45 Years, 45 Days

45 Years, 45 Days: Confessions of an Anti-American

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For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

"I would like to make a full public confession," wrote Peter MacKinnon in Reason's August 1985 issue. "I was once a card-carrying anti-American." Combining memoir with political analyses, MacKinnon recounted the intellectual odyssey that led him to break with "the worldwide ant-American movement."

I had never quite accepted all that "evil empire" business, so I journeyed to the Communist world with a mind willing to believe the best. As a Westerner, I found myself being constantly accosted by people in restaurants and hotel lobbies who told me how terrible their lives were (as if I needed the confirmation of what my eyes showed me) under this repressive system. They told me of how they envied my freedom to travel, to read what I want, and to say what I please. Their painful sadness was not economic, political or cultural; it was the personal anguish of not being able to live freely. A young woman on a train from Prague to Brno in Czechoslovakia stands out in my memory. An engineer, she described the pleasure of that brief spring of 1968 when she could travel freely to Vienna just to see a movie. She told me how the majority of her fellow citizens hated the Russians and their own lives now I replied at one point with a passing reference to Orwell, and she told me that his works are now forbidden in Czechoslovakia. When I later sent her a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, she wrote to thank me and said that Orwell wrote as if he knew her own poor country….

How petty is my resentment of the unlikely representative of American democracy compared to my anger over a very different system that stifles individuals' purpose in life–simply to live freely. Yes, we should criticize the American system, for freedom to criticize is part of our purpose, too. But we should not lose sight of what makes it possible for us to be anti-American–the best of the American tradition.