Entry from December 6, 2002

A reader writes that he is “shocked by your Quiet American review. . .I found the film remarkable for not demonizing anyone. The group with which I saw the flick was primarily Mass/NYC liberals, and the comments I heard repeatedly were that Pyle was a well-intentioned guy who just happened to be wrong. Any ‘evil’ assessments were reserved for Fowler who betrayed a friend not because he was meddling in internal affairs of a country but rather because he was going to take his girl.

“I saw none of the moral equivalence posturing of our intervention vis B vis communism that you did — and believe me, I was on the lookout for it. I saw a movie which showed one group of good guys coming in just as the last ones were about to leave. The lens through which the film should be assessed is not communism vs. the American way, but rather how the best intentions sometimes run amok, in personal relations and, yeah, geo-political affairs.

“This movie was not part of a vast left wing conspiracy to belittle the American way; it was a thinking person’s story of personal and national events which showed sometimes there are no easy, canned ways to assess complex situations. This seemed to be a mailed-in conservative review of a movie based on the book by commie sympathetic author, which by default means
us conservatives gotta hate it.

“Your readers are much more intelligent than that.” Well, I yield to no one in my opinion of my readers’ intelligence, but talk about mailed-in! “Demonizing”? “Evil”? “A vast left-wing conspiracy”? Who said anything about any of this stuff? And are there indeed “No easy, canned ways to assess complex situations”? Golly! Who knew? Give me the easy, canned way every time.

It’s a bit rich being accused of having had a knee-jerk reaction by someone whose characterizations of my views are as sloppy as this. And if he was “on the lookout” and still saw nothing to indicate that Philip Noyce did not think Americans (and French!) “good guys” then all I can say is that he ought to get his eyes checked. I don’t know about intelligence, but anyone who can’t see that Pyle with all his foolish good intentions and hopeless naVveté is meant to stand for the United States of America — and the U.S. of A. not just as it was in the 1950s but as it has been ever since and is still today — is himself as naVve as Pyle.

But this is a common style of arguing by characterizing one’s opponents’ views in such a way as to make them easier to knock down — and then knocking them down. Professor Alan Wolfe for instance, writing in the Wall Street Journal, warns Republicans that “The more examples of favoritism and insider-trading that hit the news, the greater becomes the challenge of convincing Americans that, morally speaking, all is right with the world.” Hm, yes. I can see that all right. Mind you, it might be pretty hard to convince Americans of that, at least those who are not terminally stupid, even without such examples. For who was ever such a fool as to suppose that “morally speaking,” all was or ever could be “right with the world”?

The leftover assumption in Wolfe’s article is the Marxist one that there is a right and a wrong system. Marx — who, of course, would never have used the language of “right” and “wrong” — would have delighted in the scandals of what he called capitalism because they would have helped along the inevitable process of turning the proletariat towards socialism. Liberals like Wolfe make the same analysis but in the context of warning their capitalistic brethren to become more like the socialists. You naughty capitalists had better behave yourselves unless you want the socialists to sweep you into the dustbin of history.

It is the same assumption that is made by the Schlesingerian school of history which argues that Franklin Roosevelt “saved” capitalism by applying to its illnesses homeopathic doses of socialism. True, the liberals do not often call their alternative to capitalism “socialism” anymore, but their political model is otherwise unchanged. Republicans and conservatives must become less “capitalist” — by which they mean greedy and selfish — or they will lose ground to the Democrats,’ with their presumed alternative to “capitalism.”

But what if there is no capitalism? What if “capitalism” is just the way things are and always have been and always will be? What if — and here’s a scary thought — there is no alternative to capitalism, as both liberals and socialists suppose there is, which would prevent or even preclude greed and selfishness and corruption? What if these things are not the responsibility of those who advocate free markets but those who abuse them? Unfortunately, I suspect that there are even a lot of conservatives who are inclined to see corporate criminality as a phenomenon that they need to apologize for.

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