Wednesday, October 27, 2004

2) Understanding contemporary anti-Americanism.

Negri’s book Empire got it almost right three years ago. Their analysis fudges the issue of what Empire, coming up with a deterritorialised notion of a global Empire. This is the one key mistake, when everyone knows that it is an American Empire. The contradiction of the book is that there is extensive analysis of the conditions which have generated the American Empire:

At the simplest level, the American Empire is driven by the American constitution in the context of an enduring frontierist mentality. Americans are bred to believe in the fundamentality of the constitution/amendments. Even the most liberal American will not forego the primacy of the American political framework. It is precisely for these reasons that recent American govts (both Democrat and Republican) will not acquiesce to International agreements (UN resolutions and the UN itself, Kyoto, ICC etc etc).

It is clear then that the end of American Empire from a juridical/constitutional point of view could only come when the US Constitution is altered to interact with International law. However, the simplicity of the problem betrays its intractability: American democracy is inextricably ideologically linked to the current constitution – there is no discourse around constitutional change in the context of a growing legal internationalism.

To this extent, the UN will remain weak, the Security Council’s make-up will not change fundamentally, international agreements will not be ratified by the US govt (regardless of political hue). And anti-americanism will continue to flourish across the globe.


Kel's 7:50 am  


Nice prolific writing.

First got wind of your blog from P. Kalu. It almost makes me die. Full of so much realities!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

olawande 11:18 am  

Hi J!

I have been quite interested in issues around contemporary anti-American "euro-think". Your piece on "understanding contemporary anti-Americanism" does present a fresh perspective to the debate, and I must confess that, for some reason, I initially expected it to be a vitriolic attack on the US (perhaps because of your suspected left-of-centre/humanistic leaning!!!) but you managed to present an almost balanced and well-written view point.
Your submission that "the American Empire is driven by the American constitution in the context of an enduring frontierist mentality" is one I need some clarification on. Yes, the American constitution- in tone, substance and spirit-celebrates the new frontier but this it does in an inward looking sense, and it reaches the extreme of its extroversion in how it defines the American worldview. Is this what you refer to by "enduring frontierist mentality" ? or do you suggest a mentality that seeks to expand the American geographical frontier(perhaps only kept in check by the realities of a modern world order, one that however remains a driving impulse?) an aggressive, arrogant, domineering projection of power with the intent of grabbing resources, if not geographical space-british/french style, and asserting American dominance?
The American belief in the primacy of its constitution is very much understandable against the background of its origin and the history of America's evolution into a nation state. The constitution represents America's most important source of identity-its the soul and basis of the American nation. Perhaps we should remember that America, at inception, was primarily a political concept- based on the constitution and the political institutions that have developed from it. this is unlike perhaps all European states which have their roots in a shared historical, linguistic, ethnic etc identity. This in itself does not totally explain what appears to be the European preference for multilateralism (in fact, there's a prima facie case for it to be the reverse). What perhaps may be an additional factor is that extreme nationalism in some European nations has led Europe into trouble in contemporary times-2 major world wars and other minor conflicts with some nationalistic colouration). This may be the basis for the general acceptance of the supremacy of multilateral institutions in much of Europe. Thus, this alleged expansion of the American empire on the basis of "an enduring frontierist mentality" is understandable in a historical context and in itself, if limited to an ideological reach, may be a good thing! See Francis Fukuyama's essay on "Has History Restarted Since September 11? " He argues, quite convincingly, that multilateralism has different dimensions- political, security and an economic dimension. He argues that America's record of economic multilateralism is exceptional and that its present differences with Europe is largely in the security dimension. Any charge of unilateralism against the US should therefore be framed within this context. I submit that no single nation has contributed more to the advancement of globalisation than The US-trade treaties, international conventions,technologicl ouput etc

Furthermore, the American constitution and America's political ideology are not necessarily the antithesis of international law (doesn't this sound like America is some rogue state, an international outlaw state??? a profoundly unfair charge given that whatever international institutions exist today have enjoyed America's weighty support). American values are basically decent and universal-where the differences may lie would be in defining the limitations of these international laws, treaties and conventions and in agreeing the rules of enforcement. America is not the threat to internationalism-the threat is in the reluctance of nation's to assert their professed values and agreed treaties for various selfish reasons-(America no doubt a part of this but observers have amazingly failed to acknowledge the intended shift in American policy where there's the intention to realign American values with American foreign policies) just take a look across the globe in the last ten or so years-Somalia, the middle east, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria-under abaca, china, Iraq and lately Sudan-its a long list of shameless inaction, empty rhetoric and crass realpolitik!

Historically, the UN wasn't created to be a global super state-which is why its powers today have been won convention by convention, treaty by treaty, protocol by protocol, this often following a laborious process of negotiation and debate- these negotiations and debates are in reality, about the terms under which sovereign states will give up "little bits" of their sovereignty for the common good-classic acts of enlightened self-interest, the presumption being the sovereignty of the UN's component states. The UN has never, in a sense, been a "legal authority"-especially in the security arena. what America is being accused of not supporting is actually a recent concept and a radical shift in the weight of authority between the UN and the sovereign nation states that make it up.. let' not pretend that there are well developed mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and treaties to be made under the proposed "new" UN. what I hear America saying, perhaps inarticulately, is, if you ask me to give up some "unilateral sovereign authority" over "this" and "that", can I be sure that you'd enforce the laws made to guarantee the common good(in this case common good being global security, protection against the terrorist threat etc).? International laws, to be effective, must be a win-win, an exchange of "unilateral sovereignty" for common protection, a macrocosm of the delicate inter-relationship of the individual and the state . These concerns are certainly not unreasonable especially in view of the UN or international system's track record of weakness in asserting its values and enforcing its laws-its authority undermined largely by nations acting in their selfish interest-watch the Russians and the French/Chinese and their oil interest in sudan-america has certainly in the past been a part of this game playing by the world's leading nations but claims to have realised the folly of this post-septemeber 11.
In my opinion, America is not the problem and anti-Americanism is a waste of energy that should otherwise be exerted in defining a framework for the workability of a new global order that protects the universal values at the heart of human existence.

I'd appreciate your feedback-lets keep the debate open.

pelegius_the_heretic 7:34 pm  

The problem is that the U.S. Constitution is too good , were it worse there might be more incentive to look for something better. As it is, my country is stuck with something which is too good to inspire change and too bad, by which I mean both too conservative (that which was liberal in 1776 is now conservative) and too vague, to remain useful, it is now, indeed, wores than useless, being used for the most immoral of purposes.

Americans hate centralization, the federal system is too close to their hearts, they object to strong national governments and any form of international government, two mistakes of a serious nature.

Marie 2:36 pm  

Hi! I'm an American "red neck" from
Pennsylvania. I have no real idea
why the world at large hates us.
I sure don't hate them. When it comes to the constitution we do value our rights, free speech, right to bear arms, etc. I guess
we believe everyone wants to live
like we do, free.

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