The psychology of anti-Americanism
By John Ray (M.A.;Ph.D.)
Some scene-setting quotations:
"They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet... in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pricks"
(The much-acclaimed Michael Moore's opinion of his fellow-Americans)
"I knew that the wave of anti-Americanism that would swell up after the Iraq war would make me feel ill. And it has. It has made me much, much more ill than I had expected.
My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.... I hate feeling this hatred."
(Quote from English novelist Margaret Drabble from May, 2003)
"If one is not at least a serious doubter of the legitimacy of the state of Israel (never mind the policies of its government) and if one does not dismiss everything American as a priori vile and reactionary, one runs the risk of being excluded from the entity called "the left." There has not been a common issue since the Spanish Civil War that has united the left so clearly as has anti-Zionism and its twin, anti-Americanism. The left divided, and divides, over Serbia, over Chechnya, over Darfur, even over the war in Iraq. There are virtually no divisions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and over the essence of the United States.
(The above is a summary -- originally published in the Leftist magazine "Dissent" -- of where Leftists at the beginning of the 21st century stood with regard to America and Israel.)
I have shown elsewhere what great haters Leftists are in general but this is a separate look at perhaps the most obvious example of such hate -- hatred for the USA -- a hatred which is not only ferocious in most of Western Europe but which is widespread in America itself:
Modern-day Leftists fervently proclaim how opposed they are to "prejudice" and "racism" but allow themselves some notable exceptions to that -- with Jews (sorry! "Zionists"!) being the most obvious such exception. Another prejudice that Leftists are allowed to express is however ALMOST racist: Leftists are allowed to be anti-American. It might be objected that anti-Americanism is not racist because Americans are not a race but the essential point surely is that group prejudice and hatred is group prejudice and hatred, however the target group is defined.
Just look at this example of hate at work:
"American students are quitting Queensland universities in the face of hate attacks by Australians angry at US President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. One university has launched an investigation into claims an American student returned to the US after suffering six months of abuse at a residential college in Brisbane. American students have told The Sunday Mail the verbal attacks are unbearable and threatening to escalate into physical violence. Griffith University student Ian Wanner, 19, from Oregon, said abusive Australian students had repeatedly called him a "sepo" - short for septic tank. "It is so disrespectful. It's not exactly the most welcoming atmosphere here," he said. The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission has described the abuse as "horrible" and says it could be classed as racial vilification".
And these hate-filled Leftists are presumably the same people who condemn racism as being a narrow and ignorant overgeneralization and tell us that people must not be abused or made to suffer just because they are members of some minority group! Given American voting patterns, about half of the American students concerned probably don't like George Bush very much either but that does not hold back the Left from their narrow and ignorant overgeneralizations.
As an Australian, I see considerable differences between US culture and my own Australian culture -- and I definitely prefer my own. Most people do prefer their own (Park, 1950). What is hard to understand, however, is what the most generous nation on earth has done to deserve the hatred of it that is so routinely poured out in much of the world. How visceral and totally irrational that hatred can be is perhaps best seen in the case of the much remarked Drabble dribble excerpted above. If I were religious, I would be inclined to think that the America-haters were demon-possessed.
And the events of September 11, 2001 surely show that hatred of America (whether by Muslim fantasists, Japanese Bushido fantasists, Leftist fantasists or any other fantasists) can be as malign, mindless and dangerous as any other form of prejudice. And it must be noted that Muslim fundamentalists are very much like the Greens and the Left in their dislike of the modern capitalistic world and in their dream of turning us all back to some sort of an idealized primitive past. No wonder so many Leftists condone Muslim terrorism! And if the Muslim fundamentalists want to return us all to a feudal state, the various Communist regimes actually did. Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung etc were as much God-kings in their time as any Pharaoh of Egypt ever was.
