Are you literally going around the world in 80 days?
Yes. It may end up being 79 days or 82 days, but I am literally going around the world in (approximately) 80 days. I will hit six continents and 26 countries in all.
What is the purpose of the expedition?
A battle rages for the heart and soul of America. Two very different visions vie to define not only what America will be, but even what America has been.
One group sees America’s wealth, power, and influence as an accident of history. For them, the idea of “American Exceptionalism” is not only dead, it is offensive. These people never tire of lecturing us about how out-of-step America is with the rest of the world and how she needs to get with it. America, they say, is bad for the world. Moreover, where America is exceptional—a deep suspicion of socialism and environmentalism; strongly Christian in a post-Christian world; and alone patriotic among Western nations swept up in a globalist dream—is where America is at her worst and must change. In their vision, America should be remade in the image of a secular European socialist democracy. Politically, Barack Obama typifies this group.
Others want to preserve America’s uniqueness, her exceptionalism, which is anchored in a Judeo-Christian heritage that has given rise to her laws, art, literature, culture and place in the world as a refuge from just the types of governments the Left idealizes. Proponents of this vision would readily acknowledge that America’s global influence has, at times, been evil, but this is, they would argue, the result of an agenda that has nothing whatsoever to do with the principles upon which America was founded. On the contrary, that agenda—championed by the Left and epitomized by America’s bullying of Third World countries to adopt permissive abortion and LGBT policies—is at odds with those principles.
The war between these competing visions is played-out every day in local and national government, in our courts of law, in schools and universities, in media, and even in families. Listening to this cultural debate—it is not only inescapable, it is tearing our country apart—it occurred to me that the vision advocated by those who would burn America to the ground Ferguson-style presupposes there are better places in the world to live. Are there? Were Alec Baldwin to leave the country as he once promised, where would he go?
Such questions inspired me to do something along the lines of what French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville did in 1831—but in reverse. Where de Tocqueville came to America to search out the source of her strength, I will go to the world, comparing America to the countries I visit, to see if that strength is real or imagined.
If, at the end of those 80 days, I discover that America, when measured against the rest of the world, isn’t so great after all, I will submit to the Left’s vision and toss a log on the Great American Bonfire. If, however, I discover that their vision is naïve and dangerous—as I suspect it is—I will urge Americans to fight for the principles that have served to make this country a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
Watch these two short trailers about the expedition.
What countries will you visit?
While we have made no secret of some of the countries on the agenda, the rest are kept in strictest confidence. I have a tentative route, but the “Around the World” airline ticket allows me to make changes at a moment’s notice. You’ll have to tune-in to find out where I am going to pop-up next.
How did you determine which countries to visit?
By Western standards, very few countries can make a reasonable claim to greatness. Fewer than ten. These countries had to be included in the expedition. I have included others because they offer us an important perspective on America and problems facing the world.
Will any of this be dangerous?
Yes. Very. But with a purpose: I want to report on the persecuted church and observe, firsthand, the workings of Islam.
What criteria will you use in determining the “world’s greatest country”?
We are doing this a bit like movie reviews. That is not a quantitative process. In the end, it isn’t about the film’s budget, the time spent making it, or even who is in it. That’s just data. For most, the measure is much simpler: Did it entertain them?
Here, the measure is different, but the process is much the same. This is quite deliberate. I am reacting against the statistical approach. The Left loves data because it can be manipulated to justify dubious agendas. Twain was right when he said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” And surely a nation is more than the mathematical sum of its economic, demographic, and governmental parts. The quality of life—of a single life—cannot be reduced to a number. Advocates of abortion and euthanasia employ that kind of thinking with devastating effect. In using statistics on income, intelligence, and education, they have judged the lives of millions to be unworthy of living. Planned Parenthood has made an industry out of it. Iceland celebrates it. Yes, I am convinced the Devil is a bureaucrat and a statistician.
