Anti-Americanism continues to grow more powerful and to mutate into increasingly bizarre and pathological forms. After 9/11, masses of people from all over the world not only celebrated America’s tragedy, but even blamed the victims rather than the perpetrators for the terrorist attacks.
As the Bush administration attempts to build a coalition against Saddam Hussein, it becomes evident that the American President’s efforts are frustrated by the vehement strain of anti-Americanism in the international environment. And let’s not kid ourselves: anti-Americanism is no dying force in America itself.
To be sure, members of the fifth column in the U.S., led by such radical gurus as Noam Chomsky, continue to hate and despise their own country and society like never before.
The war on terror, therefore, must not distract us from one powerful and disturbing truth: that today there are more America loathers outside of militant Islam than inside of it.
In this context, it is time, once again, to take a close look at anti-Americanism. What are its causes? What new forms is it shaping into? What are its consequences to our future? To discuss these and other questions related to the hatred of America, Frontpage Symposium has invited Paul Hollander, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and author of Political Pilgrims, Anti-Americanism and most recently Discontents: Postmodern and Postcommunist; Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a contributing editor at National Review Online; Dan Flynn, the Executive Director of Accuracy In Academia (AIA) and the author of Why the Left Hates America and Victor Davis Hanson, currently a visiting professor of military history at the US Naval Academy and author of the new book An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism.
Question #1: Gentlemen, let me begin with a little personal note. I was born in Russia. My parents were Soviet dissidents. We managed to escape and we came to America when I was six years old. America gave my family freedom and a wonderful material life. I fell in love with America immediately. I have always loved America. And I will always love America.
As I grew up in Canada, I noticed that many people hate America. This confused me profoundly. I always wondered: how could you hate such a beautiful nation, a nation that gives so much freedom and protects freedom throughout the world?
Is there any easy answer to this? Indeed, why is there such a strong strain of anti-Americanism that is constant, anti-empirical, and seems to persist no matter what issue is raised?
Kurtz: Anti-Americanism is part of a new secular "religion," consisting of the various ideological movements generated in the sixties. These movements answer to the need for a higher collective goal in a world where, to many, traditional religion no longer makes sense. Traditional religion was based on mutual restraint and sacrifice for the good of the community. The new secular religion is based on collective crusades for individual rights. Overtly, the emphasis in our post-sixties crusades is on individualism and rights, but the crusades themselves serve the hidden function of creating both a place to belong and a feeling of collective superiority. To prefer your own country to another is much too obvious a way for a modern egalitarian individualist to satisfy these ineradicable longings for holism and hierarchy. But banding together to attack your own country for its oppressive denial of individual rights makes it seem as though you are defending individualism and freedom, even as you actually are forming an intolerant group that claims moral superiority to everyone else.
Flynn: As I point out in "Why the Left Hates America," anti-Americanism is the religion for people who hate religion. It comes complete with a devil (the United States); sacred texts (I, Rigoberta Menchu, The Communist Manifesto, etc.); saints (Noam Chomsky, Mumia Abu-Jamal); zeal (in putting together my book I was attacked, subjected to a book burning, and ejected from a conference for dissent); and many of the other characteristics that we find in various faiths.
Anti-Americanism, however, provides none of the social good that most religions provide, and it is of course a false faith as well. Why is America hated even within the West? America is hated because its existence contradicts the mistaken theories so passionately held by a significant portion of Western intellectuals. Is capitalism a failure? Theorists say so, but American reality proves otherwise. Is Christianity an intolerant religion? The Left answers affirmatively. Yet, the American experience proves otherwise. People of any faith can practice their religion in America--the Western nation where churchgoing is most popular. Go to countries run by men of other faiths, and the same tolerance is not reciprocated.
Is racism a peculiarly American problem? The Left believes this. America, however, is where most immigrants of color choose to go. Were the Haitian boat people that arrived in Miami in late October a gang of masochists? Listen to the Left's rhetoric about America and that is a conclusion you might draw. What the Left touts in theory, the American experience refutes in practice.
Hollander: My background is somewhat similar to Glazov’s except that I was 29 when I came to the U.S. and my parents were not dissidents or Russian but Hungarian (and stayed in Hungary). I already had 3 years behind me in England where I learned a bit about Western political alienation.
