By Dinesh D'Souza
Regnery Publishing, 218 pp, 2002
Dinesh D'Souza has written a powerful and
well-reasoned defense of America and Western civilization. He takes on
objections and criticisms from all ideological corners, such as liberals,
conservatives, and Muslim fanatics, and answers them all. If you're
wondering why America is great and why so many people want to live here,
read this book.
In the introduction, D'Souza compares the
American situation - facing an implacable foe in a war against terrorism -
with Athens facing the Spartans. He quotes a funeral oration by Pericles.
The parallels are striking. Some examples from Pericles' speech:
- In describing Athens: "Our system
of government does not copy the institutions of its neighbors. It is
more the case of our being a model to others, than of our imitating
anyone." Sounds like America.
- Pericles brags about Athens' freedom and
openness: "The greatness of our city brings it about that all the
good things from all over the world flow in to us, so that it seems
just as natural to enjoy foreign goods as our own local
products." Buy a Sony TV lately?
- Pericles makes this request: "What
I would ask is that you should fix your eyes every day on the
greatness of Athens as she really is, and should fall in love with
her." Everyone knows America isn't perfect, but most Americans
love her anyway.
D'Souza then asks that popular question:
Why do they hate us? He lists three schools of foreign criticism of
- The European, or French, school fears
that American culture will obliterate local culture and languages. Too
many McDonalds and no more French cuisine.
- The Asian school approves of
American-style commerce and capitalism but not social and cultural
problems. The Asian school seeks America's material benefits while
maintaining social order.
- The radical Islamic school hates our
support for Israel and undemocratic regimes in the Middle East. It
rejects all modernization as American and therefore bad. America is a
subversive idea that undermines cherished traditional and cultural
morals. It destroys society and replaces it with a worse one.
D'Souza concedes the radical Muslims have a
What stands out about the Islamic
critique is its refreshing clarity. The Islamic thinkers cannot be
counted in the ranks of the politically correct. Painful though it is to
admit, they aren't entirely wrong about America either. They say that
many Americans see them as a bunch of uncivilized towel heads, and this
is probably true. They charge that America is a society obsessed with
material gain, and who will deny this? They condemn the West as an
atheistic civilization, and while they may be wrong about the extent of
religious belief and practice, they are right that in the West religion
has little sway over the public arena, and the West seems to have
generated more unbelief than any other civilization in world history.
They are disgusted by our culture, and we have to acknowledge that there
is a good deal in American culture that is disgusting to normal
sensibilities. They say our women are "loose," and in a sense
they are right. Even their epithet for the United States, the Great
Satan, is appropriate when we reflect that Satan is not a conqueror - he
is a tempter. The Islamic militants fear that the idea of America is
taking over their young people, breaking down allegiances to parents and
religion and traditional community; this concern on their part is also
According to Sayyid Qutb, a radical Muslim
who founded the terrorist group Muslim Brotherhood, America and the West
have "separated the realm of God from the realm of society."
Religion plays no role in public affairs. To Qutb, Islam demands that
Allah is the ultimate ruler. Allah and the state are one. America and
Islam are therefore incompatible and a threat to each other, and cannot
coexist. Qutb's solution: kill the infidels.
Now, this is the terrorist Muslim talking,
not the far more numerous and reasonable traditional Muslim. But it's
interesting how various American critics agree with segments of this
argument. For example, conservatives criticize America for its crime,
abortion, illegitimacy and pornography. The left says America is sexist,
racist, homophobic, and oppresses people all over the world. Both groups
concede Muslim wacko claims about America, and raise this question: Is
America worth fighting for? If so, what makes America worth
fighting for? In essence, what's so great about America?
Before answering, D'Souza, who was born in
India, offers two cheers for colonialism, which is cursed by
multiculturalists for most if not all the evils in the world today.
American students are taught multiculturalism, which asserts that all
cultures are equal and good, and are not taught the truth, which is that
Western civilization rules the world, and most cultures want, at the very
least, the material advances and freedom offered by the West. D'Souza
cites a funny example by going back to the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire. To
win over the locals, both fighters researched their African heritages.
