Friday, September 26, 2003

ANTI-ANTI-AMERICANISM: It's pretty easy to bash, mock, and highlight the idiocy of certain self-indulgently self-righteous anti-American Leftists (Vidal, Chomsky, Roy, Pinter, Tariq Ali, etc.) Ian Buruma does this with considerable skill; he doesn't match the subjects of his criticism by descending to rant, but merely quotes them, and comments -- drily but unmercifully -- on just what is so horrid about their statements.
But Buruma does rather more than that. He offers an explanation of why so many Leftists are so reflexively anti-American -- and why they allow their anti-Americanism to completely warp and distort their vision and unhinge their judgment. Buruma traces the strain of anti-Americanism through European far-RIGHT thought in the 19th and 20th centuries, then notes the influence of the Cold War -- both America's support of Third World dictators, and the sympathy of many Western Leftists for the Soviet Union (and their susceptibility to Soviet Propaganda). Buruma also notes the strange process through which the Left has, in the face of globalization (and under the influence of post-colonial and post-modern theorists) come to resemble, or at least have affinities with, the far right, in its sympathy for particularistic nationalism and suspicion of universalism and condemnation of "modernity" (think of all of the Left-Heideggerians out there).
Buruma tends to attribute this to European post-colonial guilt. Here, as in his tendency to emphasize Soviet propaganda over the very real crimes of the US, Buruma I think somewhat under-estimates, or at any rate under-emphasizes, the genuine concerns and insights motivating Leftist opposition to the US. There really are problems with globalization, and modernity -- even that enlightened universalism at the heart of Western liberalism -- has its dark sides. Buruma is I think right to view much of the motivation, as well as the manifestations, of Left anti-Americanism as irrational and even irresponsible; but hysteria and the search for moral purity and simplicity aren't the only stories.
Still, I suspect that, among some people at least, America (and its ally, Israel) really would be hated, no matter what, as Buruma suggests. There is also much to Buruma's charge of 'moral racism' -- the tendency of many on the Left to neglect crimes against humanity when the perpetrators, as well as the victims, are non-white.
I do think Buruma is a bit over-harsh at times; but his critique is largely compelling. And, while he himself remains dubious about the Iraqi war, Buruma does offer an effective anti-anti-war argument. I'm not sure what, exactly, practical conclusions might be drawn from Buruma's argument, since the war is a fait accompli, and there is plenty to criticize in the U.S.'s behaviour even if one doesn't regard America as the Great Satan (and even if one supported the war). But his article is a bracing dose of clarity, and as such valuable.

THE NY REVIEW: INVALUABLE: I've been a subscriber to the NY Review of Books for the past, oh, um, nine or ten or so years. During that time, I've sometimes read a good portion of every issue; and sometimes I've only read one or two articles per issue for several weeks. At one point, the NY Review seemed to me the height of intellectual life; more recently, though, I've been feeling a bit disappointed with it, finding less and less of real interest over the weeks.
However, as in the past, just when I started to wonder if the NY Review wasn't dispensable, the old NYRB publishes, in successive weeks, two great articles. The first has already been much linked-to online; but if you haven't yet read it, you really should check out Timothy Garton Ash's article on George Orwell's infamous list of possible Communist Party Members and Fellow-Travellers, which he gave to a friend working for British Foreign Office in 1949. Garton Ash provides a detailed, sympathetic, and convincingly reconstruction of how Orwell came to draw up his list, and how he came to share it with the British Government (he speculates that Orwell was motivated, not only by a desire to combat pro-Communist propaganda and worse, but also by romantic feelings for the Foreign Office employee to whom he sent the list, Celia Kirwan. Those who have the print version of the article at hand, graced with a picture of Kirwan at around the time the ailing, widowed Orwell knew her, will be able to sympathize.) Garton Ash's account is a good corrective to many recent, disapproving, righteously indignant criticisms of Orwell's actions; he explains why anti-Communist liberals and Leftists such as Orwell believed that "crypto-Communists" presented such a danger to the West, and needed to be combatted -- and why they had good reason to believe so.
The second piece, from the most recent issue, is a survey of several recent books by Brian Urquart, a former Undersecretary of the U.N who has devoted his long life -- he's in his ninth decade -- to constructing a just and peaceful international order. The piece is, unsurprisingly, pretty pessimistic. It is, however, free from rant, cant, and ideological distortion (or seems to me to be so). It notes the failures and follies of the Bush administration, highlights the dangers facing America if the administration continues on its reckless, arrogant, over-optimistic and blinkered way. Yet Urquart is no knee-jerk anti-American; he also explains why talk of American "empire" is inexact and deceptive, and acknowledges that American leadership is indispensable to maintaining a semblance of world-order. The article, with its adept summaries of several important and interesting recent books and its effective but not over-bearing deployment of sometimes overlooked information, is well worth reading for anyone concerned about America's place in the world.
I think I'll keep my subscription, then.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

THE GUARDIAN ON THE NEO-CONS: SURPRISINGLY FAIR AND ACCURATE: I wouldn't have expected it, but this piece from the Guardian, that stallwart of British left-liberal bias, gives a fairly dispassionate and, so far as I can tell, quite accurate picture of the neo-cons' changing responses to the situation in Iraq; it also shows the neo-cons increasingly worried by, and critical of, the Bush administration's mishandling of the occupation. Good for the neo-cons -- and good for the Guardian for giving them a hearing.

JUST BACK from a very enjoyable trip to Cambridge, MA, to visit friends (which included dinner with the estimable Mr Adesnik of OxBlog, during which, so far as I can recall, he didn't take a cheap shot at the BBC or the NY Times EVEN ONCE; several delightful colloquies, of varying lengths and levels of sobriety, with the learned, irreverent and delightful Mr. Reff of Refference; and hours of hanging out, listening to music and trying to unclog a toilet with, and sleeping on the futon of, my bud Chiansan of Mr. Sparkle, as well as a brief audience with the Yale Diva -- quite a blog-ful tour).
I also stopped in to visit a couple of teachers of mine in New Haven. There I found both relief that the Yale strike has ended, and continuing tension, bitterness, antagonism -- a somewhat soured atmosphere among some, though the students seemed fairly unfazed. Admittedly, I got a fairly one-sided picture of what the strike had been like -- almost all those I talked to were faculty, some of them strongly anti-union, others more moderate, but none pro-union stallwarts. But what I heard, even if it was only one side of the story, confirmed all of my bad feelings about the unions' behaviour.
That aside, it was a lovely trip, and I didn't even mind being cut off from both the news, and the opportunity to blog about it. Now, though, I'm going to try to catch up on some unfinished business -- though I'll still be doing some traveling over the next few days, and am shortly to be returning to Oxford, so posting will remain light, and irratic.

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