Anti-Americanism persists because it meets a variety of needs to explain grievances etc. It provides an excellent target to blame. The background is the problems of modernity, the U.S. represents.
Hanson: Entire books have been written about this phenomenon. I tried to discuss the issue in an essay for Commentary that will appear soon, but I am still dumbfounded by its almost religious nature, one that is oblivious to facts and events.
Our security, leisure, and influence are the engines that allow well-heeled intellectuals the time and resources to voice such easy critiques. Don't underestimate elite guilt, or the idea that our present affluence makes us feel privileged, and thus in the abstract we seek easy ways to alleviate such dark feelings on the cheap-like rantings of Orwell's pigs who prance around in private on two legs.
Jealousy, of course, explains the hatred of intellectuals toward more affluent moguls and professionals, who are not so subtle, but far wealthy for it. We live in a society, after all, where more listen to a blunt-speaking Warren Buffett or Bill Gates than the sophisticated and nuanced University Professor of English Literature at Harvard.
There is also the arrogance in worshipping the god Reason as if it were an unforgiving Aztec totem, that allows little tolerance for human imperfection. Unhappiness is rampant -- a sort of self-hatred for not being out on the barricades or subsisting in cold-water flats as the price for professing radical egalitarianism.
Gore Vidal's or Barbra Steisand's homes are not among the hoi polloi they profess empathy for. I noted that it seemed to be mostly the upscale and white, not farmworkers or the dispossessed of the ghetto, who perhaps, as penance or in therapy, for an hour or two were nodding in agreement at the DC rally as many young African-American men with dreadlocks, quoted Arabic scripture and damned their white suburban world as a racist America.
Also, when you see the mutual praise lavished by toadies on one other, you sense that they find security in mouthing the party line like some sort of old Synanon sect or perhaps Amway salesmen. All of these traits can be found in varying degrees in contemporary anti-Americanism, from Jessica Lange's rantings to the hideous post-9-11 imagery used by a Oliver Stone or Norman Mailer.
Question #2: Are there some crucial, defining characteristics of anti-Americanism? For instance, is there a difference between anti-Americanism beyond our borders and anti-Americanism within them?
At the risk of being simplistic, I would say that, within America, anti-Americanism is a personal pathology, a depoliticization of personal neuroses. In the West in general, it’s envy and jealousy. Everywhere else, it’s just scapegoating for one’s own misery and powerlessness. What do you say?
Kurtz: I very much agree that anti-Americanism within America (and, to an extent, Europe) is different than anti-Americanism in the Third World. As you say, in the non-Western world, much anti-Americanism amounts to scapegoating for internal problems. I wouldn't call our own anti-Americanism a personal pathology, though, so much as a new secular religion. The phenomenon is too widespread to be a matter of personal pathology. We have to ask why that particular pathology is now so generalized. That brings us back to the social and cultural changes since the sixties.
Flynn: While many American college professors and Middle Eastern mullahs share a hatred for the United States, there is a difference between Western anti-Americanism and Islamic anti-Americanism. Western anti-Americanism, as I outlined above, is primarily the result of leftists' contempt for the country that undermines the central tenets of their secular faith. Samuel Huntington has adeptly pinpointed the impetus behind much of the hatred for America that exists in the Islamic world. He writes that the followers of Islam "are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power." Naturally, this causes them to lash out at the "inferior" culture that possesses the power that is rightfully theirs.
Hollander: Hard to summarize matters of which one wrote a long book. I would say that domestic anti-Americanism is a more mysterious phenomenon than the foreign which often feeds on more genuine or comprehensible nationalistic grievances. Yes, I also have the impression that the domestic variety has large elements of personal frustration, resentment etc. Loss of community and meaninglessness of modern secular life are major factors.
Hanson: Yes, one senses that the foreign strains of the pathology reflect a more collective angst, a national jealousy that is a group amplification of what drives privately a Noam Chomsky or Gore Vidal. I would add that they feed one another: native anti-Americanism encourages the further daring of foreigners, who quickly are emboldened as they sense that most other Americans either shrug off their antics or are too polite to answer them.
I notice when Americans finally tell Europeans candidly what they think of the moral relativism of the continent, and perhaps agree that Europe should go its own way, there is a sudden surge of European hurt, sometimes panic, but mostly disbelief -- almost as if they wish to say 'surely, you must be kidding?'
