ISSUE-087

Claim: The surest indicator of a great nation is not the achievements of its rulers, artists, or scientists.

Reason: The surest indicator of a great nation is actually the welfare of all its people.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.


The ways in which we evaluate the greatness of nations have been very rough. We look at the nation’s wealth through its military strength, international relations and foreign policies; we study a nation’s stability through tracing its citizen’s trust towards their government, and if institutions remain strong for a relatively long period of time; we can also investigate the general welfare of its people, including health. employment, income level, education, overall happiness, and so on. A nation doing poorly in these regards is unlikely to be great. For example, any country that is infested with wars can never be great, no matter what. These conventional criteria for evaluating a nation suggest that both a country’s material development, exemplified by the achievements of the leaders, artists, and scientists, and the citizen’s general sense of well-being, are equally important in manifesting a nation’s greatness.


However, these aforementioned categories are far from ideal for examining how great a nation is. Though they can adequately demonstrate the development of a nation form various perspectives, or how strong a nation may be, politically and economically, in comparison to others on the world stage, these statistics do not necessarily translate into “a good life” for each citizen. For example, high GDP index does not entail that ordinary people live comfortably, the number of artifact carriers does not make citizens necessarily feel any safer, or, similarly, the welfare system does not guarantee that it can meet all its citizens’ minimal needs. I would even go to a step further and argue that these categories are not established with the intention of evaluating whether a nation is great or not, but to instigate a sense of competition among nations. Indeed, nations use these indexes to show off what areas they are leading in, and use what they lack to justify further investments. Hypothetically, if a country is leading the rest of the world in every aspect of these categories with flying colors, but many of its citizens are unemployed or homeless, is it still a great nation?


The difficulty of comprehending this prompt lies in that both sides assume the greatness of a nation can be objectively evaluated through quantifiable criteria. However, each individual’s own perspectives matter in their judgment of a nation’s greatness. An activist may not see the United States as a great nation because of Trump’s decision to build a wall along the Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration and the separation of families at borders. A new entrepreneur may not see the UK as a great nation to start a small business in simply because of the economic instability and uncertainty derived for Brexit. An artist may not consider Saudi Arabia to be a great nation because of rigid censorship of the arts by the government. Taking sides on this debate is difficult, because one’s judgement of a nation’s greatness is heavily contingent upon his/her own backgrounds, needs, and pursuit in life.


One’s own perspectives matter because evaluating a nation is also a sentimental endeavor. As everyone is born into a particular nation, a sense of belonging and patriotism has made judgements of a nation’s greatness also largely subjective. While we can argue that China and the United States are examples of great nations by showing numbers to suggest their prosperity and military power, we can also say that everyone’s own country is the greatest because of our emotional attachments and enormous amounts of prides. This is because, as Benedict Anderson has famously argued, nations are imagined communities that offer each individual a shared national identity, upon which a sense of bonding and closeness can be reached even among people who do not know each other. The idea of a nation is thus very personal, deeply incorporated into each citizen’s understanding of life, community, and home. Ultimately, while the achievements of a country’s leaders and elites may indicate its overall development, to judge if a nation is great is rather a subjective matter.

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