Magazine article Dissent

Neoconservatism À la Française/Pascal Bruckner Responds

Magazine article Dissent

Neoconservatism À la Française/Pascal Bruckner Responds

Article excerpt

James B. Rule

PASCAL BRUCKNER'S embarrassing antianti-American diatribe ("The Paradoxes of Anti-Americanism," Summer 2006) starts out by reminding us of some things that most of us thought we knew. For one, that visceral antipathy to America and Americans is widespread around the world these days. For another, that these attitudes often coalesce into worldviews that resist nuance or revision in the face of evidence.

If this were the extent of matters, Bruckner's message would amount merely to old news. But his remarks quickly devolve into sweeping and unsubstantiated paeans of praise for America's role in world affairs-and ultimately for the moral superiority of American values-that provide a mirror image of the mindless anti-Americanism he loathes. Combined with this is an equally categorical hymn of hate against Europeans who fail to salute America's missionary self-image and the resulting repercussions in world affairs. By the time it's all over, we're hearing the echo of American neoconservatism from across the Atlantic.

Bruckner detests European critics of America, he tells us, because their stance pays no heed to fact or reasoned analysis. "[A]ntiAmericanism is an autonomous discourse of its own," he notes. "It feeds on itself and is emancipated from reality: an event doesn't shake it but confirms or reinforces it even when the event seems to contradict it." Fair enough; political visions of every description all too often work that way. But then Bruckner goes on to exemplify these shortcomings by his own wild swings with the broadest of brushes. Here is how he characterizes the views of his adversaries: "America is the bad Europe, colonizing and arrogant; her dissolute, illegitimate daughter who brings together all the negative traits of her parent countries."

For statements as gamy as this, a bit of substantiation might seem in order-both as to who actually espouses such views and where they go wrong.

But when he starts extolling America's alleged virtues, Bruckner soars into a world of pure fantasy. His cloying words would bring a blush to the cheeks of Nancy Reagan. "What is it that seduces us about American culture, popular or elitist?" he wonders. Among other things ". . . it has faith in the perfectibility of man, a cult of the ordinary hero . . . trapped in a difficult situation and forced to get out of it with only courage and will as weapons." By this point, I'm scratching my head, wondering what works Bruckner's been reading or watching. "America remains carried away by a meliorist optimism," he continues, "while Europe combines an idealism in international relations (peace, tolerance, dialogue) with pessimism about change."

The "meliorist optimism" that Bruckner cites is apparently what underlies the worldwide neoconservative crusade whose somber course in the Middle East Americans are now struggling to escape. Such "optimism" has plunged the United States into confrontation with countries it counterproductively decries as axes of evil, while supporting equally unsavory regimes where it suits American geopolitical strategy. It's enough to make Europeanstyle peace, tolerance, and dialogue look good.

What message are these overheated exhortations really supposed to convey? As one reads on, it becomes clear that Bruckner is upholding the essential neoconservative creed: First, that American political morality is superior to that of the rest of the world; second, that its military prowess grants it some kind of divine responsibility to enforce American dictates throughout the globe.

"You can regret it," Bruckner continues, "but everywhere people suffer and shiver in their chains-Bosnia and Kosovo yesterday, Georgia, Ukraine, Kurdistan, today-they turn toward the United States ..." Except, of course, for those peoples, past and present, whose lot has been to live under oppressive regimes supported or condoned by American power-Argentina, Chile, and South Africa yesterday, or Pakistan, China, and Egypt today-acknowledged perhaps as "authoritarian" but entirely tolerable to American statecraft, if they toe the U. …

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