I'll pass on the Arab world's hatred of a nation that has saved Muslims from Kosovo to Kuwait, opposed the genocide of innocents in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen by Arab strongmen, and gives over $3 billion a year to Egypt, Jordan, and the PA. In sum, just remember that a Kuwait that owes its existence to the US and ethnically cleansed itself of a third of a million Palestinians is now angry with us because we tilt against Palestine.
So one senses there are plenty of deep unresolved questions of self-loathing, insecurity, pride, and rampant emotion all having little to do with American foreign policy.
Question #3: A common critique of the U.S. at home and abroad is that it is an imperialistic country. Aside from what the great gurus like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn would say, is there really any truth to this?
Kurtz: America is the hegemonic power in the world right now, and in some respects that makes us the "empire" of the day. But American hegemony is very different than, say, Roman or British imperialism. True, we were a colonial power in the Philippines, but Americans don't generally want to rule alien lands. That's why we held back from invading Iraq during the Gulf War, and why we "abandoned" Afghanistan after the Soviets left. The problem is that the deadly combination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction may now force us to become imperialists, against our own better inclinations. Of course, there has always been a side of America that wants to export democracy to the rest of the world, so we do have a strain of democratic imperialist thinking to draw on. But even that is not conventional imperialism. The British inadvertently taught the Indians how to be modern democrats, but never actually meant to give up their empire. If we do now rule other lands, it will only be in order to insure that we can turn them into democracies, and then leave as soon as possible.
Flynn: Does the American Empire have physical, geographic boundaries that we can point to on a map? Or does it only exist as a concept in the mind of some intellectual? If the American Empire is only alive in someone's imagination, it's not something that should be taken seriously. The Ottoman Empire claimed dominion over much of the Islamic world and parts of south-eastern Europe. The sun never set on the British Empire, which lorded over Ireland, India, Canada, and diverse points beyond. The Soviet Empire ruled Eastern Europe and numerous satellite states across the globe. The American Empire, strangely, rules just Americans. "Empire," like all words, has a specific meaning. It's a term that doesn't apply to the U.S.
Having said all this, there are some Americans who would like to dabble in "nation building" and other do-gooder schemes that amount, more or less, to imperialism. Thinking Americans should oppose this not just because such schemes are often futile and harm those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries, but because imperialism is bad for the country carrying it out. In his famous essay "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell told of how as a police officer in Burma during British rule he was forced to put down an elephant. He killed the beast not because he had to, but because the natives wanted a show and expected him to. "I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys," Orwell wrote. Americans seeking to impose their rule over foreign lands, even if done with the most benign of intentions, would be wise to re-read Orwell's cogent essay.
Hollander: I never thought that America is really a "serious" imperialistic country since public opinion (domestic or foreign) often has a major preventative effect on the exercise of imperialistic impulses, if that's what they are or were...Maybe it was such a country at the time of T. Roosevelt but not since World War II. Easy to mistake it for an imperialistic country on account of its global presence and pre-eminent military.
Hanson: Yes, in the sense that globalization is driven by the world's desire for the American brand of rampant egalitarianism, personal freedom and laxity, and material surfeit. We have almost no requisites to our movies, video games, music, and television -- the ultimate apparitions of Western freedom. So when millions vote to watch corny Brady Bunch reruns over French melodrama or gulp down Big Macs rather than croissants, it causes real pain. As far as military imperialism goes, it is a funny sort of hegemony that, unlike Roman proconsuls, pays for overseas bases to provide security for others rather than, as good Romans, charging subjected peoples for the troops who rule them.
Question #4: Why don’t we talk a little bit about the historical sources/causes of Anti-Americanism?
Kurtz: The rise of the new post-sixties religion I spoke of earlier is grounded in the shift away from an America built on small towns and tightly knit ethnic neighborhoods. Post World War II America is characterized by suburbs and urban apartment living in which community is relatively attenuated. This has bred the radical individualism that undermined traditional religion and gave birth to the ideal of a collective crusade for individual rights as a substitute for the old religion.
