Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Here's a fascinating piece (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0504.hirsh.html) by Michael Hirsh, who is a Senior Editor at Newsweek from the Washington Monthly (via Arts and Letters Daily) on why America's not so awful despite what the Old Europeans say about our barbarity, imperialism, aggressiveness, arrogance, ignorance, etc., etc. It's a review of a book by one Anatol Lievin. You'll want to go read it yourself, and I agree with a great deal of what Hirsh says at the very beginning and the very end, but I thought I'd point out a few disagreements I have and make a few comments of my own.

When it comes to grappling with the giant across the Atlantic, European thinkers of this generation tend to behave like Tolstoy's children. They toy intellectually with American power, lamenting its excesses, warning of its evils, advising endlessly on its better uses—usually without acknowledging that it is the very thing that has kept them free to have these discussions in the first place, and that today it continues to be the backbone of the international system that sustains them...On the whole the Europeans, having known three generations now without war—and earnestly desiring to become “postmodern states” that never again wage war—tend to forget that it is principally the U.S. defense umbrella that has made this dream possible.

Excellent point, and too many Old Europeans forget about this.

America spends more on defense than the rest of the industrialized world combined not because it is inherently belligerent or militaristic but mainly because America is today more than just the “lone superpower.” It is the stabilizer of the international system...With the exception of Iraq, this hidden infrastructure of U.S. power emerges into public view only occasionally, in tsunami relief or in America's unique ability to supply airlift and logistical support to hotspots from East Timor to Sudan...Yet, for too many post-Cold War Europeans, this stabilizing structure of American power has been so hidden as not to be worthy of note. Why exactly do they think their governments can afford to spend so little on defense (thereby subsidizing the European welfare state)?

Yep. I'm the first guy to say I'm not talking about closing down health care and pensions and the public schools and nursing homes and worker's compensation laws and the like. I do think there are about seven unnecessary levels in the bureaucracies that administer the social welfare programs here in Europe, and there's far too much unnecessary meddling by the state in the economy, which ought to be nearly as productive as America's instead of operating at 75-80%. I also understand that (if I may very broadly generalize) that, if allowed to make risk-benefit decisions, most Europeans will prefer greater security and less topside gain, while Americans tend to be willing to take bigger risks in order to win bigger should they succeed. I tend to think more like the stereotypical European than the stereotypical American in this regard; I'm not looking for the big money, or even the medium money. And I understand that Brits will accept smaller profits and demand more security than Yanks, as a rule, and this is a major difference between the two peoples. The Brits are more like the Continentals on this question than they are like us gringos.

Anyway, though, the review is going along great. So far. Now it's time to dive into the muck.

...in some respects Lieven's book, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, is the most brilliant analysis of America's attitude toward the world to come along since 9/11...

Yo. Hold it. Wait a minute, dude. You be smokin crack. You just destroyed the book's thesis by undercutting the author's assumptions, and first you damn it with faint praise, OK, but calling this tripe "brilliant"? I guess you want him to still talk to you at Washington cocktail parties.

Like many in Europe—and many liberal Democrats here in the United States—Lieven allows his alarm at Bush's foreign policy to lead him to an excessively negative and sweeping critique of American culture and foreign policy...The book descends quickly to the level of diatribe and, despite much incisive analysis, never really manages to rise above it. In the end, the author's error is to confuse the pathology of the Bush administration with the alleged pathology of America.

Ah-hah. The problem isn't America, it's Bush! What's leading this author Lieven to slander America and us red-staters in particular is the Pathology of the Bush Administration. It's all Bush's fault! Blame Bush! The Old Europeans don't dislike us because they're ignorant and prejudiced, they just can't stand Bush. Yeah, right.

Lieven is at his best when he traces the lineage of this now-dominant strand of political culture. In three penetrating chapters that should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand Bush's election victory in 2004, he explains how this dominance has come in the form of a successful rebellion against the Eastern elites by the Southern/Frontier culture that has found its hero in Bush. Lieven describes how the “American Creed,” the exceptionalist “thesis” that traditionally defines the self-image of most Americans—of a people free, equal, and good—has become overpowered by the “antithesis” of America's “embittered heartland.” “While America keeps a splendid and welcoming house, it also keeps a family of demons in the cellar,” Lieven writes. “Usually kept under certain restraints, these demons were released by 9/11.”

oh my god it's the embittered demons they're flying out of the basement flapping their wings with big pointy fangs dripping with blood on their way down to the gun sale after church help help they're wearing white robes and pointy hoods and listening to merle haggard

What is Bush's tradition? Who are these demons?

Gee, I dunno, Mike. People who, like, believe in God and stuff?

In the most original part of his book, Lieven analyzes at length the influences of this “second strand” of American nationalism, which resides in a culture dating back to Andrew Jackson and Southern evangelical tradition. Building on the work of Walter Russell Mead, T.R. Fehrenbach, David Hackett Fischer, and Michael Lind, among others, he describes how the much-noted “Southernization” of Republican politics in recent decades has had a deeper impact on our foreign policy than many of us have realized.

