For many Americans, this may seem paradoxical. Are not American ideals shared by all of humankind? The answer is that insofar as they are American, they are not. Beyond its shores, no one accepts America's claim to be the model for a universal civilization.-John Gray, Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern, p. 99-100
Fifty years ago, George Santayana wrote about the prospect of an American empire:The authority that controlled universal economy, if it were in American hands, would irresistibly tend to control education and training also. It might set up, as was done in the American zone in Germany, a cultural department, with ideological and political propaganda. The philanthropic passion for service would prompt social, if not legal intervention in the traditional life of all other nations, not only by selling them innumerable American products, but by recommending, if not imposing, American ways of living and thinking. Americans see their country as embodying universal values. Other countries see the American way of life as one among many; they do not believe it ever will - or should - be universal. Knowing from long experience how easily friends and enemies change places, they resist the division of the world into 'good' and 'evil' regimes. Perceiving the US as a proselytising regime, they fear its interventions. They prefer the dangers of a world without hegemonic power to a world made over in an American image.
Americans will support a Pax Americana only if it promotes values that they believe to be shared by all humanity; but it is just such a peace that the majority of mankind will find most oppressive. In the volatile mix of geopolitical calculation and messianic enthusiasm that is presently shaping America's foreign policy, it is not American realpolitik that the world most resents. It is American universalism.