The Curious Absence of American Emulationists in the Third World
By Bryan Caplan
After World War II, virtually every Third World country had a major political faction that looked on the Soviet Union as a model society. What path should their nation take? The answer was obvious: Emulate the Soviet Union. With minor allowance for local conditions, they sought to copy Soviet institutions and policies. Despite the fiery anti-colonial nationalism of the day, members of the Third World’s pro-Soviet factions happily publicized their desire to follow in the footsteps of a foreign land – even putting a string of Europeans