What Michael Phelps teaches us about America

I swore to myself, and even indicated to my readers, that I wouldn’t be watching the Olympics. Too often these games come across as a nationalistic orgy which thoroughly offends my sense of anti-Statism. It was only the second day, however, when I caught myself being mesmerized by the amazing feats of Michael Phelps, and I couldn’t take my eyes off this spectacle. How inspiring it was to see an athlete achieve such incredible feats! If you could watch it with a dry eye, you’re a better man than me.

As last week progressed, and more and more gold medals were being hung around Phelps’ neck (I wonder if the U.S. Treasury Department will allow him to keep them), I began to get the feeling that maybe the frenzies of the 29th Olympiad weren’t such a bad thing after all. For too many years now, “America” has stood for monstrous things such as wars of foreign aggression, fear-mongering, intimidation, and the like. We have spent our cache of good will like drunken sailors, and it has all been for naught, really, since we’re going about our foreign policy problems, including terrorism (especially terrorism!), in the wrong way. So many people the world over, including Americans, have begun to think of this country, or at least the government, as a giant ogre.  They are, of course, right, at least insofar as the State is concerned.

Enter Michael Phelps. What did Michael Phelps do for Americans and for the world? He showed us what that 18th century dream was really about: achieving great things through hard work and self-determination. Phelps did not enter the Olympics at gunpoint, unlike his competitors from China, but chose this way of life for himself, and he made all the best of it. What a great relief for a story like this to be showcased before the world in a time when we most needed it, in a time when the “face of America” is a failed oil businessman become failed president.

Maybe now the world will be reassured that America is not fundamentally about the State-sponsored promotion of “democracy” at gunpoint, but rather about freedom from the State, the ability of each man to organize his life as he sees fit, so that he might achieve what was once unimaginable.

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