Friday, 6 June 2008

"Yes, We Hate Your Freedoms, But Please Don't Take It Personally"

Recent proceedings on other blogs (as well as my own flippant bon mot in the last post) led me to undertake a probing meditation upon the meme that has become the classic formulation of passive-aggressive post-9/11 American exceptionalism: "They hate us for our freedoms".

It strikes me that this cry of wounded narcissism is not as facile as it sounds. In fact, the proposition is largely true, but not in the way its proposers intend. The authentic meaning of the truism can be easily discerned if one shines it through the prism of America's refusal to pay the price of empire, or to even acknowledge that it is an empire.

Empires have always self-mythologised as being the embodiments of transcendent Good. An empire will always interpret an attack as an attack against the Goodness it claims to crystallise rather than against the violent means it employs to secure its power. The fundamental fallacy here is to assume that an empire's domestic good is consistent with everybody else's good--that an empire's "freedoms" are guarantors of the freedoms of its subject peoples. Emperors (as all citizens of democratic empires must be called) too often fail to understand that one can hate the nature of imperial "freedom" without hating freedom as such.

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and the rest of the mercantile and slave-owning elite who fomented and led the American Revolution were hard pressed to answer the Tory critique that they simply hated British freedom. That ornery conservative Samuel Johnson famously painted them as enemies of British liberty, saying, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?".

Colonial intellectuals maintained that they were fighting on behalf of the same freedom the British claimed to represent, that much of the freedom and prosperity Britons enjoyed was extracted from violence and injustice perpetrated on a colonial people who insisted on enjoying a freedom that was fully their own, liberated from the arbitrary administrative decisions of an arrogant, remote, irresponsible power. Their argument was simple: they loved freedom; they hated British freedom.

I am sure that many anti-Americans in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere hate freedom as such (as do many Americans, by the way), but hating specifically American freedom is far easier; in fact, it is a natural, perhaps inevitable, consequence of the way America has husbanded its security and prosperity over the last five decades.

What should we call someone who hates America's routine assassination of democrats and subsequent installation of despots? Does he hate freedom if he hates that particular American execution of freedom? What about someone who hates that America happily and proudly propped up thugs like Batista, Duvalier, and Somoza? What about someone who refuses to jubilate over American subsidization of such wretched, oppressive sinkholes as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? What do we say of someone who sees no reason to break out in dithyrambic joy over America's shabby pacts of convenience with Islamic jihadists and Mesopotamian sociopaths? Does he hate freedom, or does he hate America's bastardization of it?

America will have done itself immeasurable good if it should ever advance far enough past its defensive woundedness to understand that even freedom-loving people can hate America's freedoms, for reasons that have nothing to do with America per se and everything to do with an elementary truth (one which Americans once held close to their hearts): imperialism is never a victimless crime.

24 comments:

Aeneas the Younger said...

The Americans have been labouring with a false consciousness since 1776. No surprise to me.

While I prefer the Canadian model to the American 100% of the time, I know in my heart that we can do better with respect to the Aboriginals. Unlike the Americans however, I have faith that Canadians will do the right things - in these matters - over time. I am sure of it.

Within our political culture we retain a very English sense of "fair play."

Aeneas the Younger said...

That "fair play" strives for a Hookerian sense of balance between the Commons and the Individual.

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

You continually smear an entire nation, their people, their grandparents, their founding fathers, their historical choices and their future hypocrisies-to-be in your posts.

Your knee jerk and blind hatred of all things American must have come from somewhere.

Please enlighten me.

Tomm

Sir Francis said...

Your knee jerk and blind hatred of all things American...

That's a rather odd way to describe an outlook unfolded through argument and evidence. Allow me to suggest that what you assume to be "knee-jerk" and "blind" is merely something you disagree with but are neither willing nor able to effectively argue against. In any event, your knee-jerk and blind pro-Americanism always provides some balance (in a Fox News kind of way). Thanks for that.

Please enlighten me.

I'm not a miracle worker, Tomm. :)

Let me ask you a concrete question that might help us cut through some of the BS: from out of the welter of post-war American influences upon our country, can you name one phenomenon of specifically American inspiration that has made us a better people?

