Book Review: 'A brief on America: Americana' By Perry Anderson
IF one seeks to read a document which is thought-provoking, challenges perceptions with reason and logic and refutes staunch beliefs, Perry Anderson’s Americana is the book to pick up.This is a collection of three essays, ‘Homeland’, ‘Imperium’ and ‘Consilium’, succeeded by a postscript that in itself states a great deal about the writer’s cautious, methodical approach and firm grip on the topic. What makes Perry’s writing substantial is the fact that unlike a few other similar works, he not only emphasises the present political scenario of the United States, but also takes into account its history, as well as the probable repercussions of the actions undertaken by past and present rulers on the future of the US, and their implications on the fast changing global terrain. His approach is threefold: US’s birth and the embedded vision of its forefathers in their national and foreign policies, the manipulation, defilement and misconception — inadvertent or advertent — of that vision, and its global consequences: past, present and future.
As aforementioned, Americana attempts to spawn a fresh perspective both of American as well as international readers. Therefore, right at the outset, in the foreword, the author expounds the structure and content of the essays giving readers an immediate understanding of the discourse in the ensuing pages. In addition to that, he raises a question which any avid reader of American politics might: how is Americana different from other literature on the same subject? In answer the author gives at least three differences if not more: first, Americana, unlike other books, does not isolate events from one another; instead, it attempts to scrutinise all the major incidents of the past and present in accordance with their connection to each other. Second, Americana makes the effort to analyse the US’s focus on its operation in the Third World of former colonial lands, its battle with the Second World of communist states, and the objectives pursued by Washington within the First World which advanced capitalism itself. Lastly it is a document that brings forth the role and functionality of the US from the perspective of the centre or right of the ideological spectrum which is not highlighted that much — despite the US basing most of its operation on these views — in comparison with the leftist standpoint.
The author starts off with the very basic notions in which American political and social beliefs are grounded. The reader gets to know how and what some of the founding visionaries of America thought: their faith in ‘Providence’ based on the Puritan belief system, and that they are the chosen ones with a ‘divine destiny’ to liberate the whole world. Anderson also educates readers regarding the prominent political parties in the US — Democratic and Republican — the social classes their voters belong to, the benefit and harm of their policies, and their changing social and regional bases.
Further on, the book offers an in-depth analysis of the changing mindset of the American rulers after their notorious victory in World War II which gave rise to the idea of planetary power. Although not a novel concept this still required an adept orchestration of the events to follow, especially with respect to the resources needed to manage the economy of the state that was bound to get a few hefty blows in case of impending battles. In order to accomplish that, America had to expand and enter foreign territories by any means necessary:
“Another landscape confronted them across vast territories in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These possessed no centres of major industry, had low levels of literacy, and were far more backward in social structure. At the same time, they were a treasure of natural resources needed to run advanced economies and develop powerful military technologies — petroleum in the Middle East, tin and rubber in South-East Asia, uranium and cobalt in Central Africa, copper and bauxite in South America, and much more. They also contained the great majority of the world’s population. It was obviously critical to hold them.”
The author also critiques the American strategy of waging wars unnecessarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. He sheds light upon the fact that these wars would go down in American history as stigmatic defeats rather than glorious victories due to various factors: “In Afghanistan, the good ‘war of necessity’ Obama upheld against the bad ‘war of choice’ in Iraq is likely to prove the worse of the two for the US, a battlefield where it faces raw defeat rather than bandaged victory.”
Any book on American policies and politics cannot be deemed complete and authentic without mention of their struggle with Islam and radical Muslims. Anderson does that but in the most objective manner possible. It would perhaps taste a tad bitter to the diehard advocates of American policies when Anderson candidly draws readers’ attention to the fact that America and their allies collude to concoct plans that guarantee their global supremacy even at the cost of pitting sects of the same religion against each other adversely:
“The reality, long obvious, is that from the Nile Delta to the Gangetic plain, the Muslim world is divided between Sunni and Shia communities, whose antagonism today offers the US the same kind of leverage as the Sino-Soviet dispute in the Communist bloc of yesterday, allowing it to play one off against the other — backing Shia against Sunni in Iraq, backing Sunni against Shia in Syria…”
Another unique and commendable aspect of the book is that it probes not just the tactics devised by the American elite, but also the responsiveness and reciprocation of the masses that may or may not get affected by the decisions of their rulers. Most of the time, according to Americana, the general population pays no heed to American foreign policies — setting certain exceptional cases aside — which gives the American leaders a boundless liberty as most of their actions go unquestioned: “Domestic politics is of far greater interest, to many more Americans, than diplomacy … The executive can do as it pleases … the advisory imagination can roam — run riot, even — with a liberty impossible at home.”
Towards the end, certain indicators that point out the failure of American policies such as the flawed health and education systems, inequality, lack of infrastructure and research and development, misuse of finance and entitlements, and the shortcomings of the budget are highlighted with a few pragmatic solutions that could lead to betterment in the long-run.
Review on Book, TAIMUR SABIH : Americana, (POLITICS) By Perry Anderson
Chaman Offset Printers, New Delhi, ISBN 978-9383968053 , http://www.dawn.com/news/1201909
Perry Anderson looks at the past and present of American politics at home and abroad, its makers and thinkers, successes and failures in a series of essays of exceptional sweep and command of detail. The edition of the book by Three Essays Collective is enhanced with an additional essay and preface for the Indian reader.
The United States now looms larger – politically, culturally and economically – in India than ever in the past. ‘Americana’ looks at both the evolution of its domestic political system – and the nature of the two parties that divide its spoils – and at the imperial system that the US has constructed since the Second World war, whose power continues to dominate the world.
Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States’ self image. But the relations between the two, and the nature of the respective interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, as the US emerged as the world’s premier economic power, have remained subject to much debate. In a fresh consideration of them, ‘Americana’ charts the entwined historical development of America’s imperial reach and its role as the general guarantor of capital.
The tensions between these are traced from the closing stages of the Second World War through the Cold War to the War on Terror. Despite the defeat and elimination of the USSR, the planetary structures for warfare and surveillance built by Washington have not contracted but expanded. ‘Americana’ ends with a survey of the repertoire of US grand strategy, as its leading thinkers grapple with the tasks and predicaments of the American imperium today.