Somewhere along the line, the idea took hold that, to be an intellectual, you have to be against it, whatever it is. The intellectual is a negator. Affirmation is not in his or her vocabulary
. So reflexive is the role of the intellectual as negator, so free from accountability, that the very meaning of dissent has been obscured. Hence in the wake of 9/11, those who disagreed with claims that America somehow brought the attacks on herself were said to be stifling dissent. (Jean Bethke Elshtain, The groves of Academe: The Dissenters Club, Books & Culture, July/August, 2003.)
[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Jesus, Luke 18:8b)
Countless articles, essays, and books are devoted to anti-Americanism, a topic loaded with controversy, animosity and contradiction. No one in his right mind pretends to be able to do justice to this topic in a 3000-word article. But I will attempt to give an overview of what I perceive to be the ideological underpinnings that give anti-Americanism its staying power. (For recommended further reading on this topic, see sidebar.)
A Revolutionary Mindset
I believe it is instructive to view Anti-Americanism as an outcropping of what is endemic to our modern, secular age, that is, an ideology of rejection and estrangement. This consists of an overriding sense not merely that there are things wrong with the United States as we know and experience it. No, it is the conviction that it (and by extension all of western society) is fundamentally, or systemically, corrupting and enslaving. What is needed is a radical overturning of the existing order, if necessary by force. In other words a REVOLUTION.
Fortunately, there are still many who have a very different view of life, but they must row against some powerful currents. Though the French Revolution occurred more than two hundred years ago, the ideas that drove that generation of revolutionaries are also influencing todays progressive thinkers and activists.
The French Revolution was not merely a one-time upheaval that eventually worked itself out into a return to normalcy. It was far more the benchmark of the modern era in which henceforth literally everything would be possible. No more boundaries or timeless norms would set the agenda in the new kingdom of Man. Man now was in control and the future was unlimited. The cry of No God, no Master would be the guiding principle of the truly enlightened.
Skipping fast forward to the 20th century we see a collage of tumultuous events, including rapid industrialization, the Russian Revolution of 1917, two calamitous world wars, the Depression, de-colonization, the Cold War, computerization, space travel, and now the war on terrorism, that have shaken all the old certitudes of the past, particularly the belief in inevitable progress. But one thing has endured in the minds of the progressive thinkers and pacesetters of public opinion in the universities, the media, and the leading foundations and think tanks that have sprouted like weeds. That is the conviction that western society is incurably sick and can only be made whole by a radical overhaul.
The Totalitarian Temptation
This is the reason that despite the collapse of Soviet communism, Marxist ideology is still alive and well in the universities and other progressive pockets of the West. For Marxism is the pre-eminent ideology of negation and destruction, while it promises to deliver a world of justice and harmony.
The contemporary Marxists or pseudo-Marxists attribute the failure of Soviet communism to the shortcomings of Stalin and his henchmen. They were bad people who derailed the revolution. Ditto for the other murderous leaders in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, and some might even admit in Cuba, although there are even those who hold the United States responsible. They persist in believing that human failings led to the disasters of these experiments, but the promised Utopia of humanity, equality and justice of Marxist ideology/faith still beckons.
Despite unspeakable horrors of the Stalinist and Maoist versions of communism, with its victims in the millions and the utter ruination if entire nations, many intellectuals continued to praise what they perceived to be the coming of a new and harmonious society. Thousands of political pilgrims traveled to Russia and China and reported to a mostly credulous audience that the communists were constructing a new civilization.
Sidney and Beatrice Webb could write in glowing terms about Stalinist Russia in their 1936 book Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? Walter Duranty of the New York Times, whom Malcolm Muggeridge called the biggest liar of any journalist I ever met, wrote similarly while Stalin was putting in place one of the most cruel and murderous regimes in modern times. The term evil empire was no exaggeration.
The determination to believe against all the evidence to the contrary in the possibility of a new and humane society, even one achieved by violence and trickery, caused some to persist in supporting communism. Bitter battles were fought within the trade unions of North America as well as among the intelligentsia in the United States. (For a gripping story about this, see Whittaker Chambers autobiography Witness.)
The revolution of the 1960s witnessed an outpouring of mindless anger against all traditional institutions and authority. Riots broke out in the major American cities. President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Five years later his brother Robert and the eloquent Black leader/preacher Martin Luther King were also gunned down. Some radical groups, such as the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, preached and practised violence as a means to liberate the oppressed in Amerika. The Vietnam war became the vocal point of massive demonstrations and riots that raised the contempt for America to a fever pitch.
Peter Clecak described this mood as a compound of moral anger, self-righteousness, and personal resentment Todd Gitlin wrote that the alienation that marked the 1960s amounted to a wide-ranging rejection of American society and culture:
Little by little, alienation from American life contempt even for the conventions of flag, home, religion, suburbs, shopping, plain homely Norman Rockwell order had become a rock-bottom prerequisite for membership in the movement core. (Quoted in Hollander, p. 10)
All the while, there were plenty of voices in the media and among the intelligentsia who were eager to excuse the violence and mayhem, arguing that the perpetrators were right to fight against an unjust and oppressive system. They were only acting in justified self-defence, they argued. In fact, this was the defence used by lawyers who succeeded in getting murderers off scot-free. The madness of this travesty eventually struck home, and some left the movement in disgust.
