The New Ugly Americans: from Being Hated to Being Despised

high-noon.jpgWould you rather be hated or be despised? They are not synonymous. Hate is often an amalgam of other emotions — such as loathing, wrath, fear and envy. To be despised, on the other hand, is to have other people feel contempt and condescension towards you.

You might invite contempt for your faults. If they were serious enough to be sins — and if your actions adversely affected the lives of others — you might even be despised. People might look down on you condescendingly, perhaps even with a certain degree of pity, as one might for a weakling, a coward, a fool, a degenerate, or a person bereft of moral compass. What’s key here is that they would feel morally superior to you. Many a politician has been despised for this reason.

If, on the other hand, you lived a life of goodness and virtue, some people would like and admire you. But other people would — out of fear, envy and feelings of inferiority — hate you. Socrates, for example, was feared for the power of his unsettling questions, for questions can cause a person to fall into self-doubt. And Socrates was envied for the life he led. After all, a life spent in the pursuit of truth is a blessed life. Consequently, the Athenians hated Socrates enough to condemn him to death.

It is, therefore, the case that you are despised for your sins, but hated for your virtues. As with people, so it is with nations, which leads to our tale of America’s recent transformation under President Obama’s foreign policy…

High Noon for America
There is no truer account of America’s destiny among the nations than the Western, High Noon (1952). In that iconographic film, the freed convict, Frank Miller, arrives in town, on the noon train, with the intention of killing Sheriff Will Kane. In a particularly telling scene, the puerile deputy sheriff, Harvey Pell, tries to convince Sheriff Kane to leave town, supposedly out of concern for Will’s safety. Harvey even saddles Will’s horse for him. But when Will decides to remain in town to face Frank Miller, Harvey violently attempts to force him to leave.

What is the real reason why Harvey is so eager to have Sheriff Kane leave town? Harvey is cowardly, but he would like people to believe otherwise. The townspeople see through Harvey and his girlfriend mocks him for not being a man, unlike Sherriff Kane, whom she admires. Kane, who is truly heroic, is making Harvey look weak and pusillanimous. Indeed, Sherriff Kane is making most of the townspeople look like cowards.

It is also clear that many people in town would be only too glad to see Sheriff Kane gone and to have the villainous Frank Miller run the town. The spiritually weak welcome dictators, for dictators — and demagogues too — promise to take care of their material needs, and to give their shabby lives meaning and direction.

Correspondingly, the spiritually weak hate those who possess goodness, courage, and honor, for it castes into bas-relief their own wretched lives. And they hate them all the more vehemently when they offer them the heavenly gift of freedom, for freedom can only be a torment to a demon-possessed soul. For one thing, newfound freedom requires remorse over the wretched life one has been living, coupled with an anxious venturing into an unknown terrain. Apropos is Kierkegaard’s notion of “dread of the good.” (That’s right, rather than dreading that which is bad or evil, we can according to the perceptive Kierkegaard, dread what is good!) In any case, High Noon, is not just about a western town. It is about America among the nations. One might say that it’s always high noon for America.

America is sometimes despised for its supposed imperialism, but other nations that have actually been imperialistic — such as England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Russia, Japan, China, and Germany — have never been hated with the degree of venom reserved for Americans. There is a reason for this: While America may be despised for her sins, she is truly hated for her virtues. Like the Jews, Americans are held to an impossibly high moral standard, for the American spirit has, at its core, an idealism unparalleled among the nations. That is why there is a parallel between antisemitism and anti-Americanism.

America’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, law, and liberty, are invariably viewed with cynicism by her foes who — with the jaundiced and paranoid eyes endemic to conspiracy theorists — claim that they see only self-interest, concluding that American foreign policy is all really about oil, wealth, and hegemony.

Like any nation, America has its economic and political interests. How could she not? But what is maddening to many foreigners, as well as to those on the political left, is that a supposedly idealistic nation should have any economic and political interests. These cynics are akin to spoiled adolescents, who angrily accuse their struggling parents of not being the angels they childishly demand them to be.

It is, therefore, understandable that the Americans often find themselves criticized by the miserable refuse that can be found in every nation of the world, by those forever in flight from themselves and from God. What the world needs now is exorcists, i.e., those skilled in casting out demons.

