– Jean-Francois Revel
Seeing as how there are no new posts up today, I thought I’d check with FA readers to find out whether any of you went out this weekend to see Dinesh D’Souza’s “America: Imagine a World without Her”; and to give you a chance to share your thoughts and opinions.
For myself, I saw it yesterday, first showing in the late morning. The theater wasn’t filled; but neither was it empty. I could sense in the atmosphere that all of these movie-goers were of the same political persuasion as myself. And that, ultimately, will be part of the problem with this film.
While I am thrilled that there is a movie out in theaters with a conservative message, and while I agree with, and am sympathetic to, the partisan perspective expressed, I had hoped that D’Souza would make a movie focused more on challenging some of the Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky/Ward Churchill worldview history and anti-Americanism that many of us have been fed in public schools and colleges; and less on partisan attacks against President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Why? Because half of America will most likely knee-jerk tune out and dismiss the movie as partisan propaganda rather than give it the serious attention it merits.
The film addresses 5 indictments made by many on the left about America. But it only scratches the surface in how it challenges some of the liberal-view beliefs about America’s shamefulness. I have not read the book, so I don’t know if D’Souza gives more in-depth arguments and analyses against the Howard Zinn narrative on American history.
While I don’t totally dismiss Zinn’s American history, I find where it primarily is at fault is in its lopsided, agenda-driven perspective in painting an incomplete portrait of our nation’s past (and how he feels about its present). What I fear is that rather than an honest, balanced look at the United States, conservatives will buy into a pro-America propagandistic perspective that is also flawed, inaccurate, and dishonest.
Liberal reviews that I’ve seen are unsurprisingly hating the film and dismissing it. Conservative movie-goers are loving it. What needs to happen is the creation of a historical narrative that is honest, viewed in context to the times, balanced in perspective, and pro-American while acknowledging the sins of our past. There are both liberals and conservatives who celebrate Independence Day and who love our country. There should be a film that can resonate with both sides of the political aisle and make us all deeply proud and unapologetic in calling ourselves “American”.
A few books (off the top of my head) I recommend:
A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
The Heritage Guide to the U.S. Constitution by Edwin Meese
Jean Francois Revel’s Anti-Americanism
10 Big Lies About America by Michael Medved
3 Big Lies About the Vietnam War Michael Medved Show (radio program)
An American Amnesia by Bruce Herschensohn
America: The Last Best Hope by Bill Bennett
Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
-Pg 163-165, Black Rednecks and White Liberals excerpt:
Even those Western leaders who sought to end slavery are condemned by critics today for not having done it sooner or faster. The dangers and constraints of their times have too often been either ignored or brushed aside as mere excuses, as if elected leaders operating under constitutional law could simply decree whatever they felt was right.
Even a sympathetic biography of George Washington, for example, said: “He had helped to create a new world but had allowed into it an infection that he feared would eventually destroy it.” This statement is breathtaking in its assumptions. Washington did not “allow” slavery, which existed on American soil and around the world before he was born, nor did he have the option to decree its end. Even to have made slavery a public issue at the time would have accomplished nothing except to jeopardize the survival of a fragile coalition of newly independent states. Yet this man who contributed more than anyone else to the introduction of free republican government in the modern world is widely seen as being under a moral cloud, as if he had chosen to introduce or abet slavery. Washington’s actual behavior illustrated what Adam Smith had said, decades earlier, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, that a man prompted “by humanity and benevolence,” when he cannot establish the right, “will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong.”
Abraham Lincoln, who took advantage of a military conflict to stretch his powers as commander-in-chief to the point of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, has been downgraded in the post-1960′s world for not having done it sooner, more sweepingly, with more fervent moral rhetoric, and with affirmations of the equality of the races thrown in. The serious legal and political risks that Lincoln took when he emancipated Southern slaves are ignored. There was no groundswell of public opinion, even in the North, for freeing slaves. On the contrary, in a war-weary nation it was feared that the Emancipation Proclamation would stiffen Southern resistance and reduce the chances of an early negotiated settlement of a conflict that killed more Americans than any other war, before or since.
Lincoln himself was unsure what the net military effect of the proclamation would be. Yet military necessity was the only rationale that had either a constitutional basis or a political chance of being accepted. Those in later times who judge only by words may be disappointed that Lincoln did not make a ringing moral case for emancipation. But seldom, if ever, do they ask whether that would have made the proclamation more likely or less likely to survive both constitutional and political challenges. Despite Lincoln’s mastery of moral rhetoric- some consider his Gettysburg Address the finest speech in the English language- the Emancipation Proclamation was written in such dry and dull language that it has been likened to a bill of lading. But Lincoln understood that ringing rhetoric can be as counterproductive in some situations as it is inspiring in others.
To have made the moral case for emancipation in the Proclamation would have undermined its acceptance as a matter of military necessity. The earlier emancipation of slaves in the British Empire likewise invoked military necessity and avoided ringing humanitarian rhetoric, in order to maximize the range of its political support. As a distinguished scholar aptly put it, “we are so conditioned to expecting interest to masquerade as altruism that we may miss altruism when concealed beneath the cloak of interest.”
As it was, Lincoln was viciously attacked in the Democrats’ press for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Nor was this simply a question of his own political career being in jeopardy. Lincoln warned Andrew Johnson “to remember that it can not be known who is next to occupy the position I now hold, nor what he will do” at this critical moment in the history of the nation and of the fight against slavery. William Lloyd Garrison could indulge in ringing rhetoric without regard to the consequences but Abraham Lincoln had the heavy responsibility of consequences squarely on his shoulders as he faced his countrymen- and history. Lincoln had been elected to his first term by a plurality, rather than a majority, and it was by no means certain that he would be re-elected, especially with the controversy over the Emancipation Proclamation swirling around him.
Those who view slavery as an abstract moral issue are as disappointed with Lincoln today as William Lloyd Garrison was at the time. Garrison was dissatisfied with the language of the Emancipation Proclamation and with the fact that it did not decree “the total abolition of slavery,” rather than just its abolition in the Southern states at war. He seemed oblivious to the huge legal and political risks that Lincoln was taking- as many in later times would be when they criticized the limits of his actions and words. But had Lincoln’s real concerns extended no further than the military effects of the Emancipation Proclamation, it would be hard to explain his many and strenuous behind-the-scenes efforts to get slave-holding border states and the Congress of the United States to extend the ban on slavery to the whole country. Garrison’s rhetoric may look better to a later generation but the cold fact is that William Lloyd Garrison did not free a single slave, while Abraham Lincoln freed millions.
Lack of awareness or concern for the context and constraints of the times is only part of the problem of those today assessing such historic figures as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln- or the American nation as a whole.
D’Souza’s movie doesn’t fully develop an imagined alternate reality where America- the indispensable nation- didn’t come to existence. Would the world be better off today or worse?
I was pleased with the inclusion of Madison Rising’s kick-ass rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner for the closing credits of the film. Here is my all-inclusive video of that song: