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Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and…

Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990 (1992)

by Paul Hollander

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My reaction to reading this book in 1993.

A valueable book.

To be sure, some of Hollander’s conclusions I had reached before, namely that protestations of ethnocentrism, racism, and moral relativism are not consistently applied by the Left and anti-Americans. He also supported my suspicions that anti-Americanism is irrational. Hollander does a nice job of showing this – the book has a huge number of quotes – by showing how various leftist intellectuals are totally nonplussed, unmoved, and unrepentant about their own anti-Americanism and Marxism being discredited in Eastern Europe. They resort to the strange, but clever – and typical – semantic games of finding “structural” or “institutional” or “incipient” violence in America, hidden walls of tyranny and prejudice. Perhaps the key example of this is Bertrand Russell – a man whose qualifications as a philosopher and mathematician certainly show a talent for careful, precise use of language – and his inconsistent, shrill anti-Americanism.

Hollander shows how much of anti-Americanism partakes of a quasi-religious nature. The latter point is well-made by several quotes steeped in religious imagery. Marxism is the faith, dictators like Stalin, Mao, Castro the prophets and messiahs, the reward a city of perfection on earth. It provides, to its adherents, a sense of moral perfection (while often refusing to leave the much vilified United States for their communist utopias), an enemy to fight, a moral smugness, a belief in some human perfectibility rather than flawed humans (Leading to the “murderous urge for utopia”f), and a complete belief system.

As Hollander shows, part of this is a certain, for homegrown Anti-Americanism, silly idealism when America’s deeds don’t always live up to its principles. The Anti-American would often suggest because of this common foible (as Hollander points out, every country fails to live up to its ideals, but it is only Aamerica that is vigorously attacked for this) perhaps the principles (like the free-market, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights) should be thrown out. For the foreign anti-American there is nationalism at work as well as a certain envy of America mixed with resentment of its power, and Americans frequent ignorance of other lands. America, and the forces of anti-Communism and capitalism, seem incoherent and/or unwilling to defend themselves and constantly let their adversaries shape minds with their cultural products.

Hollander points out that the public has not bought the Left’s arguments, made by their cultural, religious (liberation theology), and media influence, have moved the entire political debate to the left, made certain topics virtually undiscussable (like hereditary/biological factors in behavior, or, in America, race), and caused a lot of false assumptions to be accepted as true. Hollander shows this with a survey of college students in 1984-1986. While they didn’t think the Soviet Union was friendly or America was uniquely evil or oppressive or stifled potential, they had many contradictory attitudes about capitalism and the military. I think some of the questions on his survey (particularly the one about using the U.S. military to aid “national liberation movements”) could have been clearer.

Hollander does a nice job in a chapter on Nicaraguan showing that (as I’ve read in less detail elsewhere) every alleged socialist utopia is the same and its sins are always glossed over by the faithful in pilgrimages and each time these faithful have fewer excuses about being duped. (I liked the insight into Nicaraguan police state tactics like staged rallies and residents of neighborhoods that will be visited by “internacionalistas” coached and warned ahead of time to voice no discontent).

Hollander identifies several roots of anti-Americanism at work in foreign lands and here: a resentment of American economic power, military might, and cultural pervasivess; attacking America because it is a symbol of modernity in its most capitalistic, individualistic, secular form. Thus Canadian and Mexican intellectuals, though different in language, cultural, religion and coming from countries different in wealth and historical relations with America, sound remarkably alike in their attacks on America. I think Hollander is right.

Environmentalism is another way that anti-capitalism and disaffection with modernity can be expressed. Here, though, its disciples can claim that if you don’t agree with them your killing the planet and humanity. I found particularly interesting his dealings with the concept of “inauthenticity”, that surprisingly common anti-American complaint manifested in bitchings about the material and cultural products of American society and mass-production. Thus Romans protest at McDonalds' restaurant in the city; diplomat George Keenan complains about “asphalted desolation”, a “lonely, air-conditioned world”, television, that “massive bundle of advertising pulp” called the Sunday Paper. (One has to ask what Keenan suggest we use for roads, if he thinks we should swelter and stop publishing papers?); a Norwegian writer complains that Americans use art for “dining-room” decorations. This complaint of material inauthenticity, often linked with reverence for Third World handicrafts, is linked to larger complaints of conformity and personal insincerity and hypocrisy. Material "inauthenticity" begs the question of an alternative. What else is a modern, industrialized, capitalistic society to do? Which is a point of view anti-Americans would agree with and then propose tearing down everything. ( )
  RandyStafford | Feb 13, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 019503824X, Hardcover)

Why is it that while millions of people all over the world dream about living in the United States, many American intellectuals believe that this is a uniquely deformed and unjust society? Why do college students today have greater pride in their country than many of their teachers? How did the radical beliefs of the '60s survive and become, for many Americans, the new conventional wisdom? How is it possible that while communist systems are collapsing and seek a market economy, critics in the United States remain convinced of the evils of capitalism? Why are there more Marxists on any handful of American campuses than all over Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union? How can we explain that for important opinion makers at home and abroad, the United States has become a symbol of waste, greed, corruption, social injustice, and arrogance?
While anti-Americanism abroad has been often noted and sometimes lamented, until now it has not been closely examined nor compared to domestic social criticism. Paul Hollander's volume is the first systematic study of this phenomenon both in its domestic and foreign aspects. Making use of a vast amount of information (ranging from surveys, mass media, popular culture, novels, the literature of social criticism, and social scientific studies), Hollander separates the justified critiques of the United States from anti-Americanism, which he defines as a biased predisposition against American society, culture, or U.S. foreign policy, an attitude he compares to other hostile predispositions such as sexism, racism, or anti-Semitism.
Domestic anti-Americanism is found mostly among academic and literary intellectuals, the left-leaning clergy, and people associated with the mass media--more generally among those who came of age in the 1960s. Despite more than a decade of Republican presidents, the author argues that many taken-for-granted beliefs of our times can be traced back to the adversarial spirit of the '60s. What once was daring social criticism has become the new orthodoxy, or what has come to be known as "politically correct behavior." The latter also finds expression in the increasingly widespread "multicultural" or "cultural diversity" studies, which combine hostility toward American society with aversion toward Western culture as a whole. Also symptomatic of these attitudes was the love affair of the American left with Marxist-Leninist Nicaragua reminiscent of the political pilgrimages of the past which the author has also written about in his widely praised Political Pilgrims.
Born in Hungary and educated in Hungary, England, and the United States, the author has written extensively about the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the United States. In this study he seeks to balance a critical analysis of anti-Americanism with the recognition that the modernity the U.S. spreads and symbolizes can sometimes be viewed with justified apprehension.
Anti-Americanism is a lively and provocative volume which will elicit some impassioned responses, much discussion, and controversy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:15 -0400)

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