But, as Paul Johnson eloquently points out, the sort of Leftist anti-Americanism we see so much of today is so illogical and counterfactual as to inspire the thought that it is a type of mental illness. Excerpt:
"Like hatred of Jews, hatred of Americans can similarly be described as a form of racism or xenophobia, especially in its more vulgar manifestations. But among academics and intellectuals, where it is increasingly prevalent, it has more of the hallmarks of a mental disease, becoming more virulent, widespread, and intractable ever since the United States began to shoulder the duties of the war against international terrorism.
After all, to hate Americans is against reason. For centuries, and never more so than at present, the U.S. has harbored the poor and persecuted from the entire world, who have found freedom and prospered on its soil. America continues to receive more immigrants than any other country; its most recent arrivals, including the Cubans, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, and the Lebanese, have become some of the richest groups in the country and are enthusiastic supporters of its democratic norms. Indeed, since American society is now a vibrant microcosm of the human race, I would say that to hate Americans is to hate humanity as a whole."
The people concerned are NOT however obviously mentally ill so a deeper explanation for the phenomenon is needed.
The simplest reason behind Leftist anti-Americanism is that America sits at the pinnacle of the existing world power structure and a desire to change or tear down existing power structures -- for whatever reason -- is undisputably at the core of what Leftism is about. Americans are enragingly un-equal. And even Americans can be anti-American. Excerpt:
Antiwar protesters burned and ripped up flags, flowers and patriotic signs at a Sept. 11 memorial that residents erected on a fence along Whittier Boulevard days after the terrorist attacks in 2001 and have maintained ever since.
Or note this comment from an American entertainer:
"This irrational and virulent hatred radiates from elected officials to all those who elected them. I saw a T-shirt in a Palm Springs shop that said, "So many right-wing Christians, so few lions." Hilarious, n'est-ce pas? Nothing funnier than religious believers being ripped to shreds by wild animals in front of cheering pagans.
I'm intrigued by the liberal furor over Karl Rove's remark about the difference in reactions to 9/11. As my old grandfather used to say, "You throw a stone into a pack of dogs and the one that barks the loudest is the one you hit."
Everything Rove said is absolutely true. I entertained at a 50th anniversary party for a well-known feminist leader about 10 days after 9/11. Much of the liberal elite of the Twin Cities was present. I was wearing a little flag pin that elicited considerable mockery. In a post-performance conversation with 3 prominent DFL activists, they all agreed that 1) America had it coming 2) much of the rest of the world cheered the attacks and that was not a bad thing; 3) the attack was purely a "criminal" matter that required the issuing of indictments, but surely not a war, and finally and most horrifically, a direct quote, "At least we got rid of Barbara Olson."
Like racists who feel free to use the "N" word among themselves, these people felt free to be so frank and unguarded because they absolutely assumed that I shared their worldview. I was so upset I couldn't even EAT, and anyone who knows me knows how serious THAT was. I told them I disagreed completely and left. That was the final straw launching me from my lifelong stint as a Democrat to the Republican party."
Many US liberals are routinely critical of almost everything about their country -- a country in which untold millions of people from around the world would love to settle, given half a chance. Some American liberals even seem to see American society as rotten to the core, which, in a generally patriotic world, is fairly surprising. It is however explicable as envy and frustration at the vast influence that American society and the American common culture undoubtedly wield over both individual Americans and the world at large. The American way of life and thinking must be a frustrating behemoth indeed for those who would wish to change it.
That envy of American power and success lies at the heart of most anti-Americanism would also seem to be shown by the anti-Americanism that seems to be rife in SOUTH Korea. Excerpt from a Reuters report of Dec. 17, 2002:
Websites, the media and the street are rife with resentment at South Korea's security ally of 50 years and top trade partner, influencing candidates' stances in Thursday's poll -- a close race which may hinge on how the country's volatile youth vote.... But the anger -- vented in some 50 street rallies that recently have drawn thousands more people than the presidential candidates -- is deep and broad. A recent Pew poll showed South Koreans hold the strongest anti-American views in Asia.
