Its friends in the media would have us think that Dinesh D’ Souza’s latest cinematic work, America: Imagine a World Without Her, is worth seeing because of the effectiveness with which D’ Souza demolishes the standard leftist charges leveled against the United States. I come away from this film with a dramatically different response.
While D’ Souza is to be commended for establishing, by way of quite a few tidbits that promise to be news to most viewers, America hardly has a monopoly on “oppression,” what he gives with one hand D’ Souza takes with the other: D’ Souza not only endorses his leftist targets’ position that America has mistreated its racial minorities, particularly those of African descent; he actually—but, doubtless, inadvertently—underscores this interpretation.
D’ Souza stresses that America is not unlike any other country or society that’s ever existed inasmuch as it is spawned from the same set of circumstances—slavery, war, conquest—comprehensively, oppression—from which all other historical societies spring. In one and the same breath, though, he insists that America is an idea.
But if America is an idea—a proposition, a principle, an ideal—then it is most emphatically not a historical society. Ideas are abstract and impersonal; the stuff of history consists of concrete actors, individual persons and the communities that they compose. And since America is allegedly not just an idea, but the idea of human equality—equality of rights, or something to this effect—then America is exponentially more guilty of the crimes with which D’ Souza’s left-wing targets charge it.
Consider: If America is alone among the nations of the world in purporting to be the idea (ideal) of (say) “unalienable rights” incarnate, as D’ Souza maintains, then, at the very least, it alone among the nations of the world has the least excuse—no excuse—for resembling the nations of the world in engaging in oppression.
So, to the list of grievances filed by his leftist foes against America we can now, courtesy of D’ Souza, add those of rank hypocrisy and invincible hubris: hypocrisy for claiming to be the world’s messiah while falling miserably short of the ideal that it claims to embody, and hubris for, well, purporting to be the world’s messiah.
Of course, D’ Souza contends that while America is not unique in practicing the most egregious form of oppression—slavery—it is unique in that it waged a “civil war.”
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.