EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the September 12, 2005, issue of National Review.
Anti-Americanism is a phenomenon which, though common and ubiquitous, is difficult to explain because it is illogical, irrational, contradictory, and mysteriously primitive. A good deal of it is parroting. And, oddly enough, a parrot has recently emerged in England which may cast light on the subject. This bird had been owned by a long-distance truck driver who emigrated, bequeathing it to a bird sanctuary. There it behaved well; but there were exceptions. In succession, a local mayor, wearing his chain of office, a police inspector, and a female vicar–all visitors to the sanctuary–were subjected to four-letter verbal abuse. The manager of the place eventually concluded that the parrot had been trained by its owner to abuse authority figures, and recognized them by something distinctive in their dress.
The United States, in a lawless and dangerous world where the U.N. cannot impose order–in fact sometimes makes disorder worse–has become a reluctant authority figure, a stepfather or foster parent to a dysfunctional and violent family. As such, it is resented and abused, all the more so since it wears the uniform of its role, the ability to project military power in overwhelming strength almost everywhere in the world. The fact that, in logic, America’s critics may be grateful to a nation which, in the past as in the present, has been essential to their liberty and well-being by resisting and overcoming totalitarianism, or suppressing threats to civil society by terrorism, makes no difference to the resentment; may even intensify it.
The people among whom anti-Americanism is most rife, who articulate it and set the tone of the venom, are the intellectuals. They ought logically to hold America in the highest regard, for none depend more completely on the freedom of speech and writing which America upholds, or would suffer more grievously if the enemies against whom America struggles were to triumph and rule or misrule the world. Indeed, many of the most violently anti-American intellectuals benefit directly and personally from America’s existence, since their books, plays, music, and other creations enjoy favor on the huge American market, and dollar royalties form a large part of their income. But it is a fact that intellectuals are fundamentally and incorrigibly antinomian. To them, authority, especially if legitimate and benign, is the enemy-in-chief, to be resisted instinctively as a threat to their “freedom,” even if such authority ultimately makes it possible. You might think that some of these intellectuals–British, French, German for instance–who have been particularly abusive of the U.S. would renounce their American royalties. But not one has done so. When I put this point to a leading author, famous alike for his American following and his anti-American views, I was sharply told: “I regard such gestures as childishly quixotic.”
Not only among intellectuals but among a much wider circle, anti-Americanism has a tone of outraged morality which strikes me as peculiarly perverse . . .
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