It was only by virtue of thousands of young Americans spilling their blood in the Korean war that South Korea escaped from the horror to their North. One might naively think that this would induce gratitude to America. That it does not shows that there is a stronger force at work. And only envy seems to be a sufficient explanation. What have Americans done to earn the dislike of South Koreans? Nothing of any significance (unless you count this:
A 6th Cavalry Brigade soldier received the Army's highest award for peace-time heroism Dec. 2 for saving a Korean woman's life. Cpt. David A. DeMartelaere, who was S-4 of the 1-43rd Air Defense Artillery at the time of the rescue, was awarded the Soldier's Medal for helping save Lee, Shin-eh, a Korean national, from her burning car in a Dec. 10, 2000 accident. Lee and a friend were driving on Route 1 near Osan Air Base when a drunk driver crossed into their lane and crashed into their car head on. DeMartelaere and Worthington, who were also driving on the road, stopped to help. "Right after we stopped, one of the cars just became a big ball of fire," said DeMartelaere. "The other car was smoking from a fire in the engine. Someone was still alive because we heard the sounds of her choking on the smoke. We knew we had to get her out immediately." The two soldiers were unable to break the windshield, according to DeMartelaere, so they bent the door in half by ripping down on the top of the door. They were then able to pull Lee from the wreckage).
All that Americans have done is to be their prosperous, kindly, confident and successful selves. And envious people hate them for it: So very sad for all concerned.
A good answer to anti-Americanism is this:
"America has its faults as a society, as we have ours. But I think of the union of America born out of the defeat of slavery. I think of its constitution, with its inalienable rights granted to every citizen, still a model for the world. I think of a black man, born in poverty, who became chief of their armed forces and is now Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and I wonder frankly whether such a thing could have happened here. I think of all this and I reflect: yes, America has its faults, but it is a free country, it is our ally and some of the reaction to September 11 betrays a hatred of America that shames those that feel it."
Who said that? The quote is from a larger discussion of Canadian anti-Americanism. It was said by British Labour Party Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Good man!
And what Americans are criticized for is truly amazing. The routine European criticism of Americans seems to be that they are "stupid" -- clueless "cowboys". So how did a stupid people get to be one of the most prosperous on earth? How did a stupid people get to be the world's only superpower? How did a stupid people avoid ever having their cities bombed flat? How did a stupid people produce military equipment so advanced that no-one else can hope to match it? The Iraqi army put up a tenacious fight against the Iranian army but it just went home when a much smaller American military force arrived. How did a stupid people come to dominate the world with its cultural products? Ever heard of Hollywood or American popular music? And even Italians now make "Western" movies. How did a stupid people get to dominate the world with its products and business systems? Ever heard of Coca Cola, McDonald's or KFC? How did America get to dominate the world with its intellectual products? Ever heard of Microsoft or IBM or Intel or all the American Nobel prize-winners? How did a stupid people get to integrate successfully within their ranks large numbers of people from every country in Europe? South America and North America are both large continents well-endowed with natural resouces so how come there is no South American equivalent of the USA? How come prosperity stops at the U.S.-Mexico border? And how come it is Europe that invented both Communism and Fascism and that it was America that had to rescue them from both? Those who call Americans stupid show by doing so how stupid they themselves are.
Leftist motivation generally
But it is not really stupidity at all, of course. Many anti-American Americans are highly intelligent people. To understand the full depth of Leftist anti-Americanism (such as we find in the immensely popular work of Michael Moore) we have to look at what motivates Leftists generally. In particular, we have to discard any assumption of rationality for what they say. We generally treat Leftists with more courtesy than they deserve. We take seriously statements they make that are not at all serious. We assume that Leftism is a set of ideas or even a philosophy when it is neither of those things. Leftism is a posture, not a set of ideas. And as such it can only be understood psychologically rather than logically. The Leftist is not at all bothered by his inconsistencies or failures to recognize reality. So to discover inconsistencies and unreality in his utterances is both easy and irrelevant. A Leftist utterance is not aimed at any sort of serious explanation of the world at all. It is aimed simply at making the Leftist feel good -- and hopefully of persuading others that he is a good guy too.
