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Book Review: Anti-Americanism

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Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990
by Paul Hollander (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); 515 pages; $35.

In 1981, Professor Paul Hollander published Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. He explained and critically evaluated the appeal that socialist countries have had for leftist intellectuals through most of the 20th century. Searching for utopias free of capitalist greed, self-centered individualism and bourgeois cultural values, hundreds of these intellectuals travelled to communist societies in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. They believed the propaganda fed to them by socialist governments; they refused to see or admit the tyranny, poverty and corruption that communist systems produced; and they served as apologists for these regimes when they returned to their homes in the West.

But now in the 1990s, with the failure and collapse of communist systems and socialist ideology around the world, and with the growing disillusionment with the welfare state, one would think that the appeal and influence of leftism would be at an all-time low.

However, in his book Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990, Professor Hollander argues that the opposite is actually the case. The street politics and counterculture sensationalism of the 1960s may be history, but the leftist ideas of that decade are not only around, they, in fact pervade and dominate our society. The failure immediately to appreciate this,Professor Hollander argues, demonstrates the extent to which our society and culture have been captured by these ideas.

In a series of chapters on the churches, higher education and the mass media, he clearly shows this to be true. For many of the churches in America, the new salvation has become liberation theology, with its beliefs that the poor go hungry because of capitalism and that socialism and Christianity are natural allies. In the hails of higher education, those who were street demonstrators and enemies of “Amerika” in the 1960s are now the tenured professors and senior administrators at many of our universities and colleges — and they still hold fast to their hatred for capitalism and bourgeois society. In the mass media, the claimed objectivity in reporting covers up what is, in fac4 an imbedded leftist bias in both the selection and interpretation of the stories reported in the press and on television.

All of the particular criticisms raised by the people in these institutions, Professor Hollander says, cumulatively add up to a hatred and a rebellion against everything America is considered to represent: individualism, capitalism, human material improvement and the middle-class values and traditions of family, faith, and freedom. It is the revolt against these political concepts and cultural traits that add up to the anti-Americanism of many American intellectuals. One of its more grotesque forms in the 1980s was the pilgrimage of thousands of Americans to Nicaragua. Professor Hollander shows that for almost all of them, their anger at United States intervention against the Sandinistas was motivated by the same old utopianism — the belief that finally, socialism could be made to succeed, if only the American imperialists would not resist the forces of history.

But why are so many American intellectuals anti-American, in the sense that Professor Hollander defines this concept? His answer is that intellectuals often suffer from an estrangement or alienation from the society in which they live. The intellectual is trained to believe that one of the essential traits of being an intellectual is to take nothing in the existing social order for granted. Everything is to be held up for critical evaluation through the eye of the skeptic.

Most intellectuals, therefore, come to view themselves as the self-appointed judges and juries of their societies and cultures. Having the intellectual power to “see the world as it really is,” and being able majestically to imagine “what the world should be like,” a deep frustration and anger emerges in many intellectuals against their own society and culture. The alienation and estrangement is particularly strong when their “superior insight” into the ills of society and their “cures” for those ills go unheeded by both the masses and the political leadership of their nation.

The peculiarity of America’s estranged intellectuals is that philosophically and ideologically they are the mainstream of political thought. Theirs are not the views of the outsider looking in; instead, they are the insiders influencing the terms of the debate in the rest of the society. The unfortunate fact is, anti-Americanism is the subtle perspective in terms of which most of the debates concerning the future of American society are discussed in our country’s public forums. And if this does not somehow change, the American culture of individual freedom is doomed.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).