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

I will do one better, I will try to get you to consider what a post-1945 world might have looked like without the American influences.

What if the US had not had the military and economic authority and the interest in international doctrine? Would we all be driving Lada's today? Or just Europe?

What if Canada had had the military and economic strength that the American's had? How would we have handled the international crises of the last 50 years? Can you truly say that a Canada with its dictatorial majority government system, and its blindingly powerful two provinces would have been better for this planet?

Would we have handled the corrupting influences of that much power with more grace?

Certainly no other world power, (read: China and the USSR) were even close to the fairness exhibited by Washington.

But that being said, I can criticize the US foreign policies and choices with the best of them, it is the blanket condemnation I don't agree with.

Tomm

Ti-Guy said...

What if the US had not had the military and economic authority and the interest in international doctrine? Would we all be driving Lada's today? Or just Europe?

I think we would have developed a fabulous nuclear arsenal (we do have our own indigenous nuclear technolgy as well as a huge chunk of the world's uranium) and the argument would have stopped there.

Anyway, too bad Tomm couldn't answer SF's question. I can...*ahem*...animation. The only uniquely American art form.

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

You asked:

"...Let me ask you a concrete question that might help us cut through some of the BS: from out of the welter of post-war American influences upon our country, can you name one phenomenon of specifically American inspiration that has made us a better people?"

The phenomena of "fairness of opportunity" within the rules of socially controlled capitalism is a unique American invention that the entire planet has benefited from in the last 50 years.

They have delivered, and protected, to every nation, an egalitarian system for wealth creation, distribution and power attainment.

Go ahead and crush this, as I know you will. But as you do, keep my words in mind... how would Canada have behaved with this same power and opportunity?

How many black men has Canada allowed to reach into the upper echelons of power? how many slavic men? how many asian men? southern europeans? how many women?

The british influence in Canada have made us a much less egalitarian society than the US.

Ti-Guy said...

Good luck with that SF. I await your dissection of the "phenomena (sic) of fairness of opportunity within the rules of socially controlled capitalism"

You should have just answered his question, Tomm.

Tomm said...

Ti-Guy,

Thanks for the advice, but you know me...

Sir Francis said...

Tomm:

Well, it took me thirty-nine years, but, at last, I've seen it all.

You and I have crossed rhetorical swords many times over the past two years, most often over at "Red Tory"'s previous incarnation (where, as "Sir Isaac Brock", I commented fairly frequently). We quickly discovered that you and I can be relied upon to disagree profoundly (and profanely) on just about every conceivable level.

I have always, though, felt that your comments were the products of considerable reflection; I was always able to infer some effort from your contributions, and so I never had difficulty respecting your opinions, no matter how wrong I felt they were.

Given that shared history, Tomm, I feel that I would be doing you an injury were I to respond in detail to your last comments. To do so would imply a belief that you had done your best--that the observations you put forth flow from genuine effort and serious application. I refuse to offer you such an insult, nor have I any intention of expending care and energy beyond what is strictly necessary to communicate the reasons for my refusal to do something that would degrade us both.

Of course, if you insist that I address your contention that the United States of America invented free-market capitalism and set the international standard for racial equality, I will condescend to do so. My earnest hope is that you will not force me to that extremity and that you will attempt to answer my question in good faith, or explain to me why you feel the question is simply not germane (if, in fact, you feel that it is not).

Please do me the courtesy of trying once again, with feeling.

Aeneas the Younger said...

Good Lord! Tomm has learned nothing and has obviously ignored anything we have posted lo these many years ...

Tomm said...

For God sakes you guys!

I feel like a kid doing badly at my lessons!

Aeneas, Sir Francis, have a heart. I work for a living, post for fun at places that provide a decent level of argument.

I, of course, think I'm not only right but persuasive, but clearly I'm not wearing a whole lot of teflon around you or RT.

Sometimes we will just disagree. I am hopeful that the future of Canada, under the "leadership" of the LPC will not drill Canada into the gound morally, economically, socially, or diplomatically.

I wish I had your faith. Perhaps another 10 years of the LPC will make Canada better than it is today. I'm just not tuning into that vision.

Maybe I'll be forced to beg for the kool-aid just to maintain my sanity.