An August 2002 article by Lee Harris contains an anecdote about the Vietnam activism of the 60's that illustrates that point well:
"My first encounter with this particular kind of fantasy occurred when I was in college in the late sixties. A friend of mine and I got into a heated argument. Although we were both opposed to the Vietnam War, we discovered that we differed considerably on what counted as permissible forms of anti-war protest. To me the point of such protest was simple - to turn people against the war. Hence anything that was counterproductive to this purpose was politically irresponsible and should be severely censured. My friend thought otherwise; in fact, he was planning to join what by all accounts was to be a massively disruptive demonstration in Washington, and which in fact became one.
My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of such a demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason - because it was, in his words, good for his soul.
What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.
And we see the much same thing in a much more eminent and influential Leftist -- Eric Hobsbawm -- Britain's famous Communist historian. He lived in Germany in the 1930s and comments about that time: "If I'd been German and not a Jew, I could see I might have become a Nazi, a German nationalist. I could see how they'd become passionate about saving the nation. It was a time when you didn't believe there was a future unless the world was fundamentally transformed." That is of course a implicit acknowledgment of how close psychologically Nazism and Communism were in that both offered passion and both offered radical change. But the most interesting thing is what he says drew him to Communism from his early days on. He says that the basis of his Communism was a sense of "mass ecstasy"; "pity for the exploited"; the "aesthetic appeal of a perfect and comprehensive intellectual system - dialectical materialism"; a "Blakean vision of the new Jerusalem"; and "intellectual anti-philistinism". So again we see that the main appeal of Communism was the psychological satisfactions it gave -- "ecstasy" even. Whether it was right or benevolent was incidental.
So the Leftist can quite cheerfully say that there are no genetic influences on human behaviour when discussing IQ and then go on immediately to say that homosexuality is genetically inherited ("the gay gene"). To conservatives that sounds like inconsistency and it is certainly logically inconsistent. But the Leftist isn't really bothered about logic. What he says is psychologically consistent. In both cases he is casting himself in the heroic role of the defender of the underdog.
In the case of homosexuals, the disgust that most normal people feel about homosexuality means that homosexuals will always to some extent be underdogs so the Leftist aims to show how much kinder and wiser he is by defending them. And if "they can't help it" ("the gay gene" theory) seems to be the best defence of them he will say that. But in the case of IQ the idea that there is an inborn disposition to be good or bad at solving most problems implies that people who prosper may be prosperous for a good and just reason. And that conflicts with the Leftist's desire to feel and look kind and wise by championing the poor. So in this case he has to DENY that the poor "can't help it". It sounds a lot better to say that poverty is the result of wicked and unkind people conspiring to keep poor people down. And saying that shows the Leftist as "caring" about the poor and as being so wise as to see causes of poverty that others cannot. So he denies that there is any such thing as IQ, let alone an inherited IQ. He claims that poverty is the result of "oppression" and "injustice", not of lesser ability to make good decisions in life. A century of evidence about the reality, importance and heritability of IQ does not bother him because evidence is not what he is concerned about.
So let us apply that general understanding to Anti-Americanism: Why are Manhattan "liberals" and their ilk so reflexively anti-American? Evan Sayet has a good description of just how compulsive the hatred of their own country is among such people. Excerpt:
"I spent the last week with my Modern Liberal relatives in New York. It was excruciating. What I found was cynicism beyond belief -- and beyond all rational (in fact any rational) thought. The correct answer to all things was whatever the worst interpretation of America and Americans could be.
