Monday, October 29, 2007

On Anti-Americanism

Nathan Shachar:
Anti-Americanism is in its psychology more like a religion than an ideology. By this I mean that it has more to do with emotional needs than with objective reasoning. Those needs it satisfies, in particular in Lutheran cultures with a surviving doctrine of hell in its cultural baggage, are for a superior evil principle; an all-round explanation of everything, from the highest to the lowest. There are scarcely any boundaries any longer to what believers are prepared to put down to the USA’s account: from large and small events in global politics to global climate, the drugs trade and African civil wars, world trade, terrorism, the prices of raw materials, interest rates and the inherent contradictions of the Middle East.

Paul Hollander:
There is at last the historical fact that unlike most countries the United States has been founded on ideals and aspirations which are difficult to realise. Thus both abroad and at home it is judged not only by its actual policies and characteristics, failures and accomplishments, but against the background of the high expectations it has generated. In the light of these expectations its missteps and flaws are magnified and evoke far greater hostility and anger than those of other social systems of more modest aspirations. Given the widespread ambivalence about modernity, the universality of the scapegoating impulse as well as the actual mistakes of US foreign policy and the widely publicised flaws of American society, anti-Americanism will be with us in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jonathan Rauch reviews Brian C. Anderson's Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents:
Like his intellectual mentor Alexis de Tocqueville, and unlike so many of today’s red-meat, red-state right-wingers, Anderson is no triumphalist tub-thumper for capitalism or democracy. Both, he recognizes, are far better than the alternatives; but both, unchecked, can set in motion cultural forces — anomie, dependency, ruthless egalitarianism — that corrode soul and society alike. Like Jouvenel, Anderson holds with a worldly-wise anti-utopianism whose lineage goes back to the very origins of conservative thought. If more of today’s conservatives had heeded its cautions, they might not have been so surprised to see Iraq’s unstructured liberation turn sour.

Karl Popper once wrote, “The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.” For Anderson, conservatism’s stewardship of that truth is the source of both the movement’s indispensable strength and its intrinsic weakness. Conservatism can keep us out of trouble by warning against the fanciful idealisms of the left (communism), the right (fascism) and the ultrareligious (bin Ladenism), but it cannot scratch humanity’s perpetual itch for a Promised Land free of hunger, pain, conflict and grubby politics. “There is no ultimate solution in politics, only temporary ‘settlements,’ ” Anderson writes, affirming Jouvenel, who affirmed Aristotle (“Man is by nature a political animal”). To read Anderson at his luminous best is to be reminded of conservatism at its wisest — not least in its understanding of its own limitations.