A few had to courage to speak out against the violence and destruction they had witnessed first-hand. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, authors of Destructive Generation: Second thought About the 60s, showed that the so-called freedom fighters against injustice were in fact murderous criminals who did not stop at killing their own buddies and even their benefactors.
Fay Stender, the crusading feisty lawyer who worked tirelessly and often successfully to have criminals, even murderers, acquitted became one such victim herself. In May 1979 she was shot by a member of the same militant Black clique she had often defended in court. She survived but was severely disabled and died (by suicide) in Hong Kong in her 48th year, a bitter, lonely, and totally disillusioned fighter for a lost cause.
The outrageous and criminal defiance of all authority and standards of civil behaviour coupled with the revelations of the misdeeds of Stalinist Russia in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev led the more thoughtful dissenters to turn their backs on their erstwhile revolutionary friends. Their stories make for fascinating reading.
The conflict between the democratic West and communist totalitarianism remained in full force and came to expression in the widely accepted notion that the United States and the Soviet Union were morally equivalent and were equally responsible for the Cold War. The radical left has even gone beyond the notion of equivalence and argues that the United States is a serious threat to world peace and the cause of Third World poverty.
This is what gets us right into the controversy about the role of the United States, the leadership of President George W. Bush, the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars that liberated Afghanistan and Iraq from their fanatic and murderous regimes.
To understand and rightly analyze the true nature of Anti-Americanism is a difficult assignment because its main stream is made up of many tributaries some of which are murky and filled with ravenous piranhas. Furthermore, our task is the more difficult because there are many reasons to be critical about the moral failings so obvious in the United States where everyone is free to speak openly and to say and write things whether they are true or false, or even treasonous.
In making sense out of a confusing picture we need to distinguish between the criticism that is fueled by hatred and a desire to destroy, and the kind that is inspired by love and a desire to build on that which is good and admirable about the United States. (Contrast the rantings of a Chomsky and The Nation with the pleadings of a Charles Colson or William Bennett.)
Fundamentally, anti-Americanism is driven by the attempt to eliminate the past as that has been influenced by the Christian faith and to replace that with a thoroughly secular understanding of the good life. That worldview was succinctly defined in the 1973 Humanist Manifesto, in which its authors stated that there is no supernatural, no divine purpose or providence, no deity to save us, but that we must save ourselves. Its signatories further stated that morality and ethics are derived from human experience, and that we humans create our own meaning. In other words, we are able to achieve an abundant and meaningful life guided by reason and good intentions.
Intellectuals in the democratic West are occupying the position of leadership in the heady undertaking so confidently mapped out in this manifesto. (See the statement of Norman Birnbaum at the beginning of this article.) They are the pre-eminent storm troopers of secularism, or modernism (now post-modernism). The problem with secularism is that it either loses itself into nihilism (life has no meaning), or it must invent a new source of meaning or purpose for life. All ideologies (notable Marxism) are such attempts to invent meaning, and all of them result in cruel tyrannies.
This is a time to carefully assess the world situation and the role of the United States as the pre-eminent world power. What is complicating Americas role is the fact that it is a severely divided nation. In popular language this division is described as a conflict between the Left and the Right, also referred to as liberalism (not the traditional type of liberalism) versus conservatism.
The trouble with these terms is that they are inexact and depend a great deal on context and on the intentions of those using these terms. However, in general the term Left refers to an optimistic belief in the malleability of human nature and social/political institutions. (The Humanist Manifesto fits within that category.) The Right tends to have a much more limited view of our human capacity to construct the world according to our own design. It is especially in the political arena that this conflict is evident in the United States, but in fact it permeates all of society. (See James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars, The Struggle to Define America.)
A Dangerous World
Internationally, the same conflict at a much higher level of intensity makes this a very divided and dangerous world. Religious fanatics in the name of Allah have declared war on the United States and its allies, and they are engaged in a deadly campaign of terror. Right now the western democracies have in their midst those who are scheming to do us harm. Nobody knows their numbers nor their whereabouts, or what they may yet accomplish in committing murder and sabotaging the infrastructure that we have come to depend on for our very existence. Nobody knows where they will strike again.
We should not fool ourselves. The declaration of war against the United States as the Great Satan is ultimately aimed at the entire West. Removing the Taliban and the Baathist thugs happened because the Americans were prepared to take on, at great risk and cost, a very difficult task. It has opened up possibilities for the flourishing of freedom and a measure of normalcy that the current populations of these countries have never experienced. It has also destroyed some major bases of the enemy and thereby curtailed its ability to do what it did on September 11, 2001.
