A dangerous sickness
Do liberals really hurt the people they try to help? How you answer depends on your definition of the “L” word.
Once, to be a liberal meant to favor the market over people. So wrote Adam Smith, the guru of capitalism, more than two centuries ago. For him, liberalism meant nations and peoples freely pursuing their self-interest in the open marketplace. Thus freed, society would prosper, he claimed.
But in George W. Bush’s America, liberalism has become a dangerous sickness, writes author Samir Amin, a top social scientist based in Dakar, Senegal. In his book The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, Amin argues that today, American liberalism presents an idealized version of capitalism as spawned by a theory of an imaginary market. He debunks the liberal vision of how the U.S. economy works for the good of all and argues that America’s privilege stems instead from political power backed by military force.
A case in point is the Pentagon waging war in Iraq as Halliburton Corp. loots its energy resources. This trend of “might makes right” for corporate profits is more barbaric than earlier forms of capitalism, Amin writes, because it serves the interest of capital alone.
But if you mention this in public, many Americans—including friends and family—are likely to question your sanity. Why? They are infected with what Amin terms the “liberal virus”: the idea that the market still brings us the opportunity for liberty.
For Amin, this virus flows from a U.S.-centered belief system of extreme individualism that, tragically, has crushed the concept of equity.
Equity has been central to European liberalism since the French Revolution, but the opposite has been the case on our side of the Atlantic, he writes. Two examples are the U.S. legacy of genocide and slavery. America and the world are deeply worse off for the resulting aftereffects of these on our political culture, Amin writes. He pulls no punches in criticizing the United States.
“American society despises equality,” he writes. Extreme inequality is not only tolerated, but also taken as a symbol of the so-called success that liberty promises. And “liberty without equality is equal to barbarism.”
Amin believes Europeans forge policies that put humanity before profitability. One example is the fact that Europeans work fewer hours and have better health care than Americans. Also, Europeans’ voiced strong opposition, after 9/11, to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. In fact, Amin believes that America’s war on terror is partly a cover for a weak U.S. economy and that our country’s military aggression is a response to the rise of Asia and Europe as commercial rivals.
I applaud Amin for critiquing the ideology behind America’s permanent war culture and the role that liberalism has played in making it so. For protection against the dangerous sickness of “liberal” market mystification, read Amin’s superb new book