- Hating America: A History
Barry and Judith Rubin clearly love America. It's the rest of the world they're not so sure about.
Hating America is an ambitious effort to map out nearly 300 years of anti-American discourse. More crucially, it's a project driven by an intense desire to defend the United States from its harshest critics. Surveying a broad range of criticism and commentary from the colonial era to the present, the Rubins work tirelessly to portray America—its people, its government, its policies, its values—in the most favorable light possible. When critics get basic facts about America wrong, the Rubins present corrections to the story. When critics perpetuate sloppy stereotypes about American culture and politics, the Rubins counter with more sympathetic portraits of the nation and its goals. When critics invoke anti-American sentiment to further their own personal and political agendas, the Rubins unmask the self-serving duplicity of such practices. In the Rubins' eyes, America deserves only love and respect, and commentators who fail to see America's many virtues are clearly blinded by ignorance or envy.
If this sounds like knee-jerk patriotism, that's because it is. While the Rubins claim that Hating America is politically neutral ("a useful work of analysis and narration rather than one of preordained ideological critique" [xi]), the book is too willfully selective in its sampling of the historical record to live up to such an ideal. The Rubins admit that the United States has shortcomings and that its policies have sometimes resulted in "bad effects" (ix), but they largely avoid detailed analysis of those mistakes or who should be held accountable for them. They fleetingly acknowledge that the United States has not always been a benign force in the arena of global politics, but they work overtime to minimize the historical significance of the specific examples they deign to mention. All those "bad effects," it seems, resulted from a combination of altruistic U.S. policies (which, against all odds and expectations, somehow went awry) and fundamental character flaws in the local governments and native populations whom the United States was so nobly trying to help. In the Rubins' worldview, the anti-Americanism that arose in response to, say, U.S. imperialism in Central America is really just a self-serving smokescreen generated by foreign politicians trying to cover up their own political and economic blunders.
The Rubins are correct to note that the United States has been the target of a broad range of unwarranted criticisms over the past three centuries or so, but they don't actually give us a history of this brand of anti-Americanism as much as they offer us a chronology. They begin in the colonial era and move forward to the present, citing a seemingly endless stream of anti-American [End Page 176] invective all along the way . . . but they somehow manage to leave most of the historical context and analysis out of their project. More than that, they have a bad tendency to conflate a diverse range of very different sorts of criticisms without actually stitching these together with any stronger thread than their shared disdain for "America." It's not clear, however, that complaints about the climactic and agricultural nature of the land really belong in the same boat with criticism of U.S. society, or that either can or should be tied into arguments against U.S. governmental policy.
Most disturbingly, though, Hating America is not the straightforward assessment of the historical record that it purports to be—or even close to it—and what the Rubins ultimately offer is little more than a tautology masquerading as historical research. More specifically, they deliberately exclude from their survey any and all forms of anti-American discourse that might force them to confront the nation's flaws in any meaningful detail. The Rubins choose to steer clear of America's native-born critics, which helps to ensure that many of the voices they quote (especially those from the eighteenth and...