This is not to say, however, that the data is irrelevant. It isn’t. Cost of living, life expectancy, access to clean water, murder rates, frequency of regime changes, etc. offer insight into a culture, but they cannot tell you the quality of it. For instance, the Left will frequently cite Scandinavia’s lower crime rates as a proof that it is better place to live. Is it? I don’t think so. That sort of reductionism is simplistic and deceptive. Western governments, in the name of safety and security, have been steadily paring down individual freedoms. In Western Europe, they have taken this farther than most. Ubiquitous surveillance and a lack of privacy are the norm. Life is regulated to such a degree that crimes are much harder to commit. On paper, these places are paradises.
Only they aren’t.
If you are from a truly free society, you can feel the lack of it in these countries. It’s like Huxley’s Brave New World—that is, in a word, creepy. In that novel, “John the Savage” opts to live outside the borders of utopia because he values human freedom and dignity more than modern comforts and healthcare. If forced to choose, I am with John. I’d prefer to forego a measure of safety and orderliness and take my chances in a free society.
And this brings me to my fundamental criteria:
- The Rule of (just) Law rules the land.
- Freedom—political, economic, and religious—are central. As the Western world continues its suicidal march toward socialism, all of these are being severely curtailed. Restricting free speech, again, in the name of safety, has become the means by which religious freedom is eroded.
- A nation’s history is also a factor. Why? Because it is the best predictor of the future. Historically, France has a penchant for strikes, uprisings, and revolutions; Russia and China have little regard for personal liberties and a habit of genocide; we know that Islamic states create cookie cutter societies and oppress non-Muslims; and Switzerland has demonstrated a commitment to pragmatic peace and commerce. Those histories matter.
- How is a country trending? Toward greater freedom, increased regulation, or tyranny?
- Social mobility is a key component. Can people, through hard work and talent, flourish within the boundaries of what is morally right? Or does the government actively conspire against such flourishing?
- What is life like for ordinary people? If it isn’t good, what chance have they of changing it?
- And what are the things most valued by that society? As a Christian, I believe there are absolute standards for some things (moral right/wrong) and not for others (cuisine and, say, architecture). As such, I am not simply evaluating these countries according to my own personal tastes; I am, rather, measuring them against a fixed point.
There are, of course, other considerations, but these are fundamental and they are not weighted equally.
Were I, however, to distill all of this into a simple phrase, I can think of none better than this:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.“
Good government strives for this. No doubt some will say that this is to apply an American standard to the rest of the world. I don’t think so. The framers of the Constitution were appealing to what they understood to be an absolute, universal standard of human rights. To quote the late Forrest McDonald, an American Constitutional historian of some eminence and a professor of mine: “The Declaration [of Independence] refers to God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Preamble [of the Constitution] introduces a document whose stated purpose is to secure the rights of life and liberty.“
Some will criticize this project on the basis that my visits to these countries were too brief to gain any real insight. Fair enough. Our 80-day journey necessitates stops of seldom more than a few days. But let’s be realistic: one cannot extensively travel in every country. Few would venture to do as much as we are doing here. Besides, the verdicts we offer here are not based solely on a visit. That adds color and commentary, but it is not the singular criterion. In the final analysis, these rankings are based on research, academic study, interviews, and impressions formed by travel to/in them.
Moreover, lists of this kind are produced regularly without ever leaving the offices from which they are issued. This is because, as noted earlier, they often rely exclusively on data. Just do a simple internet search on such terms as “world’s best countries“ or “best places to live in the world.“ There is not much in them to indicate extensive field research. You get the impression that travel was vicarious. These lists are often little more than statistical rankings. Regardless, I have been to most of these countries before, in some cases, many times. Europe, which figures prominently in this project, most of all. Indeed, I lived there for almost four years.
At its core, this project is ultimately about much more than finding the “World’s Greatest Country“; it is about understanding what factors contribute to a given society’s backwardness and ruin or its freedom and prosperity. Fascists will tell you it’s due to the superiority of some races over others. Marxists will tell you it’s a result of irresistible and impersonal economic forces. I think both are dangerously wrong. Other theories include geography, climate, and luck to name just a few. In examining the countries on our expedition, let’s consider the possibilities and see if there is anything to be learned.
