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Utopian Socialism as the Basis of Contemporary Anti-Americanism
December 4, 2002 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Utopian Socialism as the Basis of Contemporary anti-Americanism Lee Harris argues in this article that contemporary Marxist movements have abandoned the politically realist methodology that Marx claimed as the basis of "scientific" socialist thought, and have substituted an ad hoc utopianism. Based on this latter belief, they have unwisely shifted the target of their criticism from specific American policies to America the nation itself.
posted by Pseudoephedrine (25 comments total)

 
Whenever I have a headache or a bad day, I'm going to come back and read this post and imagine the sensation of being surrounded by 72 black-eyed virgins cooling me with ostrich-feather fans, pouring my bourbon and feeding me grapes.
posted by hama7 at 10:41 PM on December 4, 2002


Am I the only person here who disagreed with American policy on nearly every point both foreign and domestic for precisely this reason? In the sense that hating America is anti-American, I'm certainly not. In the sense that disagreeing with America on nearly every theme and particular is anti-American, then I'm guilty precisely because I'm a Utopian Socialist.

For those who want some meager justification of this stance - it seemed to me that acquisition of material wealth beyond the point of what I actually honestly 'need' was pointless given that I was going to lose everything when I died. Given that curing death was the sort of 'man on the moon'-class project requiring every resource available, I'm not so much a Utopian Socialist out of idealism as out of the belief that everybody needs to shut up with their religious bickering, ideologies, sewing circles and racist diabtribes and work on the one problem all humans face: death. After that, presumably everybody would logically go about addressing both group and individual problems. Such as their blood pressure while browsing the web and wanting everybody to be logical.
posted by Ryvar at 11:13 PM on December 4, 2002


Am I the only person here who disagreed with American policy on nearly every point both foreign and domestic for precisely this reason?

Well, I can't say if you're the only person, but I'm not standing next to you on this particular point. What is so hard for some people to accept about the idea that America is neither the greatest of all nations nor the lowest? Maybe we're just a country.

it seemed to me that acquisition of material wealth beyond the point of what I actually honestly 'need' was pointless given that I was going to lose everything when I died.

So then don't acquire wealth beyond what you need. Or do you insist that everyone else behave as you would?
posted by argybarg at 11:46 PM on December 4, 2002


Although I'm not a marxist / socialist, the idea that us America Bashers are just setting a standard too high (Call us utopian, hah! What an insult indeed) could be true.

But then the article goes into gross over simplifications (for one, assuming all america-bashers are marxists) and generalizations.. I suppose it could have had something to it, but it really reeks of an excessively patriotic american franticly flag waving and trying to justify the flaws of a country by pointing out the flaws of it's critics.

I have yet to see someone argue against the actual points raised by one of us "America - Bashers"
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 12:50 AM on December 5, 2002


The America-Bashers don't seek to fix particulars because it's obvious from the history of the united states that any attempt to fix a particular through "the system" takes an incredible amount of time and energy and usually doesn't affect any real change (see post-civil war race relations, the populist movement, the labor movement at the beginning of the 20th century, tenant rights in the early 19th century, the disarmament movement at the end of the cold war, etc, etc, etc.).

I don't focus on particulars because the "system" (the government plus the military complex plus the corporations that keep them running) has repeatedly shown that it would be just as happy without the interference of the American people (vietnam, iran-contra, etc.). I'd like to see a government that is, as was claimed of this one, by the people and for the people.

And if that makes me a Utopian Socialist, then I suppose I'd have to plead guilty.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:06 AM on December 5, 2002


Let me just point out that:
a. Chomsky never claimed to be a Marxist, and indeed he includes himself in the left liberal/anarchist tradition from Humbolt and Mills to Kropotkin. Moreover I fail to see how Chomsky is a "utopian" in any sense.
b. I have yet to see any criticism of America the nation itself from anything that can be remotely labeled as "the left" anywhere, if by nation you mean the people of the US.
c. Lee Harris is probably reading a different Chomsky (and a different Negri as well) than me, and fails to come up with one quote by any of those current "America-bashers" thus presenting a perfect example of a "Straw-man argument".
d. The "utopian socialism" Marx was criticizing has absolutely nothing to do with even the caricature of the left that Harris presents.
e. This thread offers me the opportunity to post here this very interesting (if indirect) exchange between Marx and President Lincoln's government, in which Marx warmly congratulates Lincoln on his re-election...
posted by talos at 2:10 AM on December 5, 2002


Or do you insist that everyone else behave as you would?