Flynn: In "Why the Left Hates America," I trace a number of ideologies that have given rise to anti-Americanism. Communism, the Frankfurt School's Cultural Marxism, relativism, and contemporary multiculturalism are four that I look at. It is significant that, save multiculturalism, all of these ideologies emanated from across the ocean and bloomed prior to the 1960s.
While anti-Americanism is in one sense as old as America itself -- see Benedict Arnold or the common observation during the Revolutionary War-era that a third of Americans sided with Britain -- the anti-Americanism that we see prior to the industrial age casts no real genealogical line that extends to us today. The industrial age of the late 19th century brought (1) a heightened sense of class distinctions (2) great wealth that allowed America's first real leisure class to radically question the society they prospered in 3) immigrants -- to work the jobs created -- a minority of whom brought with them old world ideas (such as Marxism) opposed to the spirit of America. In the short term, this trio of changes to American society resulted in Chicago's Haymarket Square Massacre, the assassination of William McKinley, the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times in 1910, several dozen mail bombs sent to various government officials and businessmen in 1919, a terror blast on Wall Street in 1920 that killed 40, and numerous other murders and terror attacks by the Left during a period of 40 years or so. In the long term, the anti-Americanism that developed in those years remains with us today -- making this period a critical time in American history.
Hollander: High expectations, land of opportunity etc. These expectations cannot be met. There is bound to be a gap between expectations and their fulfilment. A very rich and wasteful country is bound to create envy and resentment (at the present time the only superpower etc) And again, the emblem of modernity with all its problems -- many unanticipated. If I may mention, I have a piece The Politics of Envy on the topic in the current (November) New Criterion.
Hanson: There was a strong 19th century brand among the East-Coast wealthy elite that appears in novels and memoirs as Europhilia, a sort of smugness or airs that Boston and New York, like London and Paris, were appalled at places like St. Louis and Chicago. The difference now, however, is that yesterday's aristocrats are today's upper-middle class who number in the millions. Instead of having Newport estates, an affordable Saab or oak flooring will now suffice to set one's self off from the polyester and shag carpets of Bakersfield. Remember also that we were the rejects, the dregs of European and Asian society who flocked here, and by the measures of the old world were supposed to fail, not create the largest and most powerful nation in the history of civilization. In some sense, our success is the complete refutation of all the old class, tribal, and ancestral prejudices of most other societies.
Question #5: So what’s behind the recent increase of anti-Americanism? And what new pathological forms is it mutating into? I think one thing always remains constant: America is always held up to a higher moral accountability than its adversaries, which means, of course, that the anti-Americans assume that their hated target is civilizationally superior and other nations and peoples are civilizationally inferior. What is your take on this and the new anti-Americanism in general?
Kurtz: I've addressed this in talking about our post-sixties culture and it's historical sociological sources. As I said, to criticize other cultures is uncomfortable for today's radical democrats because it feels like the communal bigotry of the past. To criticise your own country disguises, yet also secretly satisfies, this impulse for collective belonging and superiority.
Flynn: I think the basic problem with the anti-Americans is that they hold the United States to a standard that they would never hold any non-Western nation to. America's critics compare America with utopia and find America lacking. This method of analysis guarantees the results that those who employ it desire. Compare anything to an ideal and it's going to fall short. Compare America to places that actually exist and we look rather spectacular.
There are more than 100 million women in Africa that have been culturally coerced into undergoing procedures that mutilate their genitals. In China, forced abortions result in a male to female birth ratio of 117 to 100. The State Department's annual report on human rights notes that Liberia still practices trial by ordeal, that the death sentence is often meted out administratively in China, and that collective punishment for individual crimes is carried out in Libya and numerous other countries. A better method of analysis is to compare America to actual countries, rather than imaginary ones.
The Left no longer has its city on a hill (the Soviet Union), but it still has its Sodom and Gomorrah (the United States). Many saw the fall of Communism as the death of the Left. It wasn't. For the American Left, the collapse of Communism may have been a positive thing. No longer having to defend the indefensible in East Germany, the USSR, Cambodia, and elsewhere, the Left now directs its energy towards attacking the United States. This is what's so appealing about the new anti-Americanism to many young people -- it's safe from criticism because it has no positive program and holds up no country as its ideal; it merely focuses its jaundiced eye upon the sins (both real and imagined) of America and the West.
