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D’Souza’s Imperial Delusions

Stanley Fish did an interview with Dinesh D’Souza about the subject of his documentary about President Obama and the idiotic notion that Obama’s “anti-colonialism” makes him hate America and seek to intentionally push the nation into decline. D’Souza claims that America is way better than all those bad old empires it replaced:

S.F.: Some posters were dismissive of the idea of “American exceptionalism.” They wondered what the phrase meant and suspected that it was a rhetorical device enabling the United States to justify actions it would condemn if they were performed by other nations. What, in your view, is so exceptional about America?

D.D.: My definition of American exceptionalism is one of identifying the ways in which America is unique in the world. First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.” America is a creation of thought. A second aspect of American exceptionalism is that while in other countries citizenship is a function of birth and blood, you become an American by assimilating to a certain way of life, a certain aspiration. And third, America has been a kinder, gentler superpower than traditional empires have been. What does the doctrine of American exceptionalism empower the United States to do? Nothing more than to act better than traditional empires — committed to looting and conquest — have done. So that’s American exceptionalism, an exceptionalism based on noble ideas, ideas that it holds itself to even when it falls short of them.

This is staggeringly delusional. Our dealings with the rest of the world have hardly been motivated by “noble ideas.” D’Souza should talk to the millions of victims of America’s traditional support for brutal dictators around the world. Talk to the thousands of families in Chile who were victims of Gen. Pinochet’s barbaric regime. Or to the victims of Rios Montt in Guatemala and his fanatical campaign of rape and murder, especially of indigenous people in that country. Or the victims of Batista in Cuba, the Shah in Iran, Saddam Hussein (who was our favorite dictator until we suddenly discovered — wink wink — that he was a bad guy after he invaded Kuwait), Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire and a couple dozen others. None of this was done for “noble ideas,” it was done for money and control.

Comments

  1. cry4turtles says

    America is exceptional because every time someone utters or writes, “Gawd bless America,” he does. How exceptional is that?

  2. steve84 says

    There are also plenty of other countries that had the chance to give themselves entirely new constitutions after a war and to get a fresh start. Nepal, for example, has been debating about a new one for years.

  3. Taz says

    A second aspect of American exceptionalism is that while in other countries citizenship is a function of birth and blood, you become an American by assimilating to a certain way of life, a certain aspiration.

    While I’m sure D’Souza would love to reserve citizenship for “right-thinking” people, the Constitution disagrees.

  4. psweet says

    I think he forgot about Iceland and the Iroquois Confederacy (although that last one did succumb to an “accident of force”).

  5. sqlrob says

    And don’t forget those noble freedom fighters in Afghanistan we supplied. What was their name again? Oh yeah, Taliban.

  6. some bastard on the net says

    …while in other countries citizenship is a function of birth and blood, you become an American by assimilating to a certain way of life

    Boy, I must’ve been some kind of newborn mega-genius, since I was registered as a citizen accepting a certain way of life as soon as I was born!

  7. Mr Ed says

    Why America is Exceptional
    By Davy Smith 3rd grade.

    I think America is exceptional because we have trees that are just the right size. America is exceptional becuase we have the best parks were I can play with my friends…

    Davy’s arguments are more defensible. Any one who thinks America is the golden hair boy who can do no wrong is willfully ignorant.

  8. Brownian says

    A second aspect of American exceptionalism is that while in other countries citizenship is a function of birth and blood, you become an American by assimilating to a certain way of life, a certain aspiration.

    “I believe I can become President.”
    “WHERE’S HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE?!”

  9. imrryr says

    Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.”

    While there are a million things wrong with everything D’Souza says, how does his conception of God mesh with the idea that 99.9% of countries are founded by ‘accidents of force’. Shouldn’t the existance of every country be ascribed as part of God’s (totally awesome and not at all random) plan? After all, without the ‘accidents of force’ that created the UK, Americans today might be speaking French, or Spanish, or even worse, a non-Indo-European language!

    Also, without the British, our founders wouldn’t have had the extensive British legal system to draw from, at the very least. But, ah, who cares? D’Souza probably thinks the founders got all their ideas from Jesus anyway.

  10. says

    First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.” America is a creation of thought.

    Yeah, tell that to all the peoples against whom we fought wars of expansion… Tell that to the peoples who suffered the Trail of Tears… Tell that to Spain, Mexico, Cuba, and the Philippines. Tell that to Hawai’i.

    Tell that to Japan – which was forced open to international trade (and potential imperial control by the US and other nations) due to an accident of force on the part of the US Navy’s Commodore Perry.

    Hell, tell that to American Samoa, Guam, Saipan, and the Northern Mariana Islands – which are only part of the United States due to “accidents of force” (especially American Samoa, now THERE’s a history of a literal acquisition due to an accident of force).

  11. Chiroptera says

    First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table.

    Actually, one could argue that modern France was founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table.

    Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.”

    What the hell? Am I alone in thinking that “accidents of force” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) were more important in founding and expanding “America” than most of the European nations?

    Am I just not getting what D’Souza means by “accident of force”?

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.”

    Pthththt. Let’s consider, as an example, Israel. Yes, there was a great deal of force involved in founding it, but it was certainly not an accident. And before the use of force, there was a great deal of scheming. See “Balfour Declaration.”

  13. Reginald Selkirk says

    Chiroptera #15: Am I just not getting what D’Souza means by “accident of force”?

    Hey, nice country ya got there. It’d be a shame if an ‘accident of force’ happened to it.

  14. baal says

    D’Souza’s getting to my list of folks I actually dislike (as opposed to merely oppose). He keeps asserting something like conservative fan fiction for reality.