But Evan tries foolishly to apply logic to their statements when there is no logic there. What he fails to see is that their anti-Americanism is a CLAIM on their own behalf, not a rational proposition. It is a claim to being superior. Like Hobsbawm they are expressing what they see as "intellectual anti-philistinism". They are in effect saying: "We are good and smart and wise -- not like all those other dumb Americans around the place". They knock Americans as a way of feeling better about themselves -- just as Europeans do. And, like Europeans, such knocking shows that they secretly fear that they may in reality be inferior. If they really were demonstrably superior they would not feel any need to put other people down.
There are of course some other groups that Leftists see fit to scorn -- Christians and conservatives in particular. Tim at Random Observations has noted the huge upsurge of hatred against Christians among Leftists in the early 21st century. In part, the phenomenon is of course a response to the tendency of evangelical Christians to vote GOP but there seems to be a passion in the hatred directed towards Bible-believing Christians which borders on insanity at times. It seems much more than dislike of someone you disagree with.
Tim explains the fervid hatred by saying that many people (particularly Leftists) need to feel superior to someone else in order to boost their own ego but Leftists are not supposed to feel superior to lots of people these days (homosexuals, blacks, poor people etc) so Christians are about all that is left as permissible scapegoats. So all their hatred is poured out through the narrow openings that their beliefs allow. So Christians are just about the only permissible targets.
Tim overlooks, however, that Leftists hate all sorts of people -- businessmen, the rich, overweight people, the bourgeoisie, corporate bosses, and almost anybody who is doing well for himself or herself. Nonetheless it is true that the "tolerant" pose Leftists adopt does cut them off from admitting to hatred or dislike of quite a lot of people and since people who consider themselves superior really despise just about everybody, that does leave unfulfilled a big need to put other people down. So the groups that are "permissible" to hate often get a fierce dose of that hate.
So in summary, what I think we need to say to make sense of Leftist hatreds is that Leftists are people who have a huge need to think highly of themselves. But they have an awkward limit to how they express that. Being "superior" can only be relative. Superior to whom? So the Leftist always needs to feel superior to someone or some group in particular. There has to be some group that they don't need to pander to and which they are free to put down and hate. And, at the moment, Christians, Jews, conservatives and Americans are popular candidates for that hatred. Since Leftists these days are often quite affluent themselves, the traditional Leftist ploy of hating "the rich" or "the bourgeoisie" might invite some awkward comments, questions and even requests for donations!
But egotistical beliefs are hard to maintain and are hence vulnerable to disconfirmation in various ways. A big ego is a weak ego. Someone who sees himself as just an average guy (or a Christian who sees himself as just a sinner) will find confirmation of that belief all about him most days of his life. But someone who thinks he is out of the box will be constantly scrabbling for support of that belief. So Leftists are always looking for the praise, for the attention and for the power that they need and that they think they deserve. And they will do anything to get it. They will do anything to bolster their big but fragile egos. Their ego need is far more important to them than any scruple. They will say anything at all that they think will make them look good.
So the fervour of hatred that the Leftists currently pour out towards their particular hate-objects reflects both how big and how threatened their egos are. And with the fall of their much relied-upon Soviet Union having been followed by many other ego-squelching conservative advances in recent years that threat seems unlikely to go away. So we will see much more anti-Americanism yet.
Anyone who doubts that Leftists do see themselves as superior beings should trawl through the achives of my LEFTISTS AS ELITISTS blog for a while. That will set any doubts completely at rest.
