Thursday, July 22, 2004

It's Their Bloody Neurosis

Understanding Anti-Americanism: Its Origins and Impact at Home and Abroad looks like a fascinating, and important, book, doesn't it? It may turn out that, get ready for this, it's not our fault that they hate us! To those of us who suspected all along that the United States was a force for good in the world, this vindication is delightful. I suspect academia will generally ignore this book, not even considering it worth refuting. For its thesis is antithetical to one of academia's axioms, the axiom that the United States of America is an evil, imperialist, capitalist bully and that they* have a right to hate us. Jay Nordlinger's recent column brought it to my attention, and the man again reminds me why I can't get enough of Impromptus.

Check out a few lovely quotes from the review:

 ...true anti-Americanism is an extreme hostility born of, in editor Hollander's words, "a deep-seated, emotional predisposition" to loathe the U.S. rather than one based on rational critique.
Of course it is, and always has been. There is nothing rational about anti-American sentiment (isn't that an oxymoron anyway - rational sentiment?); anti-Americanism is not the result of a careful consideration of American foreign policy, or conditions in America itself. They hate us, hate what we are, and they will hate anything we do, whether it is rational to hate it or not. If we fail to take action in a crisis, we are being isolationist; if we intervene, we are imperialists.
Anthony Daniels paints France as an anxious, judgmental, contradictory former colonial power, threatened by invasive "Anglo-Saxon" (read "American") culture and the English language.

If the reviewer means that France is threatened by "Anglo-American" culture, then I wholeheartedly agree with his (apparent) correction of Mr. Daniels. The political theory behind the founding of the United States was based on the English liberals, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The United States and Britain have a kinship in their conceptions of the role of government, even if that kinship may be rather difficult to determine by now. The French Revolution took Rousseau as its inspiration, and political theory in France thus has a different foundation. It is no wonder that the French, viewing the proper role of government and individual rights in a radically different way from us and the British, resent us. As a student of philosophy, I eagerly look forward to a book that (as it seems even from this small quote by a reviewer) ties early modern political philosophy with international politics today.
Michael Freund analyzes Germany's relation to the U.S. by making detailed reference to 19th- and 20th-century German philosophical thinkers.

Germany's political philosophy is also quite different from ours. Where we tend to value property and individualism, the German political philosophers valued ideology, order, and unity. Marx is only the most obvious example of a German political theorist: property and money are marks of materialism and a mercantile mindset**; individual rights are merely convenient tools for the bourgeoisie in keeping down the proletariat; community is stronger and more important than the individual. In fact, the bias toward community and away from the individual comes from Hegel, though Marx and others took up the torch. I am sure Mr. Freund analyzes the philosophical origins of German political theory better than I can here, and I look forward to reading it, as should you.
Because the collection emphasizes anti-Americanism as a vitriolic intellectual construction, some readers may find its tone overly defensive, particularly in relation to American foreign policy.

Ah, reviewer simply could not let logical and devastating critiques of anti-Americanism stand without inserting a little caveat for the ignorant. No, he had to comment on the tone of the book, though I am sure it is nothing compared to the tone of anti-Americans. And, frankly, why shouldn't we be defensive, since American foreign policy has accomplished so much good for so many, has freed Eastern Europe from the worst kind of tyranny, has protected the only foothold democracy has in the Middle East, and has liberated Afghanistan from the brutal theocrats that dominated the country; yet, despite all these efforts (and these are only recent), at the cost of many American lives, we are denounced as evil, opportunistic imperialists? When facing irrational attacks from precisely those countries we saved during the Second World War and the Cold War, those countries who benefited more even than we did by our foreign policy, why should we not become defensive? How defensive is overly defensive, given history since 1941? If any sane reader could interpret this book as having an overly defensive tone, I really need to read it, just to see what could possibly qualify.
*"They" being the malcontents du jour.
**I must make two points about Marx. It is true that Marx was a materialist, but he was a materialist in the sense that he held that matter is the only real. He was not a materialist in the sense that he valued money. Thus there is no contradiction in saying that Marx was a dialectical materialist who decried crass materialism, because "materialist" is used in two different senses. The second point I wish to make further ties Marx to his successors in Germany. Marx identified materialism (in the sense of desiring money and goods) with the Jews. Marx's anti-Semitism stems from his identifying them with capitalism run amok, and it is more than a little distasteful. An apologist for Marx might claim that he really hates capitalism, and only uses the Jews as a symbol for capitalism, but I think this hardly justifies him. Irrational hatred of capitalism, irrational hatred of the Jews, and gross misinterpretation of economics - Marx in a nutshell.


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