America at a Crossroads

America: Imagine a World Without Her

America: Imagine a World Without Her

Dinesh D’Souza is no doubt a brilliant man. A talented orator and communicator, he has held his own against intellectual heavyweights such as the late Christopher Hitchens and stands as one of the most eloquent and unapologetic champions of American conservatism. Thus, it is disappointing to see D’Souza’s relatively recent devolution from a preeminent public intellectual to a rabble-rouser who entertains bizarre personal theories and wild speculation. In America: Imagine a World Without Her, D’Souza attempts to provide a rousing affirmation of America as an ideal and beacon of freedom in the face of relentless progressive agitation about social justice, oppression, and other such buzzwords. Despite the fact that D’Souza succeeds in providing the occasional insight, America too frequently lapses into diatribes or incoherence, resulting in a final product that is inconsistent and deeply flawed.

Perhaps America’s greatest flaw is that it leans heavily on D’Souza’s unsubstantiated theory about Obama’s purported anti-colonial, anti-American leanings inspired by his Kenyan father—the intellectual equivalent of the birther movement. By any measure, this theory, which was originally presented in D’Souza’s The Roots of Obama’s Rage, is thinly sourced and built upon a tower of suppositions and conjecture. While theoretically possible, the supporting evidence is simply not there, and a few choice quotes from Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father are insufficient to prove Obama’s alleged mass deception and concerted efforts to weaken and diminish the United States. By Occam’s razor, it is much more plausible that Obama is simply incompetent.

D’Souza’s arguments are especially ridiculous when he discusses American foreign policy. For example, he claims that:

Now containment is being tried again, by President Obama. Only this time the country he is attempting to contain is his own. Obama’s foreign policy may be neatly summarized by the phrase “self-containment”… For Obama, however, it is good for American to have less influence… Obama seeks to end America’s neocolonialism, its large-scale global theft. To do this, he has to end America’s tenure as the sole global superpower. Obama wants America to be a normal country, and to play a shrunken, more modest role in the world.

Even the fiercest critics of Obama’s foreign policy, such as John McCain, would not dare claim that Obama is intentionally weakening America. Furthermore, D’Souza’s examples of Obama’s supposedly anti-American actions, such as reducing the number of nuclear warheads to a more reasonable quantity, are quite simply nonsensical. The truth is likely quite different from what D’Souza claims. With the recent controversy over Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s dismissal, it has become apparent that the White House has been micromanaging foreign policy to its detriment. Obama relies on a very narrow inner circle of advisors, rather than Pentagon brass or real experts, and he has certainly mishandled most of the foreign policy crises that have come his way. His foreign policy may be ineffective, but that is not to say that he is purposefully diminishing America.

While D’Souza’s continued espousal of his Obama theory is problematic in and of itself, it is especially damaging to his credibility because he extends this theory to all of American progressivism. In doing so, he provides nothing more than a gross oversimplification that unfairly homogenizes those who disagree with him. For example, he asserts that Hillary Clinton—but not Bill Clinton, who is an upstanding patriot despite disagreeing with conservatives—belongs to the same radical school of thought as Obama. D’Souza states that:

Bill of course is a White House addict and he desperately wants to hang around the Oval Office, hobnob with foreign leaders at State Dinners, and issue White House pontifications. The only way for him to do this is to help get his wife elected … What Bill doesn’t seem to realize is that Hillary has her own agenda. While Bill wants the fun of being back in the White House, and being listened to again, Barack and Hillary want to implement the plan that Alinsky devised for progressives to retain power and change America.

Hillary is apparently deceiving everyone (except D’Souza), including her own husband, about the fact that she holds the same far-left ideology as she did during the Vietnam protest era. According to D’Souza, Hillary never stopped being a hippie, but she has gotten quite good at hiding it.

D’Souza continues his use of these tactics by making questionable assertions of Obama and Hillary’s guilt by association with far-left figures. Besides the peripheral nature and these associations, these characters, such as domestic terrorist and D’Souza sparring partner Bill Ayers, all make extraordinarily easy targets. Indeed, D’Souza himself has begun associating with Ayers more publicly and frequently than Obama ever has. Rather than addressing the strongest cases for progressive ideology from respected public intellectuals, D’Souza delves headlong into ad hominem attacks against a few easily discredited straw men.

This manner of reasoning becomes most apparent when he discusses French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault’s social theories are often disputed, but they are widely influential in progressive circles, especially in academia. Thus, D’Souza would have done well to provide a thoughtful and intellectual critique. But instead of addressing the flaws in progressive ideology and providing a robust counterargument, he attacks Foucault for being a homosexual and pedophile.

D’Souza also tends to rely on quotes from authorities rather than original thought and logic, further eroding his own credibility. As such, D’Souza’s argumentation is ineffective and unappealing to anyone who does not already agree with him. If he hoped to discredit progressivism, which is a possible albeit challenging venture, he has failed.

