In order to properly understand our present predicament, we must know that the philosophy of anti-Americanism exists in a different class of thought from anti-U.S. criticism. The former is a prejudice, an irrational attitude of hostility and, like all prejudices, its origins lie not in the object of prejudice but in the mind of the prejudiced.
Popular anti-Americanism, like anti-Semitism, owes its durability and prosperity to its utility. It can explain rapid and dislocating changes in a society, which many feel powerless to resist. It can shift blame, in order to foist personal, communal or national shortcomings and failures onto others in an act of collective unburdening. Or, most commonly, it can serve as an outlet for built-up disaffection and resentment. The passionate anti-American crowd – the one that burns our flag, despises anything and everything about us or, like Osama bin Laden, seeks our catastrophic destruction – is irrational in the sense that it is impervious to reasoned explanation. It is but a short leap from observing that America is responsible for a lot to observing that America is responsible for everything. But once the leap is made, the world becomes much easier to comprehend.
The litany of charges hurled against our nation is boundless. For most, the first to jump to mind are those of the left wing, which revolve around the belief that the U.S. is the fountainhead of global predatory capitalism from which all evil emanates. But the left wing’s invincible campus stranglehold should not blind us to the right wing’s equally long history of animus. As Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit remind us in their new book, Occidentalism, war on the U.S. has been declared in the name of the Russian soul, the German race, State Shinto and now, purified Islam. From these precincts we hear of America’s – and the West’s – slavish devotion to Mammon, our machine-society soullessness, or our degenerate racial and cultural impurity. The left wing charms many in Santa Barbara because its language is the language of universal equality. The causes of the right wing, alternatively, waged in the name of some racial, national or religious chauvinism, are by nature exclusive.
The point is that routine anti-American denunciations contain any number of reasons for disliking the United States, but taken together, they are contradictory. Right-wingers criticize America’s perceived profanation of their society, while left-wingers criticize America’s perceived exploitation of their market. Europe is frightened by our evangelical religiosity, and the Middle East is equally repulsed by our decadent secularism. While European Greens criticize our rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the Brazilian, Chinese and Indian elite dismiss our efforts to reduce carbon emissions as a ploy to put brakes on their development. In France, both the Communist-dominated Conf