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February 10, 2014

Book Review: “What’s So Great About America?” (Nov-Dec 2002)

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Book Review: Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About America, Regnery Publishing, 2002.

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D’Souza, an immigrant from India and now an American citizen, argues that America, more than any other country, allows its people the chance to “write the script of their own lives”. This is the secret of America’s greatness and why the idea of America is so appealing to immigrants and young people around the world. It is also why America is hated by totalitarian regimes that do not allow their people that choice and feel they are being contaminated by America’s influence world wide. . This book documents the agendas for that hatred, both by detractors within and enemies without.

In his first chapter entitled “Why They Hate Us”, D’Souza includes a long history of the Muslim world, its conquests, its defeats and its internal strife. He describes the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam dating back to the Crusades of the 12th and 13th century. Both believing themselves to posses exclusive truth and the other to be “infidels”, they each saw their cause as a “holy war” or jihad to destroy the influence of each other. These conflicts existed in one form or another for centuries until the last of the great Muslim empires, the Ottomans, was dismembered after World War I. With their economic and military power diminished, the Islamic fundamentalists took their resentment and hatred of the West underground while plotting their time for righteous retribution.

D’Souza points out that Islam is much more than a religion or a set of beliefs. It is “a way of life based on the divine government of the universe”, requiring a world view of all religious, economic, political, and civil societies based on the Koran and Islamic law. As Judeo-Christian civilizations expanded in the West through their economic, scientific and literary thought supported by the freedom of its democratic processes, the world of Islam retreated to the East and stagnated in a repressive culture opposed to innovation or change. In their mind, democracy and capitalism are forms of idol worship, with political authority derived from the people, not from God. There are radical forces within Islam that see an irreconcilable conflict between the market powers of freedom in the West, and the revealed virtues of the East. They must resist the materialistic and atheistic “Westernization” of their culture at all costs, including destroying it at its source, and America is the fountainhead of that evil in their minds. There are militants being trained to die for this cause, as the horrors of 9/11 demonstrated. This is not a national conflict, but an ideological one.

While this ideological conflict undergirds the book, D’Souza also draws on his background in India under British rule to explain why the history of colonialism in backward and underdeveloped countries was not all bad. In most cases, it brought the advantages of modern civilization with its scientific, economic, educational and medical improvements, and order out of chaos and anarchy. He takes great issue with the “multicultural premise of today that all cultures are equal” and that existing inequalities are the consequence of some cultures oppressing others. He does not deny that “ethnocentrism, colonialism and slavery are all part of the history of the West”, but points out that there is nothing distinctively Western about such oppression. Cycles of these influences have occurred throughout civilization in all cultures at one time or another. Cultures that are open to change grow and prosper.

There is a whole chapter on “The Reparations Fallacy”and how the African-American leaders are betraying their people by promoting a victim mentality and an expectation of benefits from society by “agitation” without working for them. Ironically, it is the period from 1965 to the present, during the time of the Great Society attempting to mainstream and raise the standards of minorities, that the black family has disintegrated from the stability it had achieved prior to that time. He says this cannot be attributed to “white racism” which was more prevalent prior to that time and was inflicted on all minority groups without such debilitating effects. Our society grants equality of rights under the law: Equality of opportunities, not equality of outcomes. African-Americans were not always granted legal equality, but they have it now, and that is all they are entitled to. He supports M.L.King’s point that what we each do with our rights is up to us. More rights given to one group can be had only by taking away some rights from another.

There is much introspection required in reading his chapter on “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness”. The Islamic fundamentalists have a point in charging that America is an immoral society, that America and the West may be materially advanced but they are morally decadent. Christian fundamentalists also make this claim. There is a powerful critique of America, that our freedom which has contributed to the highest standard of living in the world, “has come at the expense of decency, community, and virtue”. He suggests that choice has been deified without regard to the content of choice, such that choice itself ceases to matter because there is no significance to what one chooses. The result, in this view, is a debauched, demoralized, unhappy society. It makes one wonder what is so great about freedom if it leads to such deplorable results? However, he does not leave us with this discouraging thought, but argues that this misses something vitally important about America that has been buried in the cultural revolution of the past 40 years. The American founders set up a regime dedicated to economic, political, and religious freedom, but this freedom has been radicalized by a “counterculture of antiwar activists, feminists, sexual revolutionaries, freedom riders, hippies, druggies, nudists,….. bohemians of one sort of another”, far beyond what the framers of the constitution intended. These quests for freedom from any external source of authority, including that of God, brought about the collapse of this framework which from the foundation of this country has been based on a Judeo-Christian ethic. The writer spends considerable time analyzing the philosophy of Rousseau and his pursuit of “authenticity”, the “natural man” in the search for the inner self as the highest authority. The triumph of an authenticity culture in American society has emphasized radical freedom to the exclusion of what that freedom is for. The conservative challenge is to bring this issue back to the forefront and recognize the tragedy when freedoms are trivialized and abused.

D’Souza closes with a chapter on “American the Beautiful” and attacks those whose motives are to chronicle and ridicule America’s past, hoping to extract apologies and financial reparations for crimes of the past. He argues that a crucial principle of Americans foreign policy is that of the lesser evil. At times it is necessary to ally with a bad guy in order to effectively oppose a regime that is even more terrible. Supporting Stalin in WW II is an example. Once the Nazi regime is destroyed, then actions in terms of toppling other “evil empires” can be undertaken. Autocratic thugs like Marcos and Pinochet can be briefly supported in the effort to contain the evils of world wide Soviet style communism. America holds itself to a much higher standard than it holds the rest of the world, but this substantial superiority is vehemently denied by three camps; leftist intellectuals, American multiculturalists, and Islamic fundamentalists. D’Souza spends much time explaining the different reasons each feel this way, and offers good and sufficient justification for America’s greatness and desirability, such that the flood of immigration is into this country, not out of it. People know they have a chance for a better life here than where they were. D’Souza is a product of that immigration ideal, and proclaims that America is “the greatest, freest and most decent society in existence, an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism”, warts and all. It is a gift that Americans today must proclaim, preserve and cherish if it is to endure against its enemies and detractors, both foreign and domestic.

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