Hollander: Again, this lone superpower status combined with some blunders of the Bush administration lends itself to hostile stereotyping. Islamic anti-Americanism contributes to the anti-Americanism in general because it dramatizes an intense hatred; a common Western reaction: such hatred must have a solid basis, if they hate us so much we must be truly evil...The problems of modernity won’t go away. The scapegoating impulse is also fed by real problems, i.e. some of them caused by globalization, at least in the short run.
Hanson: Once one goes down the road of utopianism then human progress is always measured by its failings rather than its successes. Without souls and a God, we must be judged by secular perfectionism in the here and now. Thus, these grim judges love humanity in the abstract, but hate people in the concrete who so disappoint them. What is weird about the new anti-Americanism is its utter incoherence. The pretext used to be national liberation and the need for democracy -- so they hated the South Vietnamese, South Korea, Taiwan, the South American dictatorships, and other authoritarians -- as cold-war Yanqui tools. But now? How do you hate a US military that takes out Noriega, Milosevic, Mullah Omar, or a Saddam Hussein and tries to put consensual government in his place? Watching the latest demonstrations in DC -- signs that read 'Bomb Texas, not Iraq' -- and reading lamentations that the end of the Cold War "unleashed" America, you see it is not fascism or communism that they are for or against, but rather simply opposition to America itself.
Question #6: Prof. Hollander, our guest in this symposium, is the author of Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990, a book that left an indelible imprint on my own personal understanding of life and politics. I am very grateful to you for this Prof. Hollander.
One point that Prof. Hollander demonstrated that greatly intrigued me was that almost every anti-American criticism one can possibly formulate has its origins in America. In other words, anti-Americanism is exported from America; it is indigenous. What do you gentlemen make of this? And what institutions within American society are responsible for fostering anti-Americanism?
Kurtz: This also follows from what I've said. Our post-sixties culture pushes us to maintain a self-image of radically egalitarian individualism, even as we seek out venues in which to secretly satisfy our longing for collective superiority. The way to do that is to charge America with having abandoned its own democratic values. The problem is, to pull this off, we have to catch America in some act of enormous oppression. Since America is not in fact enormously oppressive, American's offenses must be continually exaggerated, or simply fabricated whole cloth. Without the pretext of some truly awful act of murderous oppression on the part of America, there is no justification for a moral crusade and no cause to feel superior.
Flynn: I don't believe that anti-Americanism has its roots solely within America. Even within America, Communism was initially a movement almost entirely made up of foreigners. The leading exponents of the Frankfurt School's Cultural Marxism were also Europeans. Today, Islam obviously plays a leading role in turning foreigners as well as citizens against America. Despite all these foreign influences, it is Americans who are the most vocal critics of America and often rely on Western schools of thought to indict Western Civilization.
Anti-Americanism is quite peculiar because it finds great support within America. Other nations suppress their vices and exaggerate their virtues. Americans inflate their nation's sins and downplay their nation's positive achievements. While most Western nations have witnessed these phenomena to a certain degree, none come close to matching the cultural alienation that exists amongst the intellectual class within the United States.
Hollander: As I pointed this out in my book, Anti-Americanism in the U.S. is generated and maintained mostly in the universities, some of the churches, some of the mass media. It goes
without saying that academic intellectuals are the most prone to it.
Hanson: The institutions that provide security, some material affluence, and require education-the universities, media, the schools. I would not be so skeptical of their sincerity if the critics of American capitalism and globalization didn't drive such nice cars, visit Europe so frequently, travel on jets, and send their kids to private schools. Edward Said remarked that we had underappreciated Egypt, which in fact had a fine opera -- it may never have had an election, but opera? -- well that is a sign of a real progress. Few farmers or factory workers -- who really were devastated in the 1980s and 1990s -- voice the anger of professors, teachers, and journalists who did well by American capitalism.
Question #7: It is clear that hating America is an emotive and pathological impulse. Since that is the case, then let us also think in the reverse: what makes loving America a rational, thinking American's response to their country? In other words: if anti-Americanism is irrational, what makes pro-America patriotism rational?
