The first impression driven home by Dinesh D’Souza’s book “America: Imagine a World Without Her” is the urgent need to pry academia from the grip of the sociopaths who have been setting the tone at universities for the past few decades. D’Souza references the work of numerous left-wing intellectuals, some of whom he met personally in his younger days: Bill Ayers, Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, Saul Alinsky, Michel Foucault, and Howard Zinn. These people are nuts. It’s no surprise a nation whose intellectual class has been shaped by such a disturbed crew would be in rough shape, to say nothing of having a President trained by them.
(I should note that D’Souza doesn’t describe his subjects in such terms, aside from some frank talk about Michel Foucault’s issues. He’s respectful, and content to let America’s critics speak for themselves. He does, however, venture that the sum total of their ideology amounts to a national suicide watch.)
What we have is a Ruling Class educated by people who don’t like America very much. They’ve been running a demolition project on the national memory and character for generations, and the job is nearly complete. D’Souza considers their critique at length, and boils their charges down to a single fundamental crime: theft. His book is structured as a defense against the left-wing accusations of theft leveled at everyone from the early settlers, through the Founding Fathers, right up to the wealthy Americans of today, who supposedly got rich by stealing from the deserving poor.
The attorneys for prosecution and defense are two Frenchmen, Foucault and Alexis de Tocqueville, who we meet early in D’Souza’s narrative. They had very different ideas of what American liberty meant, corresponding fairly well to the modern liberal and conservative definitions of freedom. Foucault made the classic leftist mistake of believing sexual license was the ultimate, and perhaps only meaningful, exercise of pure freedom; everything else is subordinate to the needs of society, whose wise masters and energetic revolutionaries need the power to force the populace into a socially just configuration. Tocqueville, like the modern conservatives who admire him, was dazzled by what Americans could do; the Left daydreams about what they can be forced to do, in order to correct a variety of past and current injustices.
It seems that most of those past injustices have no statute of limitations, producing a viewpoint D’Souza describes as “America the Inexcusable.” The whole American enterprise was rotten from the start, founded on the theft of land from the Indians and labor from slaves. We are nowhere near finished suffering for the sins of our fathers, because the leftist critique holds that many conditions existing today are a direct result of America’s original crimes – perhaps most famously with the contention that the black experience in America today is a direct result of slavery and the racist perspective it supported.
Despite the subtitle of the book, very little time is spent imagining what the world would be like without America; this is not, in the main, a grim alternate history speculation, or a doomsday warning about the post-American future. D’Souza instead devotes most of his pages to an examination of the Left’s accusations of theft, which are sold to schoolchildren in history classes, and therefore resonate in their adult ears when it’s time for the latest windy lecture about “income inequality.” It’s an interesting and consistent principle upon which to base a social critique, because a thorough examination of theft requires an equally thorough explanation of ownership. This is really all about who is entitled to what, and why. A society can be defined – or destroyed – with the answers to those questions.
In each chapter, D’Souza defends the American ideal by addressing a different charge of theft, ranging from the American Indians, to Mexican “reconquista” activists, Sixties radicals, Marxists, anti-colonialists, economic populists, and harsh critics of American foreign policy. He even links our new Surveillance State to this discussion, depicting it as the greatest thief of all – the Leviathan State – casing the joint before pulling a heist. We are invited to consider the All-Seeing Eye of the digital panopticon as an attempt to take inventory of both political enemies, and targets for future looting. The public is also less likely to resist further judgments against it by the Ruling Class, if the people have already been taught to think of themselves as shifty characters who must be kept under constant observation.
He takes the time to give each a thorough hearing, with frequent allusions to interviews he conducted for the companion movie currently in theaters (although the book stands perfectly well on its own.) These arguments are sprinkled with observations made from the author’s perspective as an immigrant from India, where he got to sample the ingredients of anti-colonialism arranged in a somewhat different recipe. As he reminds the reader, he took on the anti-colonial mindset and the way it influenced Barack Obama at great length in his earlier work, but it’s too important to his essential thesis of theft and ownership to leave out of his new book.
It really is a terrible mistake to think of liberty purely in terms of what we are allowed to do. Ownership is at least as important as personal license, if not more so. Our notions of property and theft powerfully shape our expectations of government. D’Souza makes this point in a number of ways, including an interesting hypothetical he returns to several times: an hourly employee toiling in the parking lot of a resort hotel, and nursing bitter resentment for the high-rolling owners, because he imagines they built their fortunes by stealing the true value of his labor. This is a crucial element of Marxism, but it resonates powerfully with people who would react with anger if accused of holding Marxist sympathies. Understanding why working people respond to the critique of their bosses as thieves, and how to argue with that notion, is crucial to defending capitalism… and, by extension, the brand of American liberty saluted by Alexis de Tocqueville.
As D’Souza puts it, “Capitalism civilizes greed in the same way that marriage civilizes lust.” Millions around the world have been led to ruin by the idea that greed can be eliminated. Funny how the people peddling that idea always turn out to have a highly-developed appetite for the finer things in life, themselves.
There are people very actively interested in destroying America as it has existed for centuries, and replacing it with something forged from their own collectivist wisdom and lust for power. If America’s defenders don’t fully understand the accusations leveled against her, and learn to rebut them comprehensively, the American people may yet be persuaded to choose national decline as the punishment they deserve, trudging obediently into the gallows of history. The trick to preserving a great civilization is to understand it will be constantly under attack, not only in the present, but across all of its history. There are people who sincerely think the world would be better off without the America that has existed until now. They’re very good at remixing that song into something the average middle-class Joe can dance to. Dinesh D’Souza does a fine job of conducting a classical American symphony in response.
Update: There was a bit of a flap yesterday when discount retailer Costco, which just happens to be run by huge Obama supporters, yanked “America: Imagine a World Without Her” off the shelves, on the hilariously flimsy pretext that they only carry bestsellers. (If you stroll by the book section at a Costco, you’re going to get bludgeoned with Hillary Clinton’s face beaming from a huge pile of her books that nobody is buying.)
Absolutely nobody believed Costco’s excuse, especially since D’Souza’s book is rocketing up the bestseller lists. Evidently quite a few unhappy customers gave the retailer a piece of their minds, because Tuesday night on Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” Megyn Kelly reported that Costco gave in and will put “America” back on the shelves. You will once again be able to pick up a thoughtful love letter to your country, along with a huge tub of mayonnaise, a whole case of canned soda, and a year’s supply of laundry detergent.
It’s such a heartwarming example of capitalism in action that I’ll bet D’Souza mentions it in the paperback edition of the book. How often does the sales history of a book effectively buttress one of the central points it’s trying to make?