Unfortunate Addendum: No Longer Hated, but Now Despised
Recent changes in American foreign policy have been transforming America’s role in the world. Our meddling in the affairs of a tiny democracy, Honduras, is a telltale sign of bad things to come. The effort of the Obama administration to reinstate Honduras’ deposed leftist leader and would be dictator, Manuel Zelaya is, indeed, a national disgrace. So is President Obama’s betrayal of America’s allies, such as Israel, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, President Obama has befriended the brutal thug of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and pursued a policy of appeasement towards aggressor nations, such as Iran and Russia.

President Reagan stated that “The United States remains the last best hope for a mankind plagued by tyranny and deprivation.” If we continue to support dictators, that last best hope will be but a sad memory. When America ceases to stand for liberty, her days as a nation will be numbered, for there are too many enemies that wish to destroy her. It is no exaggeration that the ship of state is foundering and in serious peril.

It is a major foreign policy objective, of President Obama, that America not be hated. No more shall we be viewed as the “ugly Americans.” That is why, in his first months of office, he traveled around the world apologizing for our nation’s history. If President Obama succeeds with his foreign policy objectives, America will — having lost her status as both a superpower and beacon for freedom — no longer be envied, feared and hated. Instead, America will be intensely despised, both by her enemies and by her former friends, whom she betrayed. Yes, this transformative presidency has transformed hatred into contempt. It will increasingly imperil the security and freedom of America and the world.

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4 People have left comments on this post

» apiascik said: { Sep 29, 2009 - 05:09:36 }

“The spiritually weak welcome dictators, for dictators — and demagogues too — promise to take care of their material needs, and to give their shabby lives meaning and direction. ”

It seems to me this is exactly the dynamic by portrayed by Dostoyevsky in the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter of the Brothers Karamazov. The Inquisitor tells Christ that he should not have come back, since the burden of freedom he’s placed on them is too much to bear, and because the Church has satisfied mankind’s material needs, at the cost of their freedom. The constrast between the characters of the Grand Inquisitor and Christ is palpable throughout the entire story.

» mdillof said: { Sep 29, 2009 - 06:09:52 }

That is very interesting. I would say that the Grand Inquisitors of the world promise to fulfill our material and spiritual needs too, if one views an ideology, such as socialism, as a kind of quasi-religion, albeit one involving idol worship.

In any case, there are definite thematic parallels between the western “High Noon” and Dostoevski’s masterpiece. In the case of “High Noon,” the church did not show support for the villain Frank Miller. But neither did they give their support to Sherif Kane. There pacifism showed how feckless they were. For, as Orwell points out, in his essay, “Pacifism and the War,” pacifism is fundamentally immoral.

Christ disturbs the status quo, as Ivan Karamzov’s tale illustrates. There is a scene in, “High Noon” where the hotel keeper tells Kane’s wife that a lot of people would be only too happy to see Kane leave town. He says that the town was better off when Frank Miller and his gang ran it.

» apiascik said: { Sep 30, 2009 - 01:09:18 }

Another contrast to High Noon can be found in the contemporary Western Open Range, which stars Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall, as two “free-grazing” cattlemen (who own cattle herds but not land, allowing cattle to graze on the open land as they drive them to their destination). When they stop in a Montana town for supplies, they run afoul of the Rancher who controls the town and the sheriff, Baxter. When Baxter’s henchmen kill their friend, Mose, they seek justice, and find themselves alone as they head towards a confrontation with Baxter and his men in which they’re outnumbered.

The contrast in the two films is in the reaction of the townspeople. In High Noon, no help is offered to sheriff Kane. In Open Range, the townspeople initially turn their backs on Boss and Charley, but as the conflict escalates and Baxter’s men commit more atrocities, some people start to realize what living under Baxter’s thumb really means, and begin to help. By the end of the movie, the entire town has turned on him and his men.

It could be argued that the reaction of the people in Open Range is more in keeping with the American character. As poignant as Kane’s heroism is in HN, since the townspeople didn’t learn from it their town will inevitably fall into tyranny. You could say that when Americans stop acting like the people in Open Range and start acting like the ones in High Noon, that tyranny will take root in America

» mdillof said: { Sep 30, 2009 - 03:09:03 }

Part of the difference is that in “High Noon” the townsfolk hadn’t yet been attacked, except for one of the bandits stealing a hat from a store. But they had been attacked, in the film “Open Range.” It seems that Americans usually need to be attacked before they will take action. They had been attacked in both world wars and after 9/11.

“Open Range” sounds like it has a somewhat similar premise to “The Magnificent Seven.”

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