Finally, every country featured in this series is a country I will visit during the expedition (except for China since they just banned me from entry!). For reasons of safety, some articles/interviews about a particular country will not appear/occur until I am across the border. Due to the speed we are moving, not all countries will get a full review at the time of the visit. I must sleep occasionally.
Oh, and a word about the star rating. These are for fun. Like the aforementioned movie reviews, we wanted to give readers a visual. We considered Siskel & Ebert’s famous thumbs-up and thumbs-down graphic or, in keeping with the times, possibly using emoticons. But we needed greater latitude than these visuals permit. So we went with a 1-10 star rating instead of the standard 1-5 stars.
NOTE: If you’re keeping score at home, bear in mind that there is a big difference between visiting a country on vacation and living there as most of the population lives. Vacationing in a Jamaican resort should not be confused with life for the average Jamaican. Likewise, many of the world’s great cities are lovely places to live if you can afford to live in the high-priced city centers—but almost no one can afford it. Indeed, any country can seem tolerable if you are a One-Percenter. Louis XIV, surrounded as he was with mistresses and courtiers to satiate his every desire, seems to have been happy enough. So was Genghis Khan, Mao, and Saddam Hussein. But what’s life like for the ordinary folk? And if it isn’t good, what chance have they of improving it? This, too, must be a major criterion for national greatness.
Can you be objective?
I think so. The worst kind of research is done when you begin with a conclusion and work backward from it, discarding all evidence that contradicts your a priori assumptions. I am not doing that. I am, rather, beginning with the tentative thesis that America, founded upon a creed and unique in the convictions that have served to inspire her, is something worth preserving. That said, I am open to being persuaded otherwise. I am not so provincial as to think the world has nothing to offer America. Not only have I already been on six continents and more than 30 countries, I have also lived abroad. Those experiences go far toward informing my opinions about America and the world.
Even so, make no mistake about it, I am not Michael Moore. America-bashing, which is very much in style, is often fueled by an indiscriminate multiculturalism that celebrates all things foreign as superior simply because they are foreign. This often comes at the expense of those standards that matter most, freedom chief among them. The Left’s treatment of Islam is a prime example of this phenomenon. Some on the Left are so full of loathing for America and its Judeo-Christian heritage that they are prepared to become de facto apologists for a religion with an historic and contemporary penchant for extreme violence, warfare, and misogyny.
I’ll quite readily bash America when she deserves it—abortion and a foreign policy that borders on the schizophrenic come to mind—but even in doing so, such criticisms do not lead me to the silly conclusion that Somalia must be a better place to live. However politically incorrect it may be to say, some cultures, some religions, and some nations are superior to others. America and Ukraine are not moral equivalents. Neither are Christianity and Islam.
And that brings me to this: I am a Christian and unashamedly so. Does that nullify any hope of objectivity? No. On the contrary, it provides me with a standard—a good one, I think—for making sound judgments. It is because I am a Christian that I can rightly say that the Hindu practice of suttee is damnable and anti-Semitism, now on the rise in Europe, is evil. This will be an additional clue to you about the criteria I plan to employ on this journey.
What will you produce from this expedition?
I will write a series of articles about the expedition chronicling the whole story from beginning to end. All the adventure, danger, mishaps, people we met, frustration, and cultural commentary will be in those articles. Along the way, I will be doing live interviews with a variety of radio shows, but only “The Rick & Bubba Show” and “The Eric Metaxas Show” will be tracking me the entire way. We will also produce a video diary.
How can we follow you?
You can follow me here on this blog and on Twitter @larrytaunton. I will be posting all articles and photos on both of those platforms. You can also hear me several times a week on ”The Rick & Bubba Show” and ”The Eric Metaxas Show.”
Let the journey begin!