Kurtz: America has always been a glorious combination of freedom and equality with traditions of faith and service. Somehow Americans found a way to be fully modern, free, and prosperous, without altogether abandoning the qualities that made traditional societies so appealing. The changes since the sixties (particularly the achievements of the early civil rights movement) have brought a culmination and fulfilment of our long tradition of liberty. At the same time, the legacy of the sixties has threatened to radicalize individualism and undermine our balancing qualities of faith and shared tradition. Yet America remains the greatest example in the world of a possible reconciliation of modernity and tradition, the most plausible solution to the riddle of history. We may not be the only good way to be modern, but there is no doubt that in ways that are profoundly real for millions throughout the world, the example of America has served, just as the first Americans hoped it would, as a shining city upon a hill.
Flynn: In my article on Frontpagemag.com last week, "Top Ten Reasons That Thinking Americans Love Their Country," I outline some concrete reasons why Americans have a nation to be patriotic about. We have a $9 trillion dollar economy that allows for anyone to lead a decent and human life. Americans take in more immigrants than any other country and give more of our money away to aid foreign countries. While most nations in the world haven't even experimented with self-government, republican institutions have governed this country for more than two centuries.
Most important, America stands as a beacon of freedom in an unfree world. People can say anything they want, worship any god they please, and associate with any motley crew they care to--even the folks at Frontpagemag.com! We helped liberate Europe from the Nazis and defeated the Evil Empire. An American recently won a share of the Nobel Prize in medicine, the 45th time in the last 60 years that an American has been so honored. Americans cured polio and tuberculosis, created a vaccine for hepatitis B, and developed the CAT scan, the MRI, and modern chemotherapy. Americans invented the video game, the internet, the computer, the ATM, the television, the airplane, the laser, the video cassette recorder, and a host of other inventions that make our lives better. Why would anyone hate all that?
Hollander: Well, as the saying goes, this is a free country and most people sense it (aside from economic opportunities). And the American national character -- I think there is such a thing -- is mostly attractive.
Hanson: We are free, hold elections, tolerate dissent, are religiously diverse, and demand a level of clean water, sewage, honesty in government, and basic utilities not found elsewhere. Americans are a naturally generous people, who are open, friendly, and industrious and so reflect the decency of their culture. Americans judge people on who they are and what they do, not where they came from, what God they worship, or where their parents went to school. The daily squalor and random cruelty of the Third World are mostly absent here, and we are far less cynical, conniving, and dour than the grim European utopians, whose social network is subsidized by an American military that patrols their fairyland Shire like Aragorn's quiet stealthy rangers.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Mexican intellectuals damn us as their own dispossessed risk their lives to cross our borders; Palestinians cheer news of 9-11, but are furious they can't fly out of Tel-Aviv to reach Brooklyn or Detroit; Canadians dub us culturally imperialistic as everyone there from Peter Jennings to Neal Young and Dan Ackroyd seeks fame and fortune in America, even as Haitians think us racist as they die trying to float in through choppy seas. A mad, mad world it is.
Question #8: Well, gentlemen, there is a strong theme running throughout this symposium that anti-Americanism is, among many other things, either a substitute for or a rejection of God. All of you, in one way or another, see anti-Americanism, especially the American variety, as a pathological secular faith. Overall, could we say that anti-Americanism is ultimately the violent expression of those who have failed to finding meaning/happiness in life?
Hollander: I would not call anti-Americanism a faith -- it is too negative for that, in fact it is nothing but negativity, rejection and hostility. I agree that in some instances it might reflect failure to find meaning and happiness, but it has many shades and types and not all of it can be said to be a
reflection of such states of mind or feeling. (I am sorry to say, I wrote quite a bit about the types of
Flynn: Over the past several years, I've attended several dozen left-wing rallies, protests, and other events. The mere presence of an outsider is often enough to set the true believers into fits of hysteria. Add into the mix a few challenging questions or the mention of an inconvenient truth, and things can really get out of control fast. I often wondered what drove these people to act in such an inhumane way -- physically attacking people they don't like, destroying property, burning books, etc. Then, finally, it dawned on me while attending a massive rally for convicted murderer and left-wing icon Mumia Abu-Jamal. I heard bongo drums and people singing. I smelt the distinctive scent of marijuana in the air. You could see the same familiar faces greeting old comrades. This wasn't a normal political protest, but a giant party disguised as a protest. By revealing the truth about Mumia Abu-Jamal, I wasn't just a threat to their hero; I was a threat to their whole social life.
