Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Anti-Americanism and Totalitarianism

I would be willing to wager that just about every social activist and dissident has at one time or another been charged with the so horrific crime of “anti-Americanism.” One simply cannot within the rotting economic and reactionary social climate today so prevalent present damning analysis and critique of state power without large segments of society, most likely proto-fascist segments, instantaneously spewing forth hysterical charges of “anti-Americanism” and other related slurs and rhetorical bile.

What is “anti-Americanism” and just what qualifies one as being “anti-American” or “un-American”? Simply asking this question and searching for an adequate answer goes a long way in demonstrating that “anti-Americanism” is simply empty, reactionary propaganda and smut, derived straight out of the ideology of totalitarianism.

In a totalitarian society the state, party or dominant institution of concentrated power, used to exert the ruling elite’s dominance over the larger population - through the military, guerilla death squads, massive ever-present propaganda campaigns and so forth – is the mafia Don and any attempt to challenge the Don’s position of power is met with an immediate reaction, in many places imprisonment, torture and murder; in other places, propaganda campaigns to marginalize and demolish the theorists and their analyses and critiques through media networks owned by massive multinational corporations running twenty four hours a day.

When one searches for the answer to the questions previously posed one finds that what constitutes anti-Americanism ranges anywhere from organizing terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, such as the attacks of 9-11, perpetrated by al-Qaida, all the way down to the act of exposing and criticizing the United States for its egregious abuses of state power; a recent example being the murderous bombing of Basra, which has so far led to the deaths of more than 300 people. Which illustrates rather well one of the underlying assumptions and fallacies of the ideology which supports the charges of anti-Americanism, that there is no distinction to be made between state power, the government and its affiliates, and the general population and that any action by the state power is by definition just.

This gross conflation causes many problems and allows the possibility that the state power will be defended over and against general populations and mass social movements, even when the state’s actions are illegitimate or when the state is itself illegitimate, as all states ultimately are. This view, which reflexively adopts the positions of the state and the powerful, many times in direct opposition to social movements and the general population, is also expressed in international law.

As Noam Chomsky observed, “international law is, in many respects, the instrument of the powerful: it is a creation of states and their representatives. In developing the presently existing body of international law, there was no participation by mass movements of peasants. The structure of international law reflects that fact; that is, international law permits much too wide a range of forceful intervention in support of existing power structures.”

This is of course not to undermine all of international law, which is arguably the best and most enlightened attempt to create a coherent system by which to defend human rights and so forth; as Chomsky goes on to say, “in fact there are interesting elements of international law, for example, embedded in the Nuremberg principles and the United Nations Charter, which permit, in fact, I believe, require the citizen to act against his own state in ways which the state will falsely regard as criminal. Nevertheless, he's acting legally, because international law also happens to prohibit the threat or use of force in international affairs, except under some very narrow circumstances, of which, for example, the war in Vietnam [as well as the present war in Iraq] is not one. This means that in the particular case of the Vietnam War, which interests me most, the American state is acting in a criminal capacity. And the people have the right to stop criminals from committing murder. Just because the criminal happens to call your action illegal when you try to stop him, it doesn't mean it is illegal.”

Returning to the conflation of state power with the general population and culture at large, Arundhati Roy illustrated the absurdity of the conflation, which is inherent within the charge of anti-Americanism, by asking what anti-Americanism actually means. She asks “[d]oes it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to freedom of speech?...That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America's culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government's foreign policy (about which, thanks to America's "free press", sadly most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.

But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government's policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in U.S. government policy come from American citizens. When the rest of the world wants to know what the U.S. government is up to, we turn to Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Amy Goodman, Michael Albert, Chalmers Johnson, William Blum and Anthony Amove to tell us what's really going on.”

The doctrine that underlies the charge of anti-Americanism is better understood within a broader context. Chomsky provides the context thusly:

“The people who are called ‘intellectuals’ are those who pretty much serve power. Others may be equally intellectual, but they're not called intellectuals. And that goes all the way back to the origins of recorded history. Go back to the Bible; who were the people who were respected, and who were the people who were reviled? Well, the people who were respected were the ones who, a thousand years later, were called false prophets. And the ones who were reviled and jailed and beaten and so on are the ones who years later were called prophets. And it goes right up until today. In the United States, people respected Soviet dissidents, but they weren't respected in Soviet society. There, they respected the commissars. So you are a respected intellectual if you do your job as a part of the system of doctrinal control. Raise questions about it and you're just not acceptable -- you're anti-American or some sort of shrill and strident something or other. Why was Walter Lippmann one of the "responsible men," while Eugene Debs was in jail? Was it that Walter Lippmann was smarter than Eugene Debs? Not that I can see. Eugene Debs was just an American working-class leader who raised unacceptable questions, so he was in jail. And Walter Lippmann was a servant of the major powers, so he was respected. And it would be amazing if it was anything else.”

Anti-Americanism, a derivative of anti-nationalism, as Arundhati Roy points out, is fallacious on the basis that it assumes the person so classified “is against his or her own nation and, by inference, is pro some other one. But it isn’t necessary to be ‘anti-national to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism. Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century.”

In the final analysis the charge of anti-Americanism, hurled with such vitriol, is but one extension of imperial power and the propaganda which serves this power; dissidents, no matter the support they enjoy, and critics of excesses of state power and abuses of human rights and so forth, are automatically deemed “anti-American” and are thus marginalized and dismissed before their analyses and arguments are even heard. The charge is thus used as an ideological weapon, derived from the ideology of totalitarianism, by which critics of state power are bludgeoned into marginalization, in the very same way Soviet dissidents were treated with the charge of being “anti-Soviet.”

As Arundhati Roy goes on to say: “The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they are heard, and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.


melloncollie said...

Love people, not flags.

Those who criticize U.S. policies are branded anti-American as a way of stifling debate. And the ideas that are deemed anti-American keep changing. It used to be that opposing segregation was anti-American, and now no reasonable person would say such a thing.

When I say the U.S. should embrace marraige equality and ban torture, it's not because I hate the U.S. I just want this country to do a better job of living up to its stated potential.

The point you and Ms. Roy make about jazz and nuclear weapons protesters being "American" is a great one. Criticizing a government's policies has nothing to do with the country's citizens, and saying otherwise is just extremist. Extremism is acidic to discourse.

Great post, JDHURF!!

Renegade Eye said...

I came across this post, which compliments yours.

JDHURF said...


Right, anti-Americanism is simply a very obvious and dubious attempt by political hacks and ideologues - typically ranging from the right of center to the proto-fascist right, if we are going to be honest - to marginalize criticism of excesses of state power and to ultimately end the debate or discussion in their own perceived favor, having trumpeted the horrific blast of blind nationalism and, apparently unbeknownst to them, echoing the arguments of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet commissars.

JDHURF said...

renegade eye:

I'll have to check that post out.

Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.