Anti-Americanism at Home and Abroad
IF THERE used to be nothing more ludicrous than the English people in one of its periodic fits of morality, as Macaulay put it, these have been replaced in this century by the spectacle of the American people-at least a vocal section of it-in one of its periodic fits of self-mortification. If not ludicrous, at any rate, they are vacant; they seem to have no intention; when they are over, they leave no issue. As Philip Guedalla, then one of the liveliest British commentators on the contemporary scene, wrote in 1933: “The fierce alacrity with which American citizens denounce their institutions without the slightest effort to improve them is a perennial surprise.” More than intermittently it is also a bore.
I am not speaking of the steady criticism that any nation-and in particular its intellectuals-ought to maintain of its own society, but of a virulence of tone-a kind of bile-which seems to spring from self-doubt into self-hate. In the late 1960′s, a British journalist, Ferdinand Mount, who was visiting the United States, said: “You can’t stop people hating themselves if that is their preferred choice…. [But] even the strain of the Vietnam war does not explain why, for the first time, this cyclically recurrent self-doubt should have weakened the universality of belief in the American ideal.” Well, he was wrong in one respect, of course: it was not the first time that the universality of this belief had been eroded. But it is true that, during the late 1960′s and to some extent since then, whatever the provocations, the repulsion of many Americans from their own country and its total experience has been not merely virulent, not only monotonous, but itself a kind of sickness, which in turn needs diagnosis.
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