It’s all about the Benjamins. Photo by Amagill
In the American right it’s common to say A) they hate us for our freedom or B) they love us for our freedom. It is as if it’s the character of America is what people admire. I think this is the fundamental attribution error (valuing personality over circumstance), applied to nations. People didn’t admire America for its commitment to democracy, they just admired America for the money. Now countries like China have adopted the financial structures of America without the political, and they seem to be doing OK. That’s all anybody ever wanted. Democracy has never really been the main appeal of the west. It’s been the money. Or to quote Puff Daddy, “It’s all about the Benjamins”. He didn’t mean Ben Franklin, he meant hundred dollar bills.
Humans have a tendency to attribute most things regarding humans to humans. Most obviously, that we can choose our destinies, control our circumstances and are generally the center of the universe when, in fact, few of us are self-actualized and most are simply borne by the currents of history and circumstance. It’s a well documented psychological tic:
Subjects read pro- and anti-Fidel Castro essays. Subjects were asked to rate the pro-Castro attitudes of the writers. When the subjects believed that the writers freely chose the positions they took (for or against Castro), they naturally rated the people who spoke in favor of Castro as having a more positive attitude towards Castro. However, contradicting Jones and Harris’ initial hypothesis, when the subjects were told that the writer’s positions were determined by a coin toss, they still rated writers who spoke in favor of Castro as having, on average, a more positive attitude towards Castro than those who spoke against him. In other words, the subjects were unable to see the influence of the situational constraints placed upon the writers; they could not refrain from attributing sincere belief to the writers. (Wikipedia)
I think it can also apply to national identity. That is, it’s possible for Americans to think people liked them for them when, in fact, other nations just admired the money they were throwing around. Most people that migrate to the US (including Gotabhaya and Basil Rajapaksa) go for economic reasons. They can earn more money there and educate their kids better. Similarly, low-income people from Mexico illegally immigrate for the same reasons. They’re in it for the money.
To the extent that other nations have adopted American values, it has been because they were trying to acquire the American standard of living. Under George W. Bush, however, the veil fell of America values and showed torture, corruption and the economic and military weakness underneath. Now America is not respected in the world because of its financial crash nor is it feared because it is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama is trying to reinvigorate American values and leadership, but Bush did a pretty good job of trashing the economy and military and America does not seem likely to recover its old dominance. For the global economy to recover its now depending on increased demand in developing areas.
Those areas, in turn, are following the money. This, increasingly, seems to lead away from democracy. The beacons here are China and Singapore, both authoritarian states. Even more liberal states like Malaysia began as authoritarian ones. India is a notable democratic bulwark, but it is still a giant mess where over half the country can’t read. The Chinese model looks like a simpler way to make money, which is what developing nations (and their people) were after in the first place. I don’t think people ever loved America for its values. They loved the money. That’s why most developing nations retain western financial systems and why more and more disregard democratic institutions.