Aeneas the Younger said...

Tomm wrote:

"How many black men has Canada allowed to reach into the upper echelons of power? how many slavic men? how many asian men? southern europeans? how many women?"

Is he SERIOUS? I mean - really?!

Black Men - Lincoln Alexander was a well-known Tory MPP in Ontario for many years and was Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario for Christ's sake. (He conferred an MA to me in 1990 ...), Alvin Curling, Anne Cools, Howard McCurdy.

Jewish Men - Ever hear of Allen and Larry Grossman? Israel Asper? Dave Barrett, David Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Stuart Smith ....

Slavic Men - Has Tomm ever heard of Don Mazankowski and Ray Hnatyshn (the latter was Governor-General of Canada!

Asians - Gordon Chong, Michael Chan, Olivia Chow, Tony Wong, Gurbax Singh Malhi, Herb Dhaliwal.

Women - Ellen Fairclough, Judy LaMarsh, Flora MacDonald, Barbara McDougall, Pat Carney, Monique Begin, Iona Campagnolo, Audrey McLaughlin, Pauline Jewett ... etc.

Southern European - How about John Nunziata, Alfonso Gagliano, Maurizio Bevilacqua, Charles L. Caccia, among thousands of others.

How about an Arab-Canadian? - Omar Alghabra !

Tomm: Seriously ... do you REALLY want to get into a comparison of the ethnic composition of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate with the US Senate and HoR?

I'll take that challenge any day of the week.

GOOD GOD WE BRITISH CANADIANS ARE RIGHT BASTARDS aren't we! What a society we created ...


CHEW ON THIS:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Electoral_firsts_in_Canada


TOMM - Do you KNOW anything about something? Jus' askin'.

Aeneas the Younger said...

Self-loathing jackass ...

Aeneas the Younger said...

SF and I are NOT Liberals! For the last fuckin' time ... (I've had enough with the smear tactics)

Sir Francis said...

Tomm:

I am hopeful that the future of Canada, under the "leadership" of the LPC will not drill Canada into the gound morally, economically, socially, or diplomatically.

Well, as ATY exasperatedly put forth, I hold the LPC in much the same contempt as that in which I hold the CPC. Unlike you, though, I see little if any meaningful difference between the two.

Ti-Guy said...

Do we really think there's a political solution for people like Tomm, whose contempt for anyone more informed than he is obvious?

I guess I can only speak for myself, but I have a hard time believing you do this for "fun," Tomm. You seem intent on insulting anyone who just doesn't think like you do.

Peter Burnet said...

SF:

It seems to me that you are giving American exceptionalism a back-handed compliment. Actually, I'm not sure whether your wrath is directed primarily to the original flaws in the project as summed up in Johnson's wonderful quote, or the post-war behaviour of America as superpower. Both, you say? Quelle Surprise! I'll address the latter.

Let's take your seventh paragraph. I doubt we would agree on the details, but of course we can agree the U.S. has interfered/guided/forced the politics of other countries to conform to its perceived interests, both strategic and economic. The inevitable answer that comes back is that that is what superpowers do and always have--that they wear a mantle of responsibility for the international peace/order and should be judged on the principles and values they expouse, not just on the bare fact of coercion. The wittiest spoof on the contrary is here. But somehow that argument is denied the Americans and usually first and foremost by Americans. If you insert Russia, France or China into that paragraph in place of Americans and make the appropriate amendments to the specific incidents, the response of many would be a historical shrug and a "Yes, but..." delineation of the good and bad. Who argues that Notre Dame or the promise of the French Revolution is stained by the blood of Africans and we should therefore hate French freedoms or culture or whatever?

The theme that foreign engagement corrodes and corrupts the ideals of the Republic is a common and timeless one in American politics. As Barbara Tuchman showed in the story of Congressman Reed's efforts to avoid the Spanish-American war and engagement in the Philipines, it used to be more associated with Republicans (the whiskey trader was likely a Jacksonian Democrat), but that morphed into a xenophobic isolationism and disaster in the 30's. I don't recall that bien pensant thinking in 1940 was based on respect for American non-interference in European affairs.

