I am grateful to Mr. Roach of Dallas for sending me his very informative article about the origins and broad-based agenda of American Paleoconservatives. Here is a link: http://takimag.com/article/what_is_paleoconservatism The piece is very rational, very well-reasoned and well written. I don’t disagree with everything he writes, but as he notes, I am rather more liberal in my views than he is. In addition, my perceptions about the States are different from his own, particularly as I come from a different continent.
My view of America is that of an outsider, though one who has visited the States on several occasions and who for several years was married to an American citizen. I studied American sociology at University and like everyone else in the West have spent a lifetime listening to American music, watching American movies, drinking American soft drinks and [on occasion] eating American fast-food. I hear about the doings of America at home and in the wider world, daily on the News. In addition, I follow American elections as they unfold. In short, the United States of America is in not only on my mind quite a fair bit but in my field of vision nearly all the time. I won’t say I am an expert on America, I’m not, but I feel that I know enough about the country and it’s people to have an opinion.
The UK is probably the United States’ closest ally in the “war on terror” and though as George Bernard Shaw once remarked “we are divided by a common language” we can communicate with each other in slightly different versions of English. On visits to the States I have found Americans almost universally charming, welcoming and polite but often woefully unaware of the world around them. Many Americans for example expect London to be a city of swirling fogs, where characters like Sherlock Holmes prowl the streets.
I remember visiting Boston some years ago and having the following conversation in a bar.
You aint from round here?
No, I’m not. I’m from the UK.
So, you’re Irish then.
No, I’m from England. I’m English.
So, you’re Irish then…
OK. That is a bit unfair. There are plenty of ignorant British people and you can’t generalise from the particular, but it was emblematic of a view of the world that is shared by many Americans; “you ain’t from round here, are you?” The implication being that you are being judged from a limited world view and found wanting. You aren’t the same as me, so you can’t be as good as me.
I was talking to a Swedish exchange student to the States some years ago who told me the following story. She stayed for three months with a nice, middle class American family in the suburbs of a big city. She really enjoyed her time and got on well with her hosts. When it was time to return home, the father of the family drew her aside and said “well, now you have experienced the United States tell me truthfully, which country do you prefer; America or Sweden?” She replied “Sweden, definitely”. He was mortally offended and she was confused. He had asked for an honest opinion and she had given it. The implication of his question was of course that the best of all countries must be, by definition the United States. All her host wanted was confirmation of what he already knew.
There is a similar strain of thought in some parts of the UK that was reflected in the British TV Series The League of Gentlemen. A man goes into a shop in rural mid Wales. He wants to buy something but is told “this is a local shop for local people. We don’t want your kind around here”. The difference between the US and the UK in the current age is that the United States has for many years taken on the role of the world’s policeman and has tried to mould very different parts of the world after its own image, seeing itself as the example of a free and democratic nation. You can argue whether this is a good thing or not, but my perception is that many of the American politicians wanting to recreate the world in the image of the USA and many of the men and women asked to undertake the task have little knowledge of different cultures. If they do, they judge them often as inferior to that of America.
Until 9/11 something like 80% of Americans did not own passports and a report published in march 2010 http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08891.pdf puts the figure of passport ownership at 28%. This compares with 70% of Britons according the UK Passport Service http://www.ips.gov.uk/cps/rde/xchg/ips_live/hs.xsl/index.htm . A cynic might say, that’s because we all want to get out of the country because the summer weather is so bad, but I think it is more to do with a desire to see and experience difference, even if only a different kind of beer…
The world you watch on TV, even on The History Channel is very different from the real world and the only way you can really know it is to get out there and experience it.
For the time being, the United States is the most powerful country in the world [just like Britain was in the 19th Century] and is affecting the entire world culturally, economically and politically. Don’t forget that the current economic crisis is very much the product of Wall Street and the effect of sub-prime mortgages going sour. As such, it has a responsibility to act with care, with responsibility and with respect towards other countries and other cultures.
Why America has engaged in so many world conflicts is an interesting question. It could be that such involvement has given a boost to the American economy. It could be because American politicians feel that they have a duty to bring American values to the less developed parts of the globe or it could be that America feels threatened by cultural and ideological difference.
The Great American Melting Pot principle was that to be a good citizen, you had to lose the cultural baggage of your original country and embrace Americanism. In recent years, immigrants to the States have held on to more of that heritage and as Mr. Roach suggests, this poses a threat or possibly even a challenge to a traditional view of what it is to be an American citizen.
If I have understood Mr. Roach correctly, Paleoconservatives believe that the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union provided an opportunity for the United States to substantially reduce America’s foreign policy commitment unlike the Neoconservative administration of George W. Bush that sought “new dragons to slay”. After 9/11 this resulted in ongoing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and closer links to Israel. In my view, the effect of these actions has resulted in increased world tension and growing fears in the minds of many Americans about the world that lies outside of their portals.
So, I have sympathy for an American political movement that recommends a strategic withdrawal from the world’s trouble spots but feel that proponents should travel outside of their country with open eyes and speak with and learn from those whom they fear the most. We should remember that George W. Bush was a man who did not own a Passport until he became President…