There are of course many things that flow from Leftist egotism other than the need to put other people down that I have dwelt on so far. One of the most direct results of egotism is a yen for power. The egotist feels that he/she should rule the roost or at least take part in ruling the roost. But the no. 1 repository of power in almost any human society is the government -- and that is hugely the case in modern economically advanced societies. So it is always on government that the eyes of Leftists are trained. Through government they hope for the power that they seek. So they are always proposing more and more government activism and putting themselves forward as the ones to run and manage the activism concerned. But this too leads to frustration with America: Because America's traditions are fundamentally individualistic and suspicious of government. And America's successes at doing things without the aid of government (or despite the government!) tend to show up the whole idea of government activism as being the folly that it usually is. So what the Leftist wants clashes fundamentally with what is quintessentially American. No wonder therefore that Leftists hate America! Ted Baiamonte formulates it as follows:
"So why do liberals hate America? The answer is simple: America, since the Revolution and before, has been mostly about freedom from gov't and therefore about freedom from Democrats. Throughout American History the Democrats have always been for less and less freedom from gov't despite the hundred million or so dead bodies gov't has caused during that period. It seems fairly obvious that their philosophical illegitimacy is what makes their loyalty so questionable and their style so nasty and, seemingly, treasonous. They want to belong here but the facts always paint them as anti-American. In a way you have to feel sorry for the painful position in which they find themselves
I will conclude with an analysis by Evan Sayet that touches on yet another outcome of egotism: Delight at seeing failure in others. Seeing other people fail is of course immensely satisfying to egotists and Evan finds exactly that love of failure (in others), promotion of failure (worldwide) and hatred of success (in others) among America's Left:
"So why does the Democrat hate America?
The answer can be found in the fact that Democrats see life as a zero-sum game. To them, if someone wins that means it must come at the expense of someone else. Success is thus evil as it causes pain and suffering to others. Since America is successful -- in fact unprecedentedly so -- America, in their eyes, is unprecedentedly evil. Suddenly it makes sense why Democrats continually compare America to the most heinous regimes in history.
The Republican, in contrast, believes the very opposite. The Republican believes that "all ships rise with the tide." To the Republican success, then, is good and should be encouraged at all levels and to the greatest degree. To the Republican America's success -- and the benefits that brings to the rest of the world -- is great.
But that's not what makes America great to the Republican. Success is amoral. To the Republican it is not a persons or a nation's success or failure that defines their goodness but rather it is their behavior. To the Democrat behavior is of no significance. To the Democrat good is defined as anything that fails and evil is defined as whatever succeeds.
The Democrats' hatred of success is not just limited to economics. While America is evil because of our success and corporations are, de facto, evil because they're successful (and the most successful corporation, Wal-Mart, of course receives the most hatred from the left) the same hatred exists for those who are successful in their studies.
It is for this reason that the Democrat designs policy intended always to reward the failed and punish the successful. Thus when children fail to learn to read and write the Democrat seeks to reward them with a promotion to the next grade anyway. They call it a "social" promotion and it includes all of the benefits one receives for working hard, staying home from the party to study and doing one's assignments without having to make any of the effort.
At the same time that the Democrat works to reward failure they pursue policies such as the ones we're seeing on college campuses today where they seek to destroy the valedictorian honor for the best of the best and remove merit as the criteria for awarding the "merit scholarship." Rather than being a reward for hard work and accomplishment the Democrats seek to turn the merit scholarship into just another welfare program.
Since good and evil is defined not by behaviors but by success and failure the Democrat supports every failed regime on the planet no matter how horrific its system and leader or the cause of its failure.
This is why the Democrats (and their ideological brethren in Europe) so hate Israel and so adore the Palestinians. The fact that Yasser Arafat was a corrupt, mass murdering, terrorist dictator who stole his people's money, sent fourteen year old brainwashed children out to blow the skulls off of the infidels in Israel and intentionally kept his people in poverty to be used as political pawns is of no significance to the Democrat. The Palestinians are to be championed for their failure and Israel, a democracy with freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, is to be hated for its success.
There is no doubt that Democrats hate America. There is no other possible explanation for their attempts to turn unpleasant weather conditions in an interrogation cell in Cuba or a couple of pairs of panties on the heads of those sworn to murder all infidels (e.g. Americans) into the equivalent of the regimes of Pol Pot and Adolph Hitler. There can be no other explanation for the Democratic Party leadership giving a standing ovation to what they know to be a lie-filled, hate-filled, anti-American propaganda film -- one that would be used to incite hatred for America and drum up recruits to massacre its citizens. There can be no other explanation for the most hateful demagogic attacks on America's Commander-in-Chief at a time of war especially when that is against those who have not only sworn to bring death to America and Americans but have already succeeded in doing so by the thousands.
