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Robert Zoellick: What Should Be the Purpose of American Power?

Robert B. Zoellick

By Robert Zoellick (original source The National Interest) 

“My first professor of diplomatic history directed the class to study the back of the one-dollar bill. His aim was not to suggest the commercial motivations of American foreign policy, but instead to help us find the Great Seal of the United States, which is conveniently printed on the back of the dollar.

In seeking the approval of that seal in June 1782, Charles Thomson, secretary of the U.S. Congress, explained that the reverse portrays an uncompleted thirteen-tiered pyramid of states, overseen by the eye of Providence. The Virgilian phrase above the image, “Annuit Coeptis,” reveals that a higher force has favored our undertaking. Thomson observed that the phrase below the pyramid, “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (New Order of the Ages), signified “the beginning of a new American era” that commenced with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. As James A. Field explained, “It remains unclear whether [Thomson’s use of] the adjective ‘American’ is to be construed as geographically limiting or as broadly descriptive . . . [and] much of American history is implicit in this question.”

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