July 31, 2012

Thoughts on Americanism and Freedom

When I was growing up in Florida some decades ago, the state required an “Americanism versus Communism” course in 11th grade. “Communism” meant not any economic system, but rather the totalitarian Soviet Union, and “Americanism” presumably its opposite — not only in the means of working towards achieving the universal aspirations of human society, but also in what those aspirations might be. Mostly, of course, the intention was to define Communism as all bad and Americanism as all good. (Our teacher subverted the state’s intention by teaching us a lot of Russian history and about world power politics. She used the official course guide as a spur to commentary and analysis. Today, illustrating how much freedom has been lost with the ascendancy of capitalism, it is unlikely that she could have gotten away with that.)

Americanism is the premise that market capitalism is the best means of securing individual freedom. At its most crude level, it is the belief that everyone striving to maximize his or her own acquisition of wealth ensures the most equitable distribution of wealth. (And too bad if you have other interests than such striving and acquisition — that’s your choice — or if you lack the advantages of the already wealthy — that’s just a greater spur.) The belief has followed that capitalism is synonymous with freedom; and consequently, that any social structure that limits the liberty of capital is an enemy of freedom itself.

Yet by definition, capitalism is a system of hoarding, such that the success of one requires the diminished wealth of many. The imperatives of Americanism require an imperial program of conquest and exploitation both to prevent socialist sharing and to expand wealth.

As more of the world is forced to live by the terms of Americanism, however, it must keep more of its own wealth. American capital must turn on its own citizens to maintain the level of hoarding it expects. Capitalism becomes the enemy of freedom, and Americanism reveals itself as fascism — no longer pretending to benefit the many and redoubling the myth that a weakening of the power of capital is a threat to the liberty of all.

The lie of American democracy also is revealed. Dissent that challenges the myth of Americanism is viewed as not just subversive, but even treasonous: a rebellious act of war. As for an alternate vision of individual freedom, secured by a social system that equitably shares the common wealth, that does not allow one individual or group to hoard while others suffer a lack of food, shelter, leisure, medical care, education, and economic security — such a vision can not be allowed publicity. Its proponents must be vilified as terrorists, whose aim is no less than to bring down the American way of life (which is true, as far as Americanism is a barrier to freedom and not its guarantor).

Politics in the U.S.A. forbids a challenge to Americanism. Only a tinkering with the capitalist myth is allowed, an occasional crumb when the people clamor for bread. One party continues to work to expand Americanism throughout the world, and the other party works to reinforce the equation of unfettered capital and individual freedom. Liberalism is the tool of the former, religion the latter’s weapon. Both muster the energies of self-righteousness and fear which characterize their cynical politics. Hand in hand, they protect capital and strengthen its power against the needs of the people. War — at home as well as abroad — is the price the people must pay for the freedom of capital. The approved parties must either minimize or deny, or deny as currently impractical, the fact that every expansion of popular freedom has been by the limitation of capitalist power.

human rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism