Idea Of The Day

The Folly of Anti-Americans

Are people who say they are anti-American really anti-American? Or are those (especially Europeans) who pride themselves on being anti-American really just uninterested in America? Take, for example, the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy. “America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV,” Roy declared in the Guardian on Saturday. “Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an ‘international coalition against terror,’ mobilized its army, its air force, its navy, and its media, and committed them to battle.” Roy’s article isn’t an example of what might be described as inverse blood-lust (prevalent among those who can’t wait for the live TV coverage of U.S. bombing raids in the Afghan hills so that they can have their every anti-American prejudice—if that’s what it really is—confirmed). Yet her views are an example of someone who has reacted in the way that President Bush, thankfully, has not: She’s rushed to judgment and made sweeping accusations rather than considering (and distinguishing between) what the United States has and hasn’t done before and since Sept. 11. (One can, as I do, object to President Bush’s magisterial disdain for international energy accords and for not outlawing chemical weapons. Yet the United States is not at war, and by pursuing the leaders of al-Qaida it seems to be going out of its way to avoid such a conflict.)

Members of anti-globalization groups, especially in Europe, often seem anti-American—and are accused by pro-globalizers of being intrinsically anti-American—whereas their objection is arguably (and ultimately) less about American citizenship and government than about the imperial designs of Western (and particularly American) corporations. You can, for example, deplore the presence of McDonald’s in rural France yet fully agree with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In an essay on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s book Empire, Malcolm Bull argues that if anti-globalization is to prove successful, those who advocate such restraints on capitalism must better appreciate ideas that are fundamentally American. The best restraint to morally objectionable capitalistic endeavors isn’t to seek to abolish capitalism; it is to have citizens who have the ability to make their own livelihood—or to secure it from state—yet who can also combat greed. The American Constitution furnishes its people with rights to make such objections. “The United States is no utopia,” Bull writes, “but a utopian politics now has to be routed through it. Anti-globalization is often an argument for the globalization of American norms—why should workers in the Philippines have fewer rights than their American counterparts?” Is the best future for the world to therefore become more American rather than less? (For more thoughts on anti-Americanism, see this “International Papers.”)