It is always a touchy thing for Americans to hear how their
country looks through foreign eyes. Samir Amin has perhaps the
coldest stare in this regard, but also one of the most
compassionate for humankind.

Book Reviews

As director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, for the
past 30 years, Amin has produced a canon of works, always painting
a critique of global capital and liberalism that, in its broadest
strokes, captures the expanding inhumanity of the world’s
dominant system.

“The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization
of the World” is perhaps the broadest stroke yet. Compared to
other works on political economy, it is bite-size. But viewed
alongside most of what passes for political content today —
something like a caveman making his point with a club —
“Virus” looks rather like a good paring-knife, all the
sharper and more incisive for its brevity.

Whereas other authors leave questions of ideology, nationality
and class aside, forcing themselves to confront perceived enemies
in a head-on collision, Amin peels back the layers of confusion and
cuts to the center of the world’s conflicts.

At its core, he sees a “Triad” of powers — the
U.S., Europe and Japan — for whom capital alone makes the
decisions, inflicting an ever-widening North-South economic divide
upon the world. At the helm of the Triad is the U.S., which has
succeeded in making itself a “low-intensity democracy”
run by a “de-facto single party, the party of capital,”
a model that it seeks to export around the world. Most importantly,
this system succeeds not because of the imagined advantages of
liberalism, but because of a particular brand of
“really-existing capitalism” that relies on military
force to sustain it, a stage in the system’s life that Amin
likens to violent senility.

Despite his flight into rhetoric, Amin succeeds by a cool
analysis of the mechanisms that hold the system together. Moreover,
he provides a strategy for action that should shield him from any
accusations of utopianism. The strength of such recommendations
lies in his understanding that history always advances by
compromise, and that capitalist powers always seek to negate this
by polarizing the groups that have convergent interests. But
compromise is not the same as accommodation; he envisions a
political, economic and military alliance that unites Paris,
Berlin, Moscow, and possibly Beijing and Delhi. It would include
both European liberalists and socialists, all of whom could oppose
U.S. hegemony, as well as non-Europeans of the economic South, and
even Americans on the left. It would be a slow and difficult
transition from the establishment of this alliance to genuine
democratic progress in the world, but Amin believes such an
anti-hegemonist front “is today the very first priority, just
as forming an anti-Nazi alliance was yesterday.”

Amin takes joy in reshuffling the flags on the map as if he were
playing a giant game of Risk, but this is no contest between
colonizers. He writes on behalf of a world seeking liberation from
imperialism, passionately resisting the powers that seek to cover
the map with a single color, the flag of neo-liberalism. In his
concern for people, not nations or capital, Amin preserves the
humanist perspective that is currently lacking in American
discourse.

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