No, there is no doubt that Democrats hate America -- and will do so until they can make us fail."
Park, R.E. (1950) Race and culture. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.
There may be the odd reader who is historically sophisticated enough to know that there would appear to be one huge gap in the above account. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Left were up until comparatively recent times highly patriotic. Michael Medved offers a useful summary:
Today's militant leftists not only spread lies about America's present but generate even more damaging distortions about the nation's past and in so doing differentiate themselves from the radical idealists of yesteryear.
Contemporary followers of Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill view the entire American experience as a disgrace, even a crime. They stress the nation's guilt in committing "genocide" against Native Americans, enslaving millions of Africans, stealing Mexican land, despoiling the pristine environment, oppressing working people everywhere, and blocking progressive change with an imperialist foreign policy. One Jake Irvin of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington recently told the Wall Street Journal: "My political belief is that the U.S. is a horrendous empire that needs to end."
In contrast, the radicals and revolutionaries of the past cloaked themselves in patriotic symbols and proclaimed their desire to call the nation back to its own highest ideals. From Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas to Paul Robeson and Abbie Hoffman, these agitators proudly quoted Jefferson, Lincoln, or Tom Paine, and agreed with the nation's mainstream that Americanism (at least as they defined it) represented the last, best hope of earth. Even the Communist Party USA unblushingly honored national heroes: when they dispatched their fighters to support fellow Stalinists in the Spanish Civil War, the volunteers called themselves "The Abraham Lincoln Brigade" not the "Vladimir Lenin Brigade." Stalin?s personal friend Paul Robeson achieved mainstream popularity with his "Ballad for Americans," treating the Revolutionary War as a heroic struggle not a malevolent conspiracy by greedy slaveholders (as it's often portrayed today).
Despite his personal dalliance with the Communist Party, composer Aaron Copland crafted loving tributes to the American spirit, achieving vast popularity with works from his nationalist period ("Appalachian Spring," "A Lincoln Portrait," "Rodeo," "Billy the Kid"), inventing a distinctive musical language of pioneers and open spaces without nods to multiculturalism or self-pity. Woody Guthrie, another embattled radical, proudly penned "This Land is Your Land" an unblushing love song to his native soil.
So how come? If anti-Americanism is a deep psychological phenomenon among the Left, how come it is so recent?
This is something of a specialist question and is certainly a topic all by itself -- which is why I have relegated it to an addendum -- but the following are a few outline notes:
One part of the answer is plain. Up until World War 2, America was NOT the world-dominating power that it now is. All the excitement, innovation, power and influence was coming from Europe -- Russia, Germany, Britain and Italy, particularly. So to the pre-1945 generation, America was actually a hopeful counterweight to the leading powers in the world. American patriotism was at that time a DEFIANCE of power, influence and success -- just what Leftists want. And it took a little while for Leftists accustomed to being patriotic to change their tune. But by the 1960's most of them had done so and the move into reverse-gear on patriotism was well underway.
But what about Leftists outside America? If (for instance) Britian was a major focus of power and influence before 1939. did that make British Leftists of the day unpatriotic? It did, to a degree. Cambridge University became a nest of spies-to-be for the Soviets (Philby, et al.) and Oxford was also very Leftist. In 1933 (9th Feb.) the Oxford Union debated the motion: "This House will in no circumstances fight for King and Country". The motion was overwhelmingly carried (275 to 153).