Certainly not, I just fail to see how anyone could ever rationally come to the conclusion that humanity's common fatal flaw, as it were, deserves less attention than . . . well, anything else. Shouldn't we put down our sticks and rocks and work on the fact that we just fell out of an airplane without parachutes BEFORE we go back to throwing them (or creating belief systems in which it really isn't all that bad that we hit the ground *wink* *wink*)?

I have never, ever been able to figure out why this view is in such a minority.
posted by Ryvar at 2:18 AM on December 5, 2002


How much do you need, though?
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 2:26 AM on December 5, 2002


How much do you need, though?

75, 80 to 90 million USD is all I require. A mere pittance.

I have never, ever been able to figure out why this view is in such a minority.

Aw shucks, you're just saying that 'cause everybody says that about their own beliefs.
posted by hama7 at 3:09 AM on December 5, 2002


hama7: my email's available. Feel free to point out my logical error. Pointing out major logical flaws in racism, Objectivism, Scientology, Christianity, and Islam isn't exactly rocket science, and most of the world's people have a good amount of their identity wrapped up in one or the other.

As for how much, that depends on where I live and my medical condition, chiefly. In Troy NY a few years back, $6K/yr was enough. In Seattle as I am now, I'd be lucky to make it on $25K/yr.
posted by Ryvar at 3:33 AM on December 5, 2002


Obviously, you don't "need" a computer with which to "waste" time on MetaFilter. Go hunting and gathering! Shoo!
posted by dagny at 3:46 AM on December 5, 2002


Preface: I HATE DISNEY, AND WILL CONTINUE TO HAVE DISNEY EVEN WHEN (HOPEFULLY) I HAVE YOUNG CHILDREN.
I ALSO LOVE IKEA STORES AND USED TO SLEEP WITH FRENCH WOMEN.

Lots of people have more than they need, and should have, but judging what is "too much," is an arbitrary, dangerous thing. In fact, considering how many poor people have been invited, and made it to the US, you could argue that the US is more Utopian than any other nation.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:58 AM on December 5, 2002


psycho-typo: I HATE DISNEY, AND WILL CONTINUE TO HATE DISNEY...
posted by ParisParamus at 3:59 AM on December 5, 2002


Hmm. It comes as a complete shock that I've drawn out the local Objectivist Lasar-Squad [sic].

dagny, I didn't need a computer, but my parents got one when I was a kid, which lead to me having a job that involves having one at home.

As for MeFi - I don't have to eat turkey sandwiches either, but if I were to go soy-only I'd be pretty darn miserable (I've tried, it sucked). People *do* need some time when they're not working.
posted by Ryvar at 4:11 AM on December 5, 2002


Eight links, eight different sites, hardly any context. What is it I'm supposed to read again? Why does “ad hoc utopianism” link to the Chomsky archive? Lemme scan the first link.

Summary of the opening: All leftists hate America—okay, sweet. I’m with you... Empire was apparently rooted in the idea that capitalists are out to kill third worlders. I don’t seem to remember that—but that’s fine! It's you and me Lee!

Continuing on... All leftists believe in socialist determinism! That’s news! Let’s see... Since all America hating leftists (oops, guess that’s redundant—leftists by definition hate America) believe in socialist determinism they can answer some sort of loaded question about their Marxist beliefs...

Dovetailing into a polemic about how wrong Marx was.

This here, this is genius. Anyone who says it's a sad series of strawmen building to cresendo of nonsensical pathos just doesn't know what the Hoover Institution is all about!
posted by raaka at 4:28 AM on December 5, 2002


Pardon, “nonsensical pathology”.
posted by raaka at 4:33 AM on December 5, 2002


More reruns on the MeFi channel, dammit!

--click!--
posted by jonmc at 5:40 AM on December 5, 2002


Jesus, anti-anti-Americanism is born, and it's all theroretical convolution. God help us!
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 10:20 AM on December 5, 2002


Geez!