When the plane landed, Ali and Foreman disembarked wearing what they
believed were traditional and contemporary Africa outfits - the
headdresses and robes and so forth. I'm sure that puzzled and amused the
Africans who met them, who were dressed in suits, in the garb of Western
But why is Western civilization dominant?
There are two theories and both appeal to America's critics.
The environmental theory says the West is
blessed with natural resources and good weather, but that doesn't explain
anything, because the West has always had those but has not always been
The second theory is oppression, because
Western civilization is evil and "grew rich and powerful by beating
up on everybody else and taking their stuff."
The West thinks they're best! cry the
critics. Well, yes. Ethnocentrism may be a sin but everybody's doing it.
All civilizations have practiced it by thinking they're the best. But only
the West has transcended it by examining and learning from other cultures.
The ancient and advanced Islam and Chinese civilizations had little desire
to learn from others because they felt the others had nothing to offer.
But the West practiced colonialism and
slavery! But colonialism and slavery also are not unique to the West -
both have existed and flourished everywhere. England was the eighth or
ninth colonial power to rule India, for example. What is unique to the
West is abolition. African chiefs who profited from the slave trade sent
delegations to the West opposing abolition! Slaves were in no position to
free themselves - they had to rely on white strangers willing to die so
black strangers could be free.
Colonialism was oppressive to those who
lived under it, but beneficial to later generations. India learned about
freedom, democracy, rule of law, self-government, from their oppressors,
giving them the tools to fight for their own freedom. In other words,
"the colonialists brought things to India that have immeasurably
enriched the lives of the descendants of colonialism. Colonialism was the
transmission belt that brought to India the blessings of Western
D'Souza asks why the West has become so
rich and powerful. Not because it stole anything - there wasn't enough to
steal. It's because the West created three vital institutions: science,
democracy, and capitalism. Western colonialism and imperialism were not
the cause of the West's fortune, but the result of it.
If America and Western civilization are so
controversial and unpopular, why does everyone want to liver here? One
reason: people know they can have a better life in America. Money is not
the end in itself, but the means to achieve a better life.
Another reason: life in the Third World is
largely constrained and predetermined. Life choices are available within a
strict parameter established by parents and community. Not in America.
D'Souza also argues against reparations for
slavery, and indeed turns the question around by asking what blacks owe
whites for ending slavery. The American founders were not hypocrites, as
many critics charge. For example, the American Constitution's notorious
three-fifths clause was anti-slavery and pro-black in intent and effect by
limiting slave states' representation in Congress.
The American founders faced a dilemma: If
they abolished slavery without the consent of the governed, they'd commit
a gross violation of representative democracy. So they "found a
middle ground, not between principle and practice, but between opposition
to slavery and majority consent. They produced a Constitution in which the
concept of slavery is tolerated in deference to consent, but not given any
moral approval in recognition of the slave's natural rights. Nowhere in
the document is the term "slavery" used. Slaves are always
described as "persons," implying their possession of natural
rights. The founders were also careful to approve a Constitution that
refuses to acknowledge the existence of racial distinctions, thus
producing a document that transcended its time."
D'Souza maintains that racial preferences
and affirmative action disguise the fact that merit is responsible for
racial imbalance in many areas of life. He believes the merit gap is
caused by cultural and behavioral differences among the races. The civil
rights movement should embrace the Booker T. Washington school of thought
and concentrate on black self-improvement and responsibility rather than
Finally, D'Souza answers those critics who
charge that American culture is rife with trash. Choice and moral
relativism are the supreme values, regardless of the quality of the
choices. Morality is undermined and society becomes "debauched,
demoralized, and unhappy." What's so great about that?
Technological advances and capitalism have
brought about moral change in America, supposedly for the better. That and
the 1960s brought about a new new morality of authenticity, which is based
on a benign reading of Rousseau. This new system leaves people free to
pursue their own dreams and their own virtue.
So, what did I think of this book? Overall,
I liked it. I appreciated his defense of America's founders, who I think
were the greatest Americans ever. I wasn't totally sold on his morality of
authenticity, because I believe there is still a moral code that
transcends human behavior. It tells us when we do wrong. Most of us pay
attention and follow it - some do not. Those who do not produce the moral
decay that disgusts so many Americans and non-Americans.
Overall, this is a well-reasoned,
refreshing, and much-needed defense of America.