The region with the greatest history of American intereference, open or clandestine, is Latin America, particularly Central America. The region with the least is Africa. The result is that Latin progressives chaffe under a chronic resentment of the Yanqui while constitutional democrats from Africa express resentment they are considered so unimportant there is no hope the Marines will save them from the likes of Mugabe. Nobody wants to be ruled by American fiat, but there are lots of folks out there who dream of being liberated by them.

Anyway, the question is: do we judge the American "empire" by the standards we use(d) to judge other powerful and domineering nations or are there special rules for them. If so, why?

BTW, I just have to take issue with the leftist urban myth that the U.S. and Hussein ever had a pact of convenience. The Swedish International Peace Institute, hardly a bastion of pro-American thinking, released a comprehensive analysis in 2003 that showed that in the previous twenty years, Russia, France and China supplied 87% of Hussein's arms while the Americans and Brits supplied less than 2% each.

Ti-Guy said...

...do we judge the American "empire" by the standards we use(d) to judge other powerful and domineering nations.

I thought we were judging them according to the standards they had set for themselves.

Isn't that a possibility?

Aeneas the Younger said...

Ti-Guy reiterates the central point in all of this. "It's the hypocrisy, Stupid."

Sir Francis said...

Peter:

I've taken note of your comments and will be back to destroy them in a few hours. I must dispose of my Sunday chores before I can unashamedly reward myself with the pleasure of taking apart your Whig version of American history!

Stay tuned...

Aeneas the Younger said...

I would do it myself, but I am too weary of dealing with idiot savants, and I do HAVE six years on Sir Francis, so ... have at them!

Sir Francis said...

Peter:

Last things first. You bizarrely describe as "myth" something which you go on to admit is fact. The U.S. may have provided Iraq with only 2% of its arms over the last twenty-five years, but that still constitutes a pact (unless selling weapons to somebody matches your definition of an embargo).

It's bog-common knowledge that the U.S. was not the only Western nation to arm Saddam Hussein, it was merely one of the last and the most powerful of them. Direct U.S. military aid to Iraq was relatively small, but it was America's diplomatic cover for (and de facto alliance with) Hussein that enabled him to acquire support from the rest of the West during the Iran-Iraq war.

Reagan's support for Hussein was public, even flagrant, and Europe could not have sold him their weapons if Hussein had not enjoyed that support. Moreover, generous American financing was a crucial component of Hussein's ability to pay for the weapons he acquired. This National Security Archive page offers detailed data (based on recently declassified documents) demonstrating that U.S. support for the Babylonian butcher was generous, deeply committed and protracted.

Thus, the American relationship with Hussein was indeed clearly a pact, and I've not the foggiest idea how something as meticulously documented as that fact could be dismissed as a "myth".

Your dogged determination to deny the obvious and obfuscate the apparent, fairly brazen when it comes to Hussein, is more subtly executed in your retelling of the Authorised Version of American history--the History Channel fairy tale taught to U.S. school children. You say this:

[Superpowers like the U.S.] wear a mantle of responsibility for the international peace/order and should be judged on the principles and values they expouse[sic], not just on the bare fact of coercion.

You seem to feel that the U.S. became a superpower via an act of God--that American power is an accident, something merely stumbled upon, which they now have a duty to deploy (responsibly) as a prerogative conferred upon them by the forces of historical inevitability. You then pronounce that empires should only be judged on the ideals they espouse rather than the means they employ to gain and sustain their power.

The last assertion beggars understanding. Are we to judge the old Soviet Empire on the ideals it espoused (equality, the brotherhood of Man, a workers' paradise, etc.) or on its actions? I'm sorry, but I (along with most sane people) will insist on judging nations on the ideals they make manifest and the actual and proximate results of their collective decisions.

On the more substantial point concerning the way in which America assumed its global dominance, you propound the American Whig orthodoxy that America received its power as a gift of the gods, as a virtual historical inevitability. European empires were vulgar enough to run after their power; America merely found hers, as one finds a long-forgotten ten-dollar note in a coat pocket. As a myth whose absurdity matches its resilience, this is matched only by the myth of the "massive" negro penis.

