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How not to interpret Anti-Americanism: 'America in the World'
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2008-08-29 09:06:33
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On the popular networking system Facebook, a particular group exists calling itself the Petition to Revoke the Independence of the United States. It is a playful thing, though some of its participants tend to become too serious. Its such sentiments that have prompted the web antics of Englishman Tim Montgomerie.

Montgomerie is on edge. He dislikes what he considers to be a vicious tide of anti-Americanism in Britain. Hence his new group ‘America in the World’ (AIW). The organisation opposes two things: anti-Americanism and American isolationism. It is also quick to point out to critics that they are not in the pocket of American finance.

Montgomerie has taken the bright coloured end of the American dream and run with it – America is good, and questioning its handling of power, bad. As he says in a statement that was actually culled by The Guardian editor, ‘World opinion, rightly called the second superpower, should not stop America from taking the toughest decisions.’ Even, evidently, when they involve the hokum of unstable regimes intent on annihilating the West with weapons they do not have.

A collection of publicity videos are available on the site. One, A World Without The American Soldier, is particularly liberal with history and, to borrow a term from Donald Rumsfeld, unknown unknowns. The absent American soldier becomes the metaphor of global instability – without him, the world will devour itself in sanguinary fury. What would have happened if the US had not sent its soldiers to fight Hitler, for instance? None of us know, but AIW is happy to throw out various scenarios.

Montgomerie has that sentiment Geir Lundestad, Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, called an ‘invitation’ to empire: the US did not create one on its own accord – it was invited to do so by its European auxiliaries. Some create them in fits of absentmindedness; others are asked to create imperiums like well-moneyed guests at a fundraising event. The assertion is of cause naïve: Europeans were happy to take the money, but not always happy with what came with it: American personnel and bases.

A few points of the AIW are worth challenging, and they apply broadly to those concerned that an Obama administration will somehow retreat, mollusk-like, into an isolationist shell. If the new administration winds back the global imperium by closing some of its 737 bases (according to Chalmers Johnson), then a bit more of that might be better than a bit less.

In more than one sense, the AIW and those who believe in rampant anti-Americanism in Britain, have missed the point. It falls down to poor definitions – what is anti-Americanism in the first place? Its taxonomy risks being unnecessarily complicated, though no pointers are given by Montgomerie – it might be a prejudice, a structured hatred, perhaps an ideology. Most of all, the AIW is aggrieved at the failure of Britain and fellow Europeans to love. They must feel a fondness for America. The truth is that many do. Many just don’t like the vicissitudes of American power.

Besides, the British, or to be more exact, the English, are renown in a historical sense not so much for being just anti-American, but hostile to everyone. A brief consultation of any reference book on insults will find an assortment of English nasties for every race and nation on this planet. Don’t privilege one dislike – acknowledge them all. To paraphrase a comment once made by director Billy Wilder, one can’t have any prejudices if one hates everyone equally.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge and lectured at the University of Queensland.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-08-29 18:53:49
Anti-Americanism on both sides of the Atlantic began in the 60s with a definition of the West as a capitalist, secularist, often atheistic, money-grubbing, oppressive culture with its source and its core in America. To abolish this kind of West and emancipate humanity one had to abolish America first. All the neo-Marxists of Europe accepted this thesis. At the time they still looked to Russia for their ideological inspiration. They went as far as condemning Ignazio Silone and Alexander Solzhenitsyn for having dared to denounce the Machiavellian real-politik paradigm of Russian Communism. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-08-29 18:54:27
There is another side to this coin: anti-Americanism in its right wind version. This version correctly predicted that Communism would be defeated because it was less able than secular capitalism to provide consumerism to the masses of Europe. However, as this argument goes, this general “Western” hedonism devoid of history, culture, religion, tradition, promoted by capitalistic America, would eventually usher in a return journey to a transcendent faith and genuine Western values. So, outside the United States the attack on the West took the form of anti-Americanism. In America, especially in academia, it took the form of anti Eurocentrism. All those students shouting “Hey, hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go” at American campuses in the 80s and 90s would have been quite surprised to find out that, according to their European counterparts, they were not rejecting the West but representing its worst aspects. The ironies of history! (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-08-29 18:55:07
A modest suggestion: one way of resolving the above described irony or paradox of a West that is hated in America for being European and hated in Europe for being American is to begin to perceive that culturally we are dealing with two sides of the same Janus-faced complex of institutions which have a common origin. If one takes the trouble to return to origins as a Christopher Dawson did, one begins to perceive that within Western Civilization, for better or for worse, scientific reason, tradition, consumer culture, secular liberalism, are not opposites but parts of a new West. The issue then becomes this: does this new West (producing the Newropean, so called) know where it came from? Does it possess a strong identity which will allow it to forge ahead and plan a viable future? Which is to say, does it have a soul? Or is it like the Titanic journeying full-speed ahead among the icebergs of nihilism? Rather than full speed ahead into the future, would it not be much wiser to envision “back to the future”?

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