Another significant flaw in America, which greatly limits its appeal and effectiveness, is its lack of focus. D’Souza’s book comes in at a relatively thin 304 pages, especially considering its immense scope and light writing style. An attempt to cover too much in too short a space results in D’Souza’s arguments as well as categorizations of progressives being cursory and simplistic, a fact compounded by the book’s attempt to target a mass audience rather than a highly educated one. His deployment of philosophy and history to makes his points ends up being more pseudointellectual than thoughtful. And even after a thorough reading and much reflection, it is difficult to ascertain what America is really about. D’Souza summarizes it as a rebuttal to progressive narrative of America as a nation founded and built on “theft,” but this synopsis is insufficient; D’Souza attempts to do too much in too short a space. He addresses virtually every progressive grievance, including historical injustices, racism, income inequality, imperialism, and colonialism—all while defending America’s founding values and asserting American exceptionalism—ensuring that he is unable to make any of his cases comprehensively. Books that have been successful in conveying conservative ideas to the general public, such as Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, have been either narrower in scope or of a sufficient length to expound and convince.

Despite these myriad deficiencies, America is not without merit. D’Souza, although deviating all too often into the unsubstantiated, is still a masterful rhetorician. He writes with great force, stylistically mixing sophisticated and simple language for easily comprehensible arguments. For example, he at one point states that “little guys of every race and color can move up from the bottom and through ‘work, work, work’ write the charter of their own Emancipation Proclamation,” which encapsulates his unique and engaging style. The result is a book that is an interesting even when it is a bit thin on substance.

Moreover, every now and then, D’Souza also makes a salient point and sound argument. He covers basic economics quite well, although his repetition of Economics 1 is occasionally tiresome. D’Souza’s defense of what he calls “technological capitalism,” which is in essence the free market system that propelled the United States to world economic dominance, is thoughtful and logically sound. While progressives complain that such an economic system is extractive and based upon theft, D’Souza swiftly and powerfully demonstrates capitalism’s wealth creation through historical and contemporary examples. He also illustrates how the market punishes racism, as race-based discrimination results in a competitive disadvantage. Then, he explains that market forces based upon self-interest results in moral and empathetic results through the need to satisfy and provide utility for the customer.

Continuing this surprisingly sensible train of thought, D’Souza also deftly tackles progressive ignorance on economic globalization and the fallacy of the crusade against economic inequality. And while many of these economic truths may seem self-evident to the reader versed in economics, D’Souza’s choice to provide instruction in economics is appropriate considering the rather dire state of economic literacy among the American public, even among those who are better educated.

D’Souza also draws the right conclusions about role of the federal government, which has grown to excessive power and a previously unimaginable size. He explains Frédéric Bastiat’s idea of plunder, originally presented in The Law, quite well. (Curiously though, he fails to provide attribution to Bastiat while he often quotes other influential classical liberal thinkers such as F.A. Hayek.) Bastiat wrote that “We have an infinite number of plans for organizing [plunder]: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation …” Meanwhile, D’Souza writes, “How does progressive government plunder its citizen? It does so by illicitly transferring wealth from one body of the citizens to another. The mechanisms for doing this are confiscatory taxation, and also regulation and mandates.” In this exposition, D’Souza effectively communicates these timeless ideas to a broader audience, providing a modern update on classically liberal idea and making a convincing case for a limited government. The following and penultimate chapter on the panopticon of the modern federal government is also timely and potent, especially since panopticism is a concept usually deployed by leftists. D’Souza offers a striking illustration of the IRS’ abuses of power and the NSA’s ghastly and unconstitutional mass surveillance. He thus finishes the often meandering and outlandish America on a high note.

D’Souza cannot be faulted for his passion, though he should be vigorously criticized for his demagoguery. It is one task to elucidate the logical failings of progressivism, but asserting the total moral bankruptcy of the American left, as D’Souza does, is an impossibly tall mountain to climb. As a conservative libertarian who ideologically agrees with D’Souza, I am disappointed by his ineffectual and counterproductive lines of argumentation. He does a disservice to conservatism when he pens his ludicrous theories about Obama and the progressive conspiracy to destroy America; it is this type of angry and tone deaf rhetoric that repels the undecided.

Still, D’Souza is ultimately correct in his conclusions about progressivism and his interpretation of America’s founding, history, and values. He successfully identifies the prevalent social justice style creed that conservatives must counter. It is just that he has so far been unsuccessful in doing so. However, D’Souza no doubt has the chops to deliver a robust scholarly critique of progressive ideology, given his academic pedigree, rhetorical gifts, and occasional bursts of lucidity. He can, and should, do better than America; we need a real catalyst to restore America in the face of stagnation and decline. D’Souza can rise above the pseudointellectual analyses that have characterized his recently developed intellectual sloth. To this end, I remain cautiously hopeful, but none too optimistic.