In fact, American pursuit of empire began immediately upon the nation's very founding, and a deliberately expansionist program was clearly underway by the time of Madison, growing into a mania by the Jackson era. Empire did not fall into their laps; they stole, bribed, annexed, invaded and killed for it.

Now, nothing in Natural Law gives any nation the right to an empire. Moreover, the world does not require empires; an imperial nation is not heroically filling some cosmic need. Empires are geo-political luxuries, in the pursuit of which a nation does not acquire immunity from the laws of civilised conduct or from the jurisdiction of its own professed moral code.

I see no reason why an imperial nation, being in possession of a power, prestige and influence profiting no one so much as itself and soaked in the blood of millions (I speak of all empires here, not just America's) should not be submitted to the moral tests one would apply to any other nation. Murder and rapine are not redeemed when committed on behalf of empires.

Now, just a couple of small points to finish up. You refer to the Republican "xenophobic isolationism" of the 1930's and seem to think of this as an anti-imperial stance. The exact opposite is true. The America First movement did not want the U.S. to retract its global reach; it merely sought to protect America from precipitate action that would weaken its global reach.

An important and often-overlooked aspect of the isolationist program was the wish to allow Great Britain and Russia to battle the Axis alone, thus severely weakening all parties in the war and finally giving the United States an undisputed economic hegemony. The idea was to allow Europe to waste itself.

American "internationalists" (if we may so call the opposition) were more realistic; understanding the disastrous folly of risking a German victory, they merely wanted to ensure that Great Britain would be weakened as a price of U.S. intervention--hence the ruinous and humiliating Anglophobic terms which FDR foisted upon Churchill (e.g. the Atlantic Charter, which rendered the British Empire virtually illegal).

Your musings about Africa were interesting. Frankly, I've not heard much African pleading for American intervention (although U.S. greenbacks are always a welcome treat for Africa's kleptocratic elite). You may want to talk to some Somalis before you assume that Africans pine for American attention.

You speak cryptically of "Notre Dame or the promise of the French Revolution [being] stained by the blood of Africans". I'm not sure if you mean this in broad or specific historical terms. If the latter, are you getting Napoleon's re-enslavement of Haiti confused with the Revolutionary era? If so, I would very much say that Napoleon's ignoble act did stain his reign; in fact, I have nothing but contempt for the entire Napoleonic project (as my friend Red Tory can attest from our many and heated debates on the topic).

If you were speaking in broad terms, then no--I do not think the whole cultural and historical tissue of the French nation need be deplored simply because they once practiced slavery. Canadians, too, once practiced slavery (on a very modest scale, of course).

Fortunately, there is no such thing as "French exceptionalism". The French do not (as far as I know) lump slavery, the Terror and witch-burning in with Notre Dame and the Louvre as general expressions of a ne plus ultra glory transcending the precincts of legitimate critique. They admit to being fallible; many will admit that their brief days of empire were not worth it--were a time of regrettable hysteria.

Thus, they gain my respect for collectively possessing the one faculty that distinguishes humans from the creatures who have a rutting season--the capacity for sober, critical reflection. If America possessed a like faculty, it would gain my respect too (not that I'm keeping any Americans awake by withholding it, I'm sure).

I confess to being a Little Englander. I believe a nation does not grow into empire; it sinks into it. As a rule, I equate empire with degeneracy. Some empires can rule better than others, but the scale is one of degree rather than of nature.

I might be tempted to argue that Great Britain administered its empire as well as could be hoped (and certainly better than the U.S. has managed so far), but, even then, there's enough incompetence, folly and violence to cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

Bottom line: empire's a bitch. You'll degrade yourself in the pursuit of it.

You want one? Better wear some brass balls. Suck it up, and put a lid on the "9/11 Anniversaries". The British never had "Blitz Anniversaries", not because they didn't grieve their dead thousands, but because they had the guts to pay the price of being what they were. I doubt if Americans ever will.

Peter Burnet said...

SF:

Very good and definitely meriting reflection and an attempt at a considered reply. Although my Sunday chores were completed early (isn't it a bugger that Home Depot closes so early on Sunday?), my Monday workload is overwhelming me and I must ask your indulgence until tomorrow. We idiot savants have some serious focus issues. :-)