Original? The demons are Jacksonian white Southerners? Even I've written about this subject.

The nation is now in the grip of a “radical nationalism” that traces its origins to the demographic makeup and mores of the South and of much of the West and Southern Midwest—in other words, what we know today as red America. As Lieven writes, this region was heavily settled by Scots-Irish immigrants whom King James I sent to Northern Ireland to clear out the native Celtic Catholics, which they did. Along with Anglo-Saxons, they then settled the American Frontier, moving westward from one piece of mean land to the next, suffering Indian raids and fighting for their lives every step of the way. The outcome was that a substantial portion of the new nation developed, over many generations, a rather savage set of mores. Thanks largely to this huge subpopulation, a quickness to fight and a dedication to total annihilation of any enemy has always been part of American culture. This tends to emerge in a “burst of chauvinist fury” and predominate during times of national crisis.

Let's see. Backwoods red-state Scotch-Irish and Anglo-Saxons have taken over America. They're mean people who were just terrible to everybody they met, from the Irish Catholics to the American Indians, while living in swinish poverty and cultureless deprivation. All this made them even meaner, and now they want to kill anybody who even looks at us funny. And they go to church too much.

"Original"? "Brilliant"? If this is Lieven "at his best", I could really have a lot of fun with his worst.

I will now state Chappell's Corollary to whoever's law it is that says, "In an argument, the first side to compare the other to Hitler loses." My corollary is, "The first side to call the other one racist loses."

Traditionally, it has also been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Oh, my ass. Texas=bad, Massachusetts=good, right? Please.

Perceptively, Lieven likens this Southern/Frontier nationalism to the more classic kind of radical nationalism that emerges from the cumulative frustration of defeat often found in nations, say of Germany in World War I (and which in that particular case helped buttress Hitler's rise to power half a generation later). In this case, however, the frustration of the South and Southern Midwest over the rise of godless modernity at the hands of the North and the Easterners built up over a century and a half during which Southerners were derided as “peckerwoods and rednecks,” as the former segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, once put it. “The role of defeat in the genesis of nationalism resides not only in the defeat of a nation as a whole, but of classes, groups and indeed individuals within them,” Lieven writes.

This is "perceptive"? The embittered rednecks are all pissed off because they can't segregate against black people anymore and now, through the instrument of Bush, they're taking it out on all the rest of us? Chappell's Corollary goes into effect.

Bush is a Jacksonian pod person.

Huh? Whatever that is, it sounds pretty bad, though.

The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and Frontierism has brought to our politics is unmistakable...On foreign policy, the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition once kept the Southern/Frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism in check. Now the latter two, in toxic combination, have taken over our national dialogue...The only Easterners who are left are the neocons, whose grand global construct, a kind of Nietzschean will to power—Michael Lind once described the neocons as the brains of the Southern evangelicals—only feeds this out-of-control messianism and a deep-seated distaste for globalism that goes back to the “don't-tread-on-me” attitude of the Southern/Frontier tradition.

Oh, those coarse out-of-control messianic brainless Southerners, we just can't have them in the house, they'll do something frontiersy, and especially without the Eastern elites to watch over them, you never know what they might do, even let in those nasty grasping neocon Jews and their Nietzchean will to power!

The outcome (of the election) was far more about the fact that one side had a first-class campaigner and strategist (Bush and Karl Rove) while the other side put up rank incompetents (John Kerry and his masters of disaster, Bob Shrum and Tad Devine).

Well, now at least they admit Kerry was a loser. We didn't hear them saying this back in October.

If the Democrats can field a candidate only slightly more winning than Kerry, the Easterners will come down from the hills and rejoin the dialogue.

Let's hope they don't.

The new power centers in the country, meanwhile, will be forced to quell their Jacksonian furies when they come to understand the necessity of an international consensus in the age of globalization (in other words, it means their jobs). And that will inevitably shift American foreign policy back into balance.

I wouldn't take this for granted. Note that Mike thinks the only thing that will convince these coarse Jacksonians to be nice and moral like the Eastern elites and shift American foreign policy into balance is pressure on their pocketbooks. Pretty crude Marxism there, Mike.

All of which points out Lieven's central error: He does not account for the fact that vast numbers of Americans—including very many in red states—hate where Bush is leading their country and share Lieven's criticisms. Instead he attempts, lamely, to argue that Democrats or moderate Republicans would probably be taking the country in the same direction as Bush Republicans have.

Oh, what a tragedy for Mike's self-image when called upon to deal with the Europeans he meets in his daily line of work and they rip America a new asshole. The Europeans scorn us liberal Democrats just for being Americans, and they're wrong to do so, because we real Americans, the eastern elites, we who work at Newsweek, are NOT LIKE those coarse Southerners, but the Europeans won't admit us and they keep insulting us for being rednecks as if we were those frontiersmen who probably don't like black people.

But because he's decided to attack American nationalism in every form, Lieven attacks everybody.

And Mike just hates that. Lieven shouldn't be attacking him.

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