The task of the coalition soldiers in that part of the world is dangerous and difficult. Instead of heaping scorn on what they are doing while putting their lives on the line, we should reward them with profound gratitude -- and our prayers. Nobody can be sure about the final outcome, and things can still go terribly wrong. Now is the time for the democratic world to do everything possible to retain what has been accomplished until freedom is secure in the newly liberated countries. This is not the time to stand back and find fault, but to support the United States and its allies in an extremely difficult assignment while their troops are now daily subjected to deadly terrorist attacks.
Recently I came across two different incidents that give a clear demonstration of the contrast between a hate-filled religious zeal aimed at the United States, and the decency and generosity of the American people reflected in their soldiers.
First, here is a statement by a Muslim predicting/threatening war against the United States:
I dont think theres a war here, a war front here in the United States at this point. I think if the whole scenario continues the way it has, inevitably the United States is going to reach a type of war front. Yeah. But not right now
(Mohammad al-Asi, Islamic Education Center, Potomac, Maryland, 1994. Quoted in Steven Emerson, American Jihad, p.61.)
Second, this is an excerpt about a recent church service of American soldiers in Iraq:
A number of first-time fathers stood up to announce the birth of babies this week, reminding us what these men have given up to be here. During prayer call at the Protestant services there were requests from sergeants and officers for wisdom so that they might ably lead the soldiers under them. I was struck that several requests for prayer for Iraqis were offered up by the servicemen in the congregation prayers for the safety of Iraqi civilians, and even for Iraqi soldiers, that they might recognize U.S. troops as liberators not enemies, and not to throw their lives away.
This camp is full of that characteristically American combination of no-nonsense ferocity hard amidst deep decency and kindness. The noblest, and rarest, mix for any military setting.
(Karl Zinsmeister, How Americas Swat Team Helped Swat Saddam, The American Enterprise, June 2003, P. 31.)
An Influence for Good
I can imagine that some critics of this piece might say to me: Do you mean to say that the Americans are the embodiment of goodness and that anyone who dares to criticize them is evil? I do not mean any such thing.
The United States is suffering from the same spiritual malaise that is afflicting the rest of us. It is burdened by all the forces of modernism with its rampant hedonism and materialism, evident in the breakdown of marriage and the family, abortion on demand, crime, drug addiction, corruption, political correctness sleazy politics and ditto entertainment. The list goes on and on.
However, the United Sates is not one uniform entity of evil and corruption, as depicted by its homegrown and foreign radical critics. Despite all the wrongs so clearly and openly trumpeted by so many, you will also find in this country, healthy families and communities, a love of freedom, the conviction that some things are worth fighting for, and a spirit of generosity that comes to expression in helping the needy nearby and far away. This is the nation that is providing a home for millions of newcomers who experience their new country as a place of freedom and opportunity. The United States may well be the most Christian nation today, at least in the West - although considering the current state of Christianity, that may not mean all that much. But it is something.
The much-maligned neoconservative movement in the United States, which includes a Christian component, is effectively challenging the mainline establishment in the print and other media. They include authors, essayists and commentators who excel in presenting a thoughtful defence of what is right and honourable about the United States. Those who want to seriously explore the burning issues of our time will find a wealth of information and insights that they will not find in the establishment literature. (See recommended Reading)
Our time is marked by the belief that all things are relative. All issues and conflicts can be reduced to matters of opinion, interests, or preferences. If that were so, nothing can be resolved by appealing to what is true and right, but inevitably all conflicts will become contests of brute power.
I wonder whether this trendy relativism is not the deepest reason why those steeped in anti-Americanism are furious when the United States declares certain states to be evil. To call anything or any one evil is a cardinal sin according to the intelligentsia that has done away with the notion of sin because it believes that there is no abiding standard of truth. Especially Christians who confess that the Bible is true should appreciate the courage of leaders who dare to call evil by its right name. That such plain speaking is now an act of courage that arouses intense anger and vituperation is an indication of how far we already have slipped down the proverbial slippery slope.
There is something else that its radical critics are getting all wrong. The United States has served as a buffer against the threat of the Soviet empire for nearly half a century at immense cost, including the loss of many lives. We should not trivialize its willingness to spend its resources and manpower to protect the free world and even some nations that are harbouring the terrorists who have vowed to destroy it.
To call the United States a terrorist state that is a threat to the world and responsible for the impoverishment of the Third World are malicious lies. These lies are repeated endlessly in the Arab world (and in the West) and add immensely to the difficulties the Unites States and its allies are facing. Even now some are so blinded by their hatred that they want the United States to fail in its attempt to help establish freedom and normalcy in Iraq. They are describing the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq in the most negative terms and seem not to care one whit about the terrible fate that would befall the people of these countries should the United Sates not persevere in helping them to build free and democratic societies.
This is the time to stand with the United States against the lies and distortions hurled against it, even if we have certain reservations and misgivings about the details. The world situation is precarious. There are evil forces out to destroy and kill. To defend ourselves against them requires more than endless conferences and United Nations resolutions. Sometimes what is needed is military force and the kind of determined leadership now provided by President Bush.
May God bless America.
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------------. Moral Clarity in a Time of war, First Things, January, 2002.