Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Required Reading on the Left and Anti-Americanism

The Anne Applebaum piece I blogged about this weekend reminded me of a seminal article by Michael Walzer written in the wake of 9/11. Entitled "Can There Be a Decent Left?", the essay remains the best overall analysis of the Anti-American left. Walzer, himself a leftist and patriot, takes an incisive look at the Chomskyites and others who argued that America essentially got what it deserved on 9/11, and had no right to act against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The article was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Dissent, and is still available on their Web site. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't already done so to read it. Meanwhile, the following two paragraphs are at the heart of Walzer's argument:

Blaming America first: Not everything that goes badly in the world goes badly because of us. The United States is not omnipotent, and its leaders should not be taken as co-conspirators in every human disaster. The left has little difficulty understanding the need for distributive justice with regard to resources, but we have been practically clueless about the just distribution of praise and blame. To take the obvious example: in the second half of the twentieth century, the United States fought both just and unjust wars, undertook both just and unjust interventions. It would be a useful exercise to work through the lists and test our capacity to make distinctions-to recognize, say, that the United States was wrong in Guatemala in 1954 and right in Kosovo in 1999. Why can't we accept an ambivalent relation to American power, acknowledging that it has had good and bad effects in the world? But shouldn't an internationalist left demand a more egalitarian distribution of power? Well, yes, in principle; but any actual redistribution will have to be judged by the quality of the states that would be empowered by it. Faced with states like, say, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, I don't think we have to support a global redistribution of political power.

Not blaming anyone else: The world (and this includes the third world) is too full of hatred, cruelty, and corruption for any left, even the American left, to suspend its judgment about what's going on. It's not the case that because we are privileged we should turn inward and focus our criticism only on ourselves. In fact, inwardness is one of our privileges; it is often a form of political self-indulgence. Yes, we are entitled to blame the others whenever they are blameworthy; in fact, it is only when we do that, when we denounce, say, the authoritarianism of third world governments, that we will find our true comrades-the local opponents of the maximal leaders and military juntas, who are often waiting for our recognition and support. If we value democracy, we have to be prepared to defend it, at home, of course, but not only there.

(Link courtesy of the comments section at Little Green Footballs)


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