If you have ever studied American history, you are probably well aware that the U.S. did not always shape the global landscape like it does today. In fact, when the United States was first established as a sovereign nation, it was heavily influenced by many of the social, economic and political ideologies of Europe. From France’s outlook on liberty and independence to Great Britain’s view of property and wealth distribution, America was truly a blend of European culture.
The sample essay below touches on just how early American culture was shaped and molded by Europe; however, it also focuses on how the United States recently became an influence to its European counterparts, thus reversing previous historical trends and driving Western-dominated globalization. If you would like to learn more about our sample essay writing services, feel free to browse our vast archive of over 1,000 posts and sample works.
Europe to America and Back Again
Any student of history knows that the United States was founded by refugees and colonists from Europe. Of course the Native Americans were present, though mostly oppressed by the new arrivals, but it was mostly the European settlers who made the political and military entity that defined the United States as a nation. European influence in America continued long after the war for independence was won and to this day no one can deny the importance of European culture to that of the United States. As time has gone by, however, the tables have turned such that the United States now stands as a political, economic, military, and cultural leader in the world, and thus Europe now takes many cues from the United States. When taken as a whole, it can be seen that the various influences that shaped America, most of them European, have created a cyclical globalizing effect with the modern day United States as the primary driving force.
Thoms Paine and Political Philosophy of the Early Republic
Early European influence came from an obvious source, the colonists. Culture and religion was informed early on by those who brought it with them from England and other parts of Europe, though they often represented groups who were no longer welcome in Europe so already there was a schism between the two continents. Education and political sensibilities were likewise brought over from England, though these were ultimately responsible for the revolution. Thomas Paine, in his iconic document Common Sense, challenged the authority of the crown based on England’s own constitution, and proved the importance of European thought to the development of the new nation. Of particular interest to Paine was the balance of power as it had developed in England and the conspicuous lack of checks and balances, which most Americans realize is one of the foundational concepts that makes the United States Constitution such a powerful symbol of democracy. The other forefathers knew the same things Paine knew and were familiar with the specific complaints made by Paine, thus making European, particularly English, policy a major influence in early American political philosophy.
This example of what not to do was not the only European influence had by American forefathers, however. Benjamin Franklin was one of many founding minds of the time to spend a significant amount of time in Europe. Of course in England, to make a case for the rights of the colonies, but also in other countries such as France where more evidence of our democratic heritage is to be found. In his autobiography, many glimpses can be had of Franklin’s time in other countries and the things he learned there, both positive and negative, to be put into action in the founding of the United States. While there is no doubt that the U.S. Constitution includes many revolutionary ideas, it is also a document largely inspired by the roots of the American people, that is European government, and that fact should never be forgotten.
The Rise of the United States as a Global Power
Foreign influence only increased over time, however. The United States was never a country with its own people, even from the beginning, thanks to a diverse colonial background and the unfortunate oppression of the only indigenous population. Virtually all Americans were of indeterminate ethnicity after three or four generations in the United States, though most chose their own cultural heritage to cling closest to. The fact remains, however, that the melting pot was far too variegated for anything like a pure heritage to remain. Constant immigration assured this, “In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, large numbers of Europeans arrived, adding their cultures to those of the European, African, and Asian settlers who were already here, and recently millions have been entering the country from South American and the Caribbean” (Reed). Of course European settlers were the first to arrive and they composed most of the early immigrants, but Americans come from all over the world and it would be difficult to identify exactly what influence each of those new additions has had on the existing population. The only known fact is that the melting pot achieved its goal better than even the racial supremacists and radical nationalists would like to believe.
Related Post: Read about the difference between refugees and migrants.
During and after the era of the World Wars, the center of power, economy, and culture in the world shifted away from Europe and into other parts of the world, mostly the United States. Even with the Great Depression, the United States emerged from the first half of the twentieth century as one of the most powerful nations in the world while European countries were doing all they could just to stay afloat after the damage caused by two consecutive World Wars. Perhaps appropriately, the United States first exerted their new-found global power militarily. High on victory from the World Wars and confident in their own military-industrial complex, the leaders of the United States in the mid-twentieth century saw no reason to not champion their own philosophy across the globe, wherever a perceived enemy might appear. The result of this first foray into global meddling was the Cold War, an era that affected every nation on the planet, whether they liked it or not.