The paradox of extremist political movements is that although they are notoriously intolerant of even minor deviations in adherence to doctrine among followers, they are otherwise indiscriminate in who they accept into their movement. This is why such movements provide a haven for so many misfits. One who finds a hard time fitting-in to mainstream society finds ready-made friends, a social life, and meaning upon joining The Cause. This characterization not only applies to a great many followers of extremist groups on the Left, but to followers of extremist groups on the Right as well.
Kurtz: Yes, anti-Americanism is part of a new way of finding happiness in life, a way that derives from the cultural changes of the sixties. Again, however, it derives not so much from personal failure, as from a deep transformation of the way in which we live our day to day lives -– the break-up of traditional local communities, and the necessity that creates for finding new modes of collective fulfilment.
Hanson: Well, as long as we qualify that with the reminder that it need not be violent always and is very different from others' more principled disagreements with American policies. Instead, it is an a priori position that whatever American does, the anti-Americanist opposes. So in that sense of not being empirical, yes, it very often is a symptom, a manifestation of a deeper pathology. Remember that one's sense of frustration need not have any factual basis; it is a matter of perceived rather than real grievance. A millionaire novelist can be very angry he didn't win the Pulitzer, or an endowed professor can be furious her Guggenheim application was rejected. In fact, the more affluent and privileged the person, the more seriously they take what we others would call rather minor setbacks, and thus vent personal anger on a more cosmic plane. We can see it collectively with entire nations in the Arab world-who are the recipients of American protection and aid, and seem to hate us for it. A final thought: accommodation or the failure to challenge such animus is an enabling and emboldening act. Most of the anti-Americanists thrive because the rest of us do not challenge their lunatic views. And so in some ways their rantings bring them real material and psychic rewards.
Question #9: Sorry if you feel that I am maybe getting silly here, but I actually think this is a serious question and, for several reasons, it has often been on my mind: could you have a serious and close friendship with a person who was intensely anti-American? Could you fall in love with, and marry, a woman who despised America?
Hollander: It would be difficult for me to be closely associated with a person who is INTENSELY anti-American because such a person would be totally politicized, a fanatic of some sort. But the key is INTENSITY. (It would also be difficult to live with or be close friends with a person who is obsessed with abortion as the ultimate evil...)
Kurtz: People approach love and friendship differently. There is a kind of continuum between Aristotelian friendship (friendship based on shared beliefs, a shared project, and a shared community) and a friendship that does not require any of these things. Precisely because the old communities are now so attenuated, it is easier for us to imagine close companionship with someone who does not share our religion, our ethnicity, our politics, our beliefs. But the truth is, we still yearn for the deeper sort of companionship, the kind that is based, at least in some significant degree, on being part of some shared venture, higher than, and outside of, ourselves.
Anti-Americans achieve that sense of a shared higher project when they demonstrate and agitate, and that is often the basis for love and friendship among them. In a sense, however, that anti-American project is part of a distinctive community, one that has separated itself from the community of patriotic Americans in deep ways. And so, to the extent that an American patriot wishes for the higher satisfactions of an Aristotelian friendship, it would be difficult to love someone who was bitterly anti-American.
Hanson: I do have several friends who in some sense hate what Americans do; but then I also still have other friends who suffer from similar pathologies such as alcoholism, sloth, or have in some ways self-destructed. Personal loyalty in a friendship is important-as long as it does not trump loyalty to this country. And, of course, one need not have to listen to one's friend who is an anti-Americanist for other than short periods; like all fundamentalists they quickly become repetitive, boring, and predictable. My wife is intensely patriotic and reminds me daily how lucky we are to be in America, so after 25 years the thought is alien that I would marry someone who "despised" America.
Flynn: Is she really hot?
Question #10: When all is said and done, when it comes to anti-Americanism, is America basically just paying the price for modernity?
Hollander: Yes, anti-Americanism is a price to pay for modernity; a good deal of modernity is difficult to bear and anti-Americanism is a plausible response to these problems.
