Dinesh D’Souza is an idiot. There is really no other way to put this. Cartoonishly childish, profoundly unserious, garishly self-promoting, prone to feigned profundity about his moronic and ill-informed opinions on issues he knows nothing about: These are D’Souza’s stock-in-trade, and they have paid dividends for him on the US right. They have worked even better for a similarly puffed-up blowhard, Newt Gingrich, about whom someone once said that he is “the stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.” This also goes for D’Souza.
D’Souza’s latest tripe is a movie in which he claims that Obama’s politics are motivated by a deep-seated desire to uproot the injustices of colonialism, which he supposedly inherited from his own Kenyan-born father. We’d be living in a better world if this were true, but of course D’Souza actually believes it is true, and in case you haven’t figured out, he also thinks that it’s a bad thing.
For the last ten years or so, D’Souza’s special niche — as a loyal sepoy of the American right — has been to openly apologize for colonialism. In his usual stupid fashion, he attempts to provide an intellectual gloss for the grubby system of worldwide robbery that was the British and other capitalist empires. But there can be no doubt where D’Souza is really coming from: He comes from the long tradition of the wealthy minority in colonial countries (certain upper-caste elements during the British Raj in India, the compradors in China, chieftains of bantusans in South Africa, etc.) who served imperialism openly and were well-rewarded for it by getting a nice slice of the booty stolen from the downtrodden majority. To be sure, some of these wealthy people turned on the imperialists and became patriots (Nehru comes to mind). Indeed, D’Souza himself — whose family were Catholics from Goa — has said that his own privileged father was anti-colonial.
In India, these people of privilege quickly adjusted themselves to the new dispensation after independence. D’Souza, by contrast, lives in the United States, and he is at least clever enough to know on which side his bread is buttered. His role on the American right is to be more aggressively racist than the white people who pay him. D’Souza takes to the task with a zest and a crudity that cannot be matched by, say, V. S. Naipaul, who also has bad politics, but who — unlike D’Souza — also has talent.
D’Souza has never known the fear of embarrassing himself with his own ignorance, and in this, he is a quintessential figure of the American right, an all-but-Aryan Siegfried of emboldened stupidity. For instance, examine this paragraph from his 2002 polemic, “Two Cheers for Colonialism”:
These justifications of violence, and calls for monetary compensation, rely on a large body of scholarship that has been produced in the Western academy. This scholarship, which goes by the names of “anti-colonial studies,” “postcolonial studies,” or “subaltern studies,” is now an intellectual school in itself, and it exercises a powerful influence on the humanities and social sciences. The leading Western figures include Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Walter Rodney and Samir Amin. The arguments of these Western scholars are supported by Third World intellectuals like Wole Soyinka, Chinweizu – who uses only one name, Ashis Nandy and, perhaps most influential of all, Frantz Fanon.
The four “Western figures” highlighted by D’Souza are, respectively, a Palestinian, an Indian, a Guyanese, and an Egyptian. And while Spivak and the late Said taught at Columbia, the late Rodney taught in Tanzania and Guyana itself, and Amin is now based in Senegal. And even if they did count as “Western figures,” who with the most basic understanding of chronology — let alone the slightest knowledge of any of these writers — would make D’Souza’s lazy claim that they influenced Fanon, rather than the other way around?
But the problem is not that D’Souza expects that no one will fact-check his claims — though there is that. It is that his sponsors are convinced of the idea that anti-colonial resistance could only have been an idea cooked up by Westerners in the soft-headed liberal academy, rather than the considered opinion of millions of ordinary people who have experienced the imperial boot on their necks. As always, the reactionary is convinced that his subordinates were perfectly content until some “outside agitator” came along. D’Souza flatters this sort of person, and is well-paid for it.
Even the title of D’Souza’s pro-colonial piece is telling. It is unlikely that D’Souza was even aware that “Two Cheers for Colonialism” is a reference to E. M. Forster’s famous call for “two cheers for democracy.” Forster was the author of A Passage to India, a novel that is, among other things, a subtle and penetrating criticism of the colonial condition, giving it pride of place in any study of postcolonialism. But D’Souza knows the phrase because it has long since become a favored formulation of the ex-leftists who founded “neoconservatism”: Irving Kristol wrote a book called Two Cheers for Capitalism in 1978, and variations on the phrase have been common in their circles ever since. D’Souza is ever eager to please.
D’Souza’s new film will no doubt be appreciated by the “birth certificate was forged” battalion of teabaggery, It is also rising up the list of box-office successes, owing to mass purchases of tickets by the sort of wealthy right-wingers who also make bulk purchases of the books of people like D’Souza, Sean Hannity, or Ann Coulter in order to bump them up the bestseller lists. But someone you know will probably actually see it, so get ready for yet another round of stupid at a watercooler near you.