February 13, 2004 | Peter

On ‘Anti-Americanism’

The Liberals are pulling out some of the oldest tricks in the book to hammer newly resurgent Labor. One of them is to accuse anyone who questions a whole range of developments of being anti-American.
There are two basic problems with this critique. The first is that we are suffering the most right wing and activist US presidential administration in modern times. And secondly, the US, as sole global hyperpower, is now so important that almost everything is affected by it. As such, the US must accept some real responsibility for the problems of the world.
What does anti-Americanism mean anyway? It can hardly mean to question the importance of the US. The US is without doubt the most important nation in modern times. This is not just because it intervened twice to resolve the most intractable conflict of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – which eventually resulted in two world wars – and then shaped the character of the succeeding Cold War and post-1990 world orders. It is also because the US became the basic model for industro-capitalist development, a social system that has more and more shaped human society.
So does it mean to question the validity of the US as a nation? The US was the world’s first modern democracy, an achievement that can never be diminished. Furthermore, it has managed to maintain a balance between competing social pressures – democracy, populism, business, militarism, class interest, etc – that is still as viable as that of any country. The fact that the US has been a world superpower and is now global hyperpower and yet sustains a vital democratic tradition and practice shows the strength of this quality.
However, for various reasons, the main decision-making institution of the US is now in the hands of perhaps its least able president who is surrounded by unusually ideologically driven men and women. We should recall that this administration is only in power because of a decision handed down by a Republican–dominated US Supreme Court, and not through fair election. Despite the question of legitimacy hanging over its head, this administration has embarked on the most radical restructuring of international relations at all levels since the end of World War Two.
The US is now more dominant than any nation in history. It rules the world much like Rome ruled the Europo-Mediterranean world. Everything of any significance that happens on earth is seriously affected by this power. Therefore, any US government must accept the responsibility that goes along with legitimate power.
Recent actions by the current US government have not shown such responsibility. Amongst other things, Washington has opted out of a number of treaties designed to stabilise international relations, limit arms proliferation and deal with manifest environmental problems. Instead, it has gone to war illegally and greatly expanded its military ambitions.
These are not the actions of a government beyond reproach.
Furthermore, as the next presidential election will no doubt show, they are actions increasingly disapproved of by Americans themselves.
So, to criticise certain current trends in the behaviour of the US government is not necessarily to criticise America as such. But even so, as sole global hyper-power, the US must be prepared to answer to its critics in regard to a raft of pressing matters of global concern.
It should be said that there is one more aspect to this issue that needs mentioning, and that is the increasingly pervasive influence of American culture. Through the growing capability of electronic media – in particular, US TV, film, music and video games – Us culture mass is swamping other cultures. This McCulture is criticised because it is vapid and trite, and because it overwhelms alternative forms, including national traditions.
This is a different issue, and is much an argument about corporate influence as it is about American culture. In as much as there is raging debate in America, and hardly split down left-right lines, as various people worry about this same development, criticism can hardly be described as anti-Americanism.
So, all up, although we have to put up with, or willingly accept, Roman troops tromping around and a Roman trading system, we here in the provinces can still wish for a better emperor in the capital.

Posted by Peter at 12:13 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. The foregoing is a slightly self-contradictory post. It makes some fair points about the USA in the World, but then railes against the present administration while forecasting that the 2004 election will see the Bush Admin. vanquished. The link is of course that the great virtue of America is that,in the whole world, it has come to symbolise the democracy that can throw out any supreme person and that,in any case, that person will not survive two terms. Whatever the faults – and they have always been there in any administration – the system will correct. You don’t have to undermine – you just vote them out if you wish. If you can vote, you do not need to rail and emote.
    More specifically – on ‘right wing and activism’ -what would be suggested for Gore or Kerry to have responded to Sept 11 2001. Should they just have said “sorry about our foreign relations policy” and gone back to education as an issue??
    More generally – the USA has been a sole ‘superpower’ since 1992 or so. The ills of the world go back far farther than that – why visit their responsibility on the USA?
    I view the spread of American culture as I do the spread of drugs in America – the supply is just a bit behind the demand. With any worthy talent there will always be a Harvey Crumpet to take an accolade. The Yanks are playing Rugby Union now – they will be in the AFL in some years time.
    One point on Iraq – I don’t think this was just a ‘WMD’ type action at all, but I do think it was a part of a 30 year war against terrorism which would have been almost impossible to have been acceptable to Mum and Dad in the real terms – those being to solve the underlying terrorism dilemma in the Middle East. The large-scale political situation had to be somehow altered. Iraq was the best place to encroach and set up a new political (hopefully secular)entity. The key was to seed destabilisation for the rigid Islamic nation states from Lebanon to Pakistan which, resisting any modernisation, just had to war against Westernisation in some way(and in fact will again in the next few years, not as States but a la semi-random sporadic terror).

    Comment by Neil Hudson — March 4, 2004 @ 11:46 pm

  2. In response to the above comment,
    The terrorism dilemma in the middle east is hardly solved by a decrease in stability in the area, which is precisely what the invasion has accomplished. As for Mum and Dad being ‘unable to understand’ the complexities of an anti-terrorism policy, successful anti-terrorism policies focus on education and infrastructure development, not wide-area destruction. However, wide-area destruction masterfully accomplishes the real objective of the US, which is the creation of a destabilized area with lots of cheap oil and the removal of a significant threat on the Israeli border.
    The ‘ills’ of the world may go back further than the American dominance of it, however those ills were on a much smaller scale. Currently, every nation in the world has been given an ultimatum by the administration of the Empire – comply or be destroyed. Not since Rome (I like the original poster’s words) has a nation displayed such blatant disregard for diplomacy and the sovereignty of other nations.
    Fortunately, empires fall.

    Comment by Aaron Hawryluk — June 3, 2004 @ 11:14 am

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