedom of countries, discovering that out of the 195 countries examined 89 (46 percent) were had freedom, 55 (28 percent) were listed as partly free, and only 51 (26 percent) as not free.
2014: The Huffington Post published an article listing the top most culturally rich and culturally influential countries in the world. The top 5 were listed as China, Spain, Italy, France and Mexico.
2013: Columbia University’s Earth Institute conducted a survey of the world’s happiest countries. They engaged in a new study of the economics of happiness and discovered that out of 156 countries, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden were listed as the top five. The survey was on a scale of 1-10 and measured people’s general satisfaction in their lives.
2013: The Washington Post reported an examination of the most diverse and racially tolerant countries in the world. The top 20 most diverse were all African, while the most tolerant were American and Scandinavian countries, as well as Australia and the UK.
2013: Market Business News published an article listing the most powerful countries in the world. This is taking into consideration economic, military, population and technological capabilities along with energy security and foreign affairs. The top 5 were ranked as the U.S., China, Russia, France and Japan.
None of this data supports the claim that the United States is the greatest country in the world, nor does it support identifying any country as the greatest. All of this research has taken place in the last five years. They do not include the most powerful or influential countries throughout history. It is not arguable that the world in which we now live would be a completely different place without the influence of places like Ancient Greece; though there might be little evidence of Greece’s current influence, especially in the fields in which it once lead the world.
I believe that greatness is not something that any amount of surveys can define. There are great leaders, great films, great views, great food, great trains of thought, great historical events, and all of these would be defined differently depending on the person asked. Without civil society, however, no country can be great. Without the people, no war would be won, no ballot would be filled, no job would be done and no country could exist. This is why every dictator fails and why every communist has a limit; they kill the personhood of the people, they abolish opinions, they silence debates, and they follow their own agenda, not the one needed or even wanted. Without civil society, without patriotism, to one’s own country or another, no country could be successful. Yes, there are measurable factors to calculate a country’s accomplishments, all countries are not equal; but I thought the most powerful answers to my survey were those who chose a country, not based on its influence or prosperity, but by their allegiance to that country. This is not to say that any country is great as long as one believes in it; but, any country could fail or prevail at any point. Perhaps there is something in the humility that must be included when calling any country truly great.