And I get accused of posting trollish FPPs!! Where are all those "haters of trolls" now? ;-) Oh, perhaps they agree with this particular viewpoint and thus it isn't "trollish?"

What was it someone said in a thread a few days ago? Yes, "stomp, matt, stomp!"

As Novak says, "let's be honest here", it depends on which side of the fence you're on, doesn't it? I hereby reject all future accusations of trollism if this thread isn't equally slandered by my favorite stalkers.
posted by nofundy at 10:41 AM on December 5, 2002


Actually, I thought the first link was well written and enlightening—not about "anti-Americanism," a topic with which I am unspeakably bored, but about the evolution of Marxist thought and the part played in it by Baran and Wallerstein. Sure, not all leftists are Marxists, but those who are need to be reminded of the real Marx:
...according to Marx, it was the duty of the non-utopian socialist, prior to the advent of genuine socialism, to support whatever state happened to represent the most fully developed and consistently carried out form of capitalism; and, indeed, it was his duty to defend it against the irrational onslaughts of those reactionary and backward forces that tried to thwart its development. In fact, this was a duty that Marx took upon himself, and nowhere more clearly than in his defense of the United States against the Confederacy in the Civil War. Only in this case he was defending capitalism against a fantasy ideology that, unlike that of radical Islam, wished to roll back the clock a mere handful of centuries, not several millennia.
But Pseud, my man: way too many links. The Tocqueville one was particularly pointless. Sometimes less is more.
posted by languagehat at 10:47 AM on December 5, 2002


I think this alleged "anti-americanism" has less to do with some alleged marxist movement or fad, and more to do with the obvious corporate favoritism that has infected so much of our policy making and international action, and the subsequent consequences of that favoritism.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:59 AM on December 5, 2002


I honestly hope that EVERYONE is utopian. What's the alternative? Yay Dystopia!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:55 PM on December 5, 2002


This article and line of thinking is completely useless. It puts up false representations and then smashes them. It's a gigantic straw man and the author - who has not bothered to understand the arguments of those he is criticizing - might as well have called it "in response to 'did too': DID NOT!" or perhaps "neener, neener, you people are idiots!". That is the level of thought and analysis present here.
posted by muppetboy at 1:45 PM on December 5, 2002


having spent quite a bit of time reading chomsky and listening to his talks, i think quite frankly that his blood would boil at the accusation of being "anti-american". it's a matter of definition, and i think he's absolutely right about core principals, logic and ethics even if his foreign policy analysis is open to questioning (which he continuously welcomes, btw).

you see, questioning and resisting unethical government policies is a duty which is fundamental to citizenship in a democracy. civic duty is at the very core of what it means to be an american!

i would be more willing to apply the term anti-american to those who subvert our political system with money and turn a blind eye to the horrible injustices being wreaked by US foreign policy. it is *they* not folks like chomsky who truly don't care about democracy, freedom or america.
posted by muppetboy at 1:56 PM on December 5, 2002


Shouldn't we put down our sticks and rocks and work on the fact that we just fell out of an airplane without parachutes BEFORE we go back to throwing them (or creating belief systems in which it really isn't all that bad that we hit the ground *wink* *wink*)?

Since I'm no good at biomedical research, I'm doing my part towards this goal by doing productive work, and earning, investing and spending as much money as possible. A stronger economy means more resources to spend on luxuries like research for immortality drugs.

A subsistence society (where everyone only consumes the resources they truly *need*) will not have the resources to spend on biomedical research. Nor will it be make the advances in other technology required for such research to be effective.

Consider that for the first few decades of their existence, computers were used for such "unworthy" purposes as cracking military codes, designing military weapons, and counting corporate money. Later they became popular for games and other pointless wastes of time.

Today, they are an indispensible tool for drug discovery, simulations, literature search and scientific communication.

But it's likely computers would have never been invented or become powerful or economical enough to use for those purposes were it not for other people pursuing their own widely varied goals.

In summary, if all people dropped everything and poured all resources into a cure for death, it would take longer to achieve results than otherwise.
posted by maciej at 5:05 AM on December 6, 2002


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