A Virus Among Us: Book Review

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Are liberals in control? Do they really hurt the people they try to help? How you answer depends on your definition of the "L" word.

Once, to be a liberal meant to privilege the market over people. So wrote Adam Smith, the guru of capitalism, over two centuries ago. For him, liberalism was nations and peoples pursuing their self-interest, or freedom, in the marketplace. Thus freed, society would prosper.

In George W. Bush's America, such liberalism is a dangerous sickness, writes author Samir Amin, a top social scientist based in Dakar, Senegal. In his book The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World (Monthly Review Press, 2004), he argues that the global consequences of this virus are spawned by a theory of an imaginary market. It presents an idealized version of the capitalist economy. Thus regular people's struggles against racism, sexism and militarism vanish. In their places are "natural" rates of unemployment and "preventive" wars.

Reading Amin's book helps us to see more clearly the distinction between the imaginary market and real capitalism. A case in point is the Pentagon's smashing of Iraq as Halliburton Corp. is looting its energy resources. This trend of might makes right for corporate profits is barbaric, he notes.

Say that in public and many Americans - including co-workers, friends and family - might question your sanity. Why? They are infected with what Amin terms the "liberal virus," that the market brings us the opportunity for liberty.

For him, this virus flows, historically, from a U.S.-centered belief system of extreme individualism. Tragically, it has crushed the concept of equity. By contrast, equity has been central to European liberalism since the French Revolution that inspired revolutionary Haitians, and others.

The opposite has been and is the case on our side of the Atlantic. Two examples are the U.S. legacy of genocide and slavery. We and the world are the worse for the resulting sickness of America's political culture. Amin pulls no punches in criticizing the U.S.

"American society despises equality," he writes. "Extreme inequality is not only tolerated, it is taken as a symbol of ‘success' that liberty promises. But liberty without equality is equal to barbarism." I better understand now why Europeans work fewer hours and have better health care than Americans.

America's war on terror, Amin reasons, is partly a cover for a weak U.S. economy in decline since the Vietnam War. American military aggression is a response to the rise of Asian and European commercial rivals.

Amin's radical analysis of politics and economics is a knockout. Consider his section on the "peasant question." Peasant agriculture, accounting for 3 billion humans, faces economic extermination by 20 million modern farms, he warns. Such capitalist agribusiness is driving these small farmers off their land and into big cities in the Third World and the U.S. that lack livable employment. Case in point is commercial pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement that are smashing small farming in Mexico.

I applaud Amin for critiquing the ideology of America's permanent war culture. However, I wanted more on how market ideology is produced.

Believing the market myths on FOX-TV is one thing. Yet people's lives generate market ideology in other ways. Take the nature of their work in a rich capitalist nation such as the U.S. Such relations of inequality between laborers and bosses force most folks most of the time to accept workplace tyranny as a natural law, like gravity. How can there be a "free" job market in the absence of freedom on the job?

Protect yourself against the dangerous sickness of market mystification.

Read Amin's incisive new book.

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Progress Books is a publisher of socialist and communist books in Canada by authors such as Tim Buck.
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