Kurtz: Yes, modernity is driven by heightened individualism. That is both our glory and our danger. Modern individualism is the source of America's freedoms, yet it also tends to weaken traditional religious formations, which are based on community. The radicalization of this dual process of modernity since the sixties has created the need for a substitute religious community, which now perversely takes the form of anti-Americanism. The challenge has always been to make the best of the individualism at the heart of modernity, without taking it to an extreme. We are struggling mightily with that difficulty today.
Flynn: I don't think the domestic Left hates us because we're modern, nor do I think modernity plays a central role in creating such people - -although it is hard to imagine tolerance for people openly rooting for their country's demise in, say, a Greek city-state, medieval England, or contemporary Saudi Arabia. So in this sense, the tolerance, privilege, and dissolution of community ties (such as to the church) that characterizes modern America plays a role in fostering such beliefs. Even with good things, such as tolerance and wealth, there are often negative side-effects. The primary reason we are hated is because this country stands for things that some people stand against. For instance, if you hate capitalism, it's pretty difficult to love America.
Hanson: In some sense yes, America is paying the price for modernity -- and it will be the great challenge of Western society in general in this century to see whether we can retain our sense of singular freedom, tolerance, and humanity in a sea of self-created affluence and leisure, at a level that civilization has not yet seen prior. It will be harder for many to worship a God they cannot see, but must put faith in, when the false deities that surround them can promise them almost anything in the here and now--not merely power and money, but the arrogance of utopianism and secular perfection as well. The preservation of local institutions--farms, neighborhoods, extended families--is essential to counterbalance big government and big corporations where there is really no sense of shame or currency other than status and power.
Final Question: Ok gentlemen, let us conclude with this: Ibn Warraq has written the well-known book "Why I am not a Muslim." If you were asked to write the book "Why I am not an anti-American" and you were then given 4-5 sentences to summarize your thesis, what would you say?
Hollander: I am not anti-American because I consider much of it an irrational, groundless disposition or set of beliefs; because I credit the United States with many great accomplishments, because I am not anti-capitalist and anti-Western -- parts of anti-Americanism; because I do not believe that there is a utopian blueprint ahead that can be realized etc. Also because many of the flaws of America are not peculiar to it...
Let me say in conclusion that from the psychological point of view anti-Americanism is an expression of a basic scapegoating impulse; from the social-historical a response to the problems of modernity and from the contemporary political point of view a reflection of the global position and pre-eminence of the U.S.
Flynn: Anti-Americanism is reflexive, knee-jerk, and programmed. It's emotive, not cognitive. Patriotism, for the American at least, is for the thinking man. We have no obligation to love our country, yet we do. Why? Because our country has earned our love. So much of what we value in the world today prospers because of America -- freedom, self-government, and much of modern medicine, technology, and discovery. As Jeane Kirkpatrick put it: "Americans need to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is."
Kurtz: The rise of individualism continues to create immense opportunities and problems for both the Western and the non-Western world. The challenge of the day is to grasp and master those problems and opportunities, in all their complexity. We cannot do this through a reflexive anti-Americanism that is blind not only to our nation's strengths, but even to its real weaknesses--and to the real strengths and weaknesses of the non-Western world as well. We must be clear-eyed, yet also grateful for the freedom and prosperity that allow us to be clear eyed. To borrow a phrase from Pericles' funeral oration, we must see America as she really is, and love her.
Hanson: Examine the laws and culture of the United States and then consider the contemporary alternatives. Review the Constitution and the history of America and learn how the aspiration to be moral was central to our experience. Remember all the thousands who died in dreadful places like Antietam, Okinawa, and Pusan, who all never got much out of life before being incinerated or blown apart, so that we today could enjoy freedom and security. Take a look around and see the different religions, customs, races, and languages in America, and ask whether such a mix without factional violence is possible anywhere else, and why not?
Finally, for all the contemporary anti-Americanism, Americans really are nice people who reflect their humane culture. Abroad I inherently seek them out and trust them; at home, they stop to help you on the side of the road, and as anonymous persons on planes and buses are immediately friendly and down to earth. All that is simply not true of a great many in the world. All that explains the baffling phenomenon why most anti-Americanists in fact prefer to live nowhere else but precisely in America!
Interlocutor: Thank you Paul Hollander, Victor Hanson, Dann Flynn and Stanley Kurtz. Our time is up. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have you as guests on Frontpage Symposium. Hope to see you again soon.
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