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.”
Not being a historian, I will put to one side the inconvenient fact that there is no small number of remarkably accomplished historians that reject this grossly oversimplified account of the War Between the States. Familiar as I am with some rudimentary logic, however, I will simply make the following observation.
If D’ Souza’s narrative is correct and Americans, or the bearers of “the idea” that is America, had to slaughter one another in numbers eclipsing those produced in any of our wars with foreigners in order to abolish slavery, then this reveals that Americans are “exceptional,” yes, but exceptionally corrupt! As the black libertarian Walter Williams, among many others, has amply shown time and time again, many societies have ended slavery, but all—with the sole exception of the United States—have done so peacefully.
D’ Souza’s narrative actually paints a most unflattering picture of America, for it distinguishes Americans as the only people ever that, in spite of having dedicated their collective being to an abstraction, nevertheless had to savage each other to stop themselves from savaging Africans and others.
D’ Souza’s position that America is an “idea”—to an even greater extent than most ideological fictions—is a recipe for all manner of disaster. Those protesting against the unmitigated mess that is our southern border have made signs that read: “Honk if you think the U.S. should have borders.” If these protestors are remotely as interested in preserving the canons of logical consistency as they are interested in preserving the territorial integrity of America, then they must reject the D’ Souza doctrine. The reason is basic enough:
Ideas do not have borders.
Once love of country—patriotism—is defined to mean devotion to an abstract, inherently universal idea or principle, then geography is rendered morally irrelevant, and maybe even obscene: since anyone and everyone, regardless of where or when they live, can affirm the idea, all who do so are Americans.
There can be no moral justification for denying American citizenship to anyone willing to affirm the idea that is America.
D’ Souza and his supporters may have given the left the biggest present of all with America: Imagine a World Without Her.