  15. bmiller says

    step right up folks! Here at the Museum of Delusions we have an example of a unique and increasingly rare specimen, the American Conservative Intellectual. Observe his plumage, the boldness of his stance, listen to his proud roar. What…what is that you say Timmy? The fur is rotting? The bones are broken? He is DEAD, you say? A dead parrot? Oh no! I guess conservative intellectualism has died!

  16. Ben P says

    illions of victims of America’s traditional support for brutal dictators around the world. Talk to the thousands of families in Chile who were victims of Gen. Pinochet’s barbaric regime. Or to the victims of Rios Montt in Guatemala and his fanatical campaign of rape and murder, especially of indigenous people in that country. Or the victims of Batista in Cuba, the Shah in Iran, Saddam Hussein (who was our favorite dictator until we suddenly discovered — wink wink — that he was a bad guy after he invaded Kuwait), Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire and a couple dozen others.

    There’s a line about the difficulty of making people see things that it is in their interest not to see.

    D’Souza, of course, didn’t have anything to do with these regimes, nor am I trying to tie him to a brutal regime.

    But each of those Regimes had something in common. Each of those regimes had a core of supporters who reaped great benefits from being close to the Regime, and as often as not still view the old regime with rose colored glasses. You can still find a lot of old Cubans in Miami that fled in the wake of Castro’s victory and will reminisce fondly about Batista era Cuba while describing the communists as murderous thugs.

    Although he’s a generation younger, D’Souza comes from exactly that sort of background. His parents and grandparents were people who benefitted from their ties to the Portugese government in Goa and lost much of that prestige when the portugese colony was annexed by India in 1961.

    Just as he assumes Obama must be influenced by “anti-colonial” figures, he comes from circumstances that lead to the assumption he would support colonial governments.

  17. doubtthat says

    Well, America is exceptional, except for the 47% of skank-ass freeloaders and loathsome reprobates. I guess that means we’re only 1/2 exceptional, the rest are allergic to “personal responsibility” as is evidenced by whether someone pays federal income tax.

    About those tax records, Mr. Romney…

  18. says

    “And third, America has been a kinder, gentler superpower than traditional empires have been.”

    Is that like being a kinder, gentler rapist because you always make sure she has a pillow under her head?

  19. lofgren says

    All countries are founded by accidents of force. Don’t believe me? Ask the Indians. No, ask the Khoisan. No, no, ask anybody descended from a slave.

    I think that there are two definitions of the word “American.” One describes people who live in America. The other describes a set of aspirational values: free speech, that all men are created equal, individual freedom, diversity. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that, but I would say that it violates the spirit of the latter to use it to exclude members of the former.

  20. Chiroptera says

    lofgren, #23: I think that there are two definitions of the word “American.”…. The other describes a set of aspirational values: free speech, that all men are created equal, individual freedom, diversity.

    It is one thing to describe these values as “American” as a platitude to remind our fellow US citizens and residents that there are ideals that we have traditionally prided ourselves in striving for.

    But I get the impression that a lot of people who use the term “American values” are forgetting, or deliberately denying, that those ideals are supposed to be universal human rights.

  21. lofgren says

    I’m not going to argue too much that this dual function of the word American is acceptable, because it definitely leads to some confusion, e.g. “XYZ is not a true American, therefore they do not deserve free speech.”

    But I do believe that most people understand the distinction, that’s all.

  22. pacal says

    You should add to your list Suharto of Indonesia. His lovely regime massacured, at least, hundreds of thousands of people in 1965-1966, and was responsible for what amounted to genocide in East Timor, to say nothing of general repression and terror in Indonesia during the period of his rule. Of course he took the opportunity along with his family and cronys to loot the state.

  23. Chiroptera says

    lofgren, #25: But I do believe that most people understand the distinction, that’s all.

    I hope so.

    I wasn’t criticizing your point, by the way. Just adding an additional take on it.

  24. says

    Apparently D’Souza knows nothing of the history of Canada. This country was formed by a group of men sitting around a table. And it was formed in part because the men in question were worried the “kinder, gentler” Americans would invade, which they\d tried a couple of times before.

  25. says

    First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.” America is a creation of thought.

    Forget all the wars and battles after America’s foundation, D’Souza can’t even get his basic American foundational history right. Why does he think the Founders were sitting around the table deliberating over whether to declare independence in the first place?

    They were embroiled in a bitter rebel conflict, that’s why, and one which virtually none of them entered with the idea that it would lead to the formation of an independent nation. They saw themselves as loyal British subjects fighting for rights that had been denied them. Only after months of fruitless conflict and negotiations did they finally accept that independence was the only way.

    Without their rebellious “accident of force,” the Declaration of Independence in 1776 never happens.

  26. Michael Heath says

    lofgren writes:

    I think that there are two definitions of the word “American.” One describes people who live in America. The other describes a set of aspirational values: free speech, that all men are created equal, individual freedom, diversity.

    The U.S. has not earned this set of features to the point we can define this behavior as “American”, not even close. What the U.S. did do was create a government based on enlightenment values whose relative success favorably compared to non- or more un-enlightened forms of government; which in turn led to other successes in other countries. But it’s the Enlightenment that won, the U.S. has a long ways to go to achieve a consistent standard of enlightened performance to the point we can use the term ‘America’ and enlightened interchangeably.

  27. bobaho says

    I wonder if this is Orac’s crank magnetism at work. Fish is supposedly this reputable philosopher (employed by the New York Times, just like Judith Miller) yet often wanders into mind numbing stupidity when discussing science (e.g. this WEIT post. This interview was just leading question after leading question, all deferring to the idiocy that is D’Souza. Maybe Fish is looking for a tenure track position at King’s Community Correspondence Course College.

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