According to recent newspaper accounts, anti-American sentiment is on the rise worldwide, even within the United States. While some of this sentiment is related to the war in Iraq and allegations of U.S. imperial ambition, this feeling has deep philosophical and empirical roots.
It is clear, or at least should be clear, that utopians apply a standard to American behavior that is neither realistic nor consistent with national achievements. Rather than apply a standard of “seeing is believing,” the utopians rely on “believing is seeing,” creating a Potemkin Village of the mind, a vast area of artificial conditions that invariably put the United States in a disadvantageous position and the country of choice, viz. Cuba or the former Soviet Union, in a favorable light.
Many of the utopians are “red diaper children” — those raised by left-wing parents — or “red rebel children,” those who rejected the conventional ideas of their parents. In both instances, the United States is viewed as the embodiment of evil. Even virtues in America are converted into criticism. As one red rebel of the 1970s noted, “You don’t know what hell is like until you’ve live in Scarsdale.” The irony of this claim was lost on him.
Another group of utopians, acolytes of Antonio Gramsci — the Italian Marxist philosopher — contend that individualism has created a nation of self-interested parties devoid of communitarian impulses. To a remarkable degree Gramscians marched through American institutions spreading a philosophy of group rights that resulted in the acceptance of affirmative action and other categorical ethnic and racial privilege. For Gramscians America is hopelessly flawed, a land of deep seated racial antipathy, despite concessions to racial groups in an effort to redress the wrongs of the past.
Yet another group of utopians is composed of Pelagians who maintain a belief in innocence and a consequent faith in the perfectibility of man. These utopians cannot accept the Augustinian assumption of Original Sin which prompted a U.S. Constitution based on checks and balances and limits on possible acts of evil. For Pelagians, the United States promotes the worst in human behavior by assuming a belief in imperfectability. The gravamen of this argument is that the assumption of evil justifies evil institutions.
Anti-Americanism, however, is not comprised only of idealists. Ramsey Clark and his army of bedraggled students are paid by foreign government hostile to the United States to engage in rallies and demonstrations. It was hardly surprising that before the first U.S. bomb hit Baghdad, there were already hundreds of demonstrators in Union Square Park and the Washington Mall with placards denouncing the United States as the Evil Empire. International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is merely one of several professional anti-American organizations poised to express its antipathy to national policies and the nation itself.
Of course the major source of anti-American hostility can be found abroad. The last, best hope for mankind, the model for constitutional republics, has been converted into a caricature by west Europeans who reflexively detest any action taken by the United States. Remarkably the French accuse Americans of arrogance. But what these detractors appear to be saying is that they are dismayed by U.S. military superiority and the role history has granted it as the balance-wheel in international affairs.
When the German and French refer derisively to America’s Anglo-Saxon capitalism, they are criticizing free market decisions that they do not countenance. In many surveys Europeans are critical of U.S. labor practices because cradle to grave security is not provided. On the other hand, west European unemployment is routinely twice as high as the U.S. and unfunded pension liability of gargantuan proportions has already had a dampening effect on Europe’s economy.
Perhaps the leading European gripe with the U.S. is its alleged unilateralism, a belief that the U.S. hasn’t regard for any policies but its own. The classic illustration is the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Accord. What many European critics of the U.S. overlook is that this is a weak treaty that does not include the world’s two most populous nations, India and China, and was widely seen in many European capitals as an effort to stifle Western industrialization. But this reality doesn’t matter for those intent on using the U.S. position on the treaty as a manifestation of its unilateralism (read: selfishness and insularity).
Needless to say, not all criticism of the U.S. is misdirected. In response to humanitarian concerns, American intervention may come across as overreaching. Anti-globalists voice concern about the spread and homogenization of multi-national corporations. And then there are those critics who see — often with justification — the spread of a degraded American culture in the form of Hollywood films and television programming. The promotion of sexual promiscuity is often a source of criticism in countries offended by this unwanted cultural invasion.
While these critics have legitimate reasons for their position, they often overlook that what they object to is merely one dimension of American life or, in many instances, the negative effect of a positive state. For example, pornography is undoubtedly reprehensible, but it is the irresponsible side of open expression. In some cases, the legitimate concern is emphasized without contextual explanation. After all, the U.S. is an imperfect nation, but the imperfections could well be offset by national achievements, of which there are many. That obvious point is often overlooked by some whose goal is undermining America’s stature.
Clearly anti-Americanism exists, but it is glibly suggested by media mavens that it is “on the rise.” I’m not persuaded that is accurate either in the United States or in Europe.
In the wake of 9/11 patriotism within the United States appears to be at an unprecedentedly high level. Surely home grown utopians haven’t disappeared as attendance at most American university lectures will confirm. But it is also the case that respect for military personnel as representatives of the nation’s will has reached a high point in this post Vietnam War period, something the anti-war activists of the 1970’s couldn’t have predicted.
I have also observed that western European attitudes, which receive the most attention in the United States, are unlike the views of central Europeans in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, where pro-American opinion dominates. In Asia, American prestige remains undiminished. The U.S. is still the model for many nation’s emerging from the throes of authoritarian regimes and America’s military strength is considered the only counterweight to potential Chinese adventurism.
Paul Valery once noted, “the future isn’t what it used to be.” Indeed that is true in ways Valery could not have envisioned. The U.S. was, and in my opinion still is, the great hope for humanity, but that could change. U.S. self-confidence could decline; anti-American sentiment might engulf the globe. Should these conditions emerge the future would look different from its present posture.
But if that were to occur, the world would be proscribed. Faith as the harbinger for change would evanesce and the efflorescence of human ambition would ultimately decline.
As I see it the idea of America resides in the heart of mankind beating continuously with the spirit of hope and promise over the horizon. If the United States were ever to disappear, it would have to be reinvented as the best prospect for the expression of the human spirit.