On the other hand, pre-1939 Italy and Germany were definitely movers and shakers of the day but accompanied that by new heights of patriotism and nationalism. How does that fit in? It fits in exceedingly well. Fascism and Nazism were both far-Leftist (though not as Leftist as the Soviets -- see here and here) so what we saw there was Leftist rulers encouraging allegiance to their regimes. Leftists love and glorify being IN power as much as they hate being OUT of power. Similarly, American Leftists were much less alienated during the Clinton Presidency, even though Clinton was more a centrist than a real Leftist.
History never repeats itself exactly, however, so comparisons of the pre and post WWII eras need to take lots of differences into account -- particularly in this case the fact that WWII itself undermined the allure of patriotism and nationalism. So emphatic were the patriotic and nationalistic preachings of the Fascists that their military defeat tended to undermine belief in the rightness and wisdom of all such concepts. EVERYONE was nationalistic, racist, patriotic etc before the disaster of WWI and most remained so up until and during WWII but the evils revealed in the aftermath of WWII made such concepts highly debatable. And Leftists of course saw advantage in taking the negative in that debate, even if it meant reversing the position they had held before WWII (as it did in the USA). Their anti-patriotic stance served to distance them from what had come to be seen as a losing ideology (Fascism) and once again put them on the side of the saints.
The following excerpt from a French writer on anti-Americanism shows some insight:
"As soon as somebody mentions the United States, the best minds leave the realm of reason. In the eighties, Alan de Benoist, a Nouvelle Droite [New Right] ideologue, wrote, "I'd still rather be under the yoke of the Red Army than have to eat hamburgers." In the beginning of 1999, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard showed in Liberation how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Washington had plotted to aid Slobodan Milosevic in liquidating the Kosovar Albanians. In 1991, Le Monde's film critic compared Hollywood movies to Goebbels's Propaganda-Staffel. During the brief Kosovo conflict, the English playwright Harold Pinter, since winner of a Nobel Prize, declared in Liberation, "Here's a definition of American foreign policy: `kiss my ass, or I'll stomp on your face.' Milosevic refused to kiss American ass, so Clinton stomped on the Serbs' face." At the same time, the Trotskyist philosopher Daniel Bensaid rejected both Milosevic and NATO as "two perfectly twinned, contemporary forms of modern barbarism." For his part, the director of the Picasso museum in Paris, Jean Clerc compared Belgrade to Guernica and American aviators to Nazi pilots, indifferent to the populations they were crushing.
The attacks of September 11 also gave rise to some choice bouquets: let's begin with the conspiracy theories started in France by Thierry Meyssan and in Germany by former Social Democratic Party minister Andreas Von Buelow. They "revealed" that the Pentagon itself had launched the airplanes against the towers in order to take power. German writers Guenter Grass and Botho Strauss pointed to the towers' fall as "the amputation of finance's accusing fingers" and to the Afghanistan expedition as "a war of bad guys against bad guys." The prize goes to Baudrillard, who confessed himself fascinated with the "joyous" aesthetic of the attacks, like Nero faced with Rome in flames. He also put the principal antagonists back to back. The American system has so monopolized force, according to Baudrillard, that the terrorists were obligated to respond by a definitive and brutal act: "Terror against terror, there's no more ideology behind this."
In 2003, during the buildup to the second Gulf War, a former socialist minister placed George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden on equal footing (he later denied that he'd done so) and the Nouvel Observateur depicted the head of the White House with all the trappings of the dictator-of Charlie Chaplin playing with the globe-that is to say, they merged Bush with Hitler! Also in 2003, the demographer Emmanuel Todd announced the ineluctable crumbling of the American system and the irresistible rise of Europe in his book After the Empire. It was therefore useless to be anti-American because an America caught up in its militarist delusions would soon be finished anyway. I won't be cruel enough to confront these propositions with the reality of a Europe in tatters and a France in aggravated crisis. But, I repeat, the complexity of the world is the chief enemy of these "theoreticians" who go to their stash of cardboard cutouts to "interpret" the world; that is, annex it to their prejudices. We are no longer in the arena of political analysis but of the religious register, where "anathema" is pronounced.
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