For Europe, this was a particularly difficult time. Many European countries served as the battleground for the ideological tug of war that was ongoing between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Europe also had to sit quietly by while America and the Soviet Union built ever larger nuclear arsenals and moved ever close to dooming the entire world to a nuclear holocaust. The movie Dr. Strangelove makes a satire of many superpower policies during the Cold War, particularly those of America. In the movie the U.S. government loses control of one of its nuclear capable bomber wings which is ordered to drop its payload by a rogue general who has decided for himself that such an action is in everyone’s best interests. This plot serves as a microcosm of what much of the world faced at this time, and Europe in particular as many consider Western Europe, rightly so in many ways, to be the progenitor of the United States. The U.S. had become a rogue military mind, off to right the wrongs of the world with brute force regardless of what anyone else had to say about it.
The Cold War and its Effect on Europe and the U.S.
Because many European nations were either allies or virtual vassals of the United States at this time, due to the outcome of World War II, those nations had to play host to the U.S. Cold War effort. This further forced the already war-weary continent to endure several more decades of constant anxiety under the threat of annihilation that they had no power to affect, one way or the other. It might be fair to assume that, at this time, the United States sowed the seeds of alienation that it is reaping today, but in the same way it secured long-standing alliances because the Soviet threat was very real and it was felt very imminently in Europe, just as the long arm of the United States military was. Thus, up to the culmination of the Cold War, the primary effect of the United States on Europe was military and so was the reason for many Europeans immigrating to the United States, bringing their most current culture to America in the hopes of finding safety under the star spangled sword and shield.
Globalization in the 21st Century: America’s Time
Times have changed, however, and the late 20th and early 21st centuries have proven a time of cultural and economic globalization on a completely unprecedented scale. Of course there are still military concerns the world over, perhaps more than there have to be, but such decisions are difficult to make without the big picture view that a government leader has access to. What is most significant is that those military concerns are secondary or component to the economic and cultural advances being made, “Today the globalization of commerce, and of threats to it, has created the rudiments of international governance, from the World Health Organization to arrangements for policing nuclear weapons. Global governance sounds radical, but it’s just history marching on – commerce making the world safe for itself” (Wright). It might be considered brutal and insensitive of modern superpowers like the United States or global corporations to use military force in the protection of their economic interests, but that is also the world that we live in today. In this way the United States has affected Europe and most other parts of the world as well. Democracy and capitalism are international sensations, in varying combinations, not just a localized curiosity instigated by upstart colonists.
Because of its success in spreading its doctrines and in executing them locally, the United States has become a nexus of cultures from which all other parts of the world have to take their cues or fall behind. As Ishmael Reed writes, “This is possible because the United States is unique in the world. The world is here.” Virtually all cultures are welcome to bring their business and beliefs into the United States, at which point they become just another piece of meat in the shark tank, but that competitive spirit is what made the United States its own country when the British demanded subservience and it is what gave rise to the most powerful business political and business entities in the world.
If the United States continues to be so successful at blurring national boundaries, there may not be an opportunity for any other nation to take its place ever. The process of globalization has been resisted by nationalistic ideologies, but these are in the minority and are increasingly destitute because a thriving economy in this day and age appears to demand international commerce. As a monolith of the past, Europe remains one of the most resilient examples of government throughout the ages, but it has fallen far behind the United States when it comes to the global standard for political, economic, and cultural innovation. Like other parts of the world, Europe can only try to keep up.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Peter Sellers, George C. Scott. Columbia Pictures, 1964. DVD.
Franklin, Benjamin. “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.” Classic American autobiographies. New York: Mentor, 1992. 70-228. Print.
Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.” Five hundred years: America in the world. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Pub., 2006. 51-56. Print.
Reed, Ishmael. “America: The Multinational Society.” Five hundred years: America in the world. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Pub., 2006. 374-375. Print.
Wright, Robert. “Two Years Later, a Thousand Years Ago.” Five hundred years: America in the world. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Pub., 2006. 429-433. Print.
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