Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing Part 1
By Lee Harris
A specter haunts the world, and that specter is America. This is not the America discoverable in the pages of a world atlas, but a mythical America that is the target of the new form of anti-Americanism that Salman Rushdie, writing in the Guardian (February 6, 2002), says 'is presently taking the world by storm' and that forms the subject of a Washington Post essay by Martin Kettle significantly entitled "U.S. Bashing: It's All The Rage In Europe" (January 7, 2002). It is an America that Anatol Lieven assures us, in a recent article in the London Review of Books, is nothing less than "a menace to itself and to mankind" and that Noam Chomsky has repeatedly characterized as the world's major terrorist state.
But above all it is the America that is responsible for the evils of the rest of the world. As Dario Fo, the winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for literature, put it in a notorious post-September 11 email subsequently quoted in the New York Times (September 22, 2001): "The great speculators [of American capitalism] wallow in an economy that every years kills tens of millions of people with poverty [in the Third World]" so what is 20,000 dead in New York? Regardless of who carried out the massacre [of 9-11], this violence is the legitimate daughter of the culture of violence, hunger and inhumane exploitation."
It is this sort of America that is at the hub of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's revision of Marxism in their intellectually influential book Empire (Harvard University Press, 2000), a reinterpretation of historical materialism in which the global capitalist system will be overthrown not by those who have helped to create it, namely, the working class, but rather by a polyglot global social force vaguely referred to as "the multitude", the alleged victims of this system.
America-bashing is anti-Americanism at its most radical and totalizing. Its goal is not to advise, but to condemn; not to fix, but to destroy. It repudiates every thought of reform in any normal sense; it sees no difference between American liberals and American conservatives; it views every American action, both present and past, as an act of deliberate oppression and systemic exploitation. It is not that America went wrong here or there; it is that it is wrong root and branch. The conviction at the heart of those who engage in it is really quite simple: that America is an unmitigated evil, an irredeemable enormity.
This is the specter that is haunting the world today. Indeed, one may even go so far as to argue that this America is the fundamental organizing principle of the left as it exists today: To be against America is to be on the right side of history; to be for it is to be on the wrong side.
But let's pause to ask a question whose answer the America-bashers appear to assume they know: What is the right side of history at this point in history?
The concept of a right side of history is derived from Marxism, and it is founded on the belief that there is a forward advance toward a socialist future that can be resisted, but not ultimately defeated. But does anyone believe this anymore? Does anyone take seriously the claim that the present state of affairs will be set aside and a wholly new order of things implemented in its place, and that such a transformation of the world will happen as a matter of course?
And, finally, if in fact there are those who believe such a thing, what is the status of this belief? Is it a realistic assessment of the objective conditions of the present world order, or is it merely wishful thinking? Go to Part 2: Marx's political realism.
- Introduction: The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
- Part 1: The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
- Part 2: Marx's political realism
- Part 3: Immiserization
- Part 4: Immiserization goes global
- Part 5: America as "root cause"
- Part 6: 9-11 calling
- Part 7: The temptation of fantasy ideology
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