Cultural Imperialism

Cultural Imperialism May 11, 2023

Progressives  have condemned the global spread of American pop-culture and corporations like McDonald’s as “cultural imperialism.”  They have long opposed Christian missionaries for “imposing Western values” on other cultures.

But in trying to impose a progressive woke agenda on countries that find it repellant, President Biden’s foreign policy is actually imposing Western values on other cultures and committing cultural imperialism.

Classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson makes that point in an article entitled The New Ugly Americans.

The title alludes to the 1958 novel The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer about how Americans came across as arrogant and obnoxious in Southeast Asia during the Cold War.  In the words of the Wikipedia article, “The book depicts the failures of the U.S. diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language, culture, and customs and refusal to integrate were in marked contrast to the polished abilities of Eastern Bloc (primarily Soviet) diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas.”

The term was extended to refer to bad behavior of Americans in general when they visit another country.  The above article quotes these lines from the book, spoken by a Burmese journalist:

“For some reason, the [American] people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious.”

Since then, our diplomatic corps, along with American tourists, have tried to address this syndrome, perhaps with varying degrees of success.  But today, according to Hanson, we have “new ugly Americans” in our embassies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who, as a matter of intentional policy, are trying to impose their contemporary Western values regarding sex and gender on deeply traditional societies.  And alienating them in the process.

Hanson says that the Biden state department spent $787 million for gender studies programs at Kabul University in Afghanistan, “one of the most conservative Islamic countries in the world.”  And while Americans were skedaddling away from that country in one of the most humiliating routs in history, the U.S. embassy was proudly flying the LGBT flag.   Is it any wonder that we failed to win “the hearts and minds” of the people we were claiming to defend?

Hanson writes,

The woke Left has now weaponized the country’s diplomatic missions abroad to advance highly partisan and controversial agendas that can offend their hosts, and do not represent the majority of American voters at home.

American foreign policy toward other nations seems now to hinge on their positions on transgender people, LGBTQ promotion, abortion, climate change, and an array of woke issues from using multiple pronouns on passports to showcasing transgender ambassadors. . . .

The White House manifesto called the “National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality” offers a blueprint for how to massage nations abroad to accept our values that are increasingly at odds with much of the world’s.

Do Americans really believe that embracing drag-queen shows at military bases, abortion to the moment of birth, transgender men competing in women’s sports, and the promised effort to ban the internal combustion engine are effective ways to ensure good relations with the United States?

No wonder the Biden Administration’s new cultural imperialism is proving disastrous for a variety of reasons.

He goes on to detail those disasters and delves into the reasons for them.  He concludes by observing that most of the nearly 8 billion human beings on the planet are not woke.

The rest of the planet worries whether it will have enough food, energy, security, and shelter to live one more day. For most, the incessant, woke virtue-signaling from affluent Americans comes across as the whiny bullying of pampered, self-righteous – and increasingly neurotic – imperialists.

The thing is, it isn’t just the traditional societies of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe that are alienated by the new progressive Ugly Americans.

Western Europeans, as liberal as they come–especially France, the birthplace of postmodernism–are condemning American wokeism for degrading the university and promoting “cancel culture”!

The irony is that it was the postmodern left that invented cultural relativism, using it as a tool to bash the concept of “universal” truths and values.  But now the very same leftists are asserting that their beliefs and values–such as the goodness of feminism, sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, gender fluidity, abortion, etc.–should apply universally.

There are, indeed, cultural differences that should be respected and appreciated.  But truth and morality are, in fact, universal.  But what the progressives are pushing is not universal, but highly contested, including in the United States and in much of the rest of the world.

We could apply universal principles of justice to condemn oppressive governments, societies that mistreat women, and cultures (like our own) that practice infanticide.  But sexual permissiveness and the like, though embedded in some cultures (like our own) are not in accord with the universal moral law.

The new ugly Americans are trying to uproot the real universals and replace them with false universals, dismantling other cultures as they have already done to their own.



Illustration:  “Ten Thousand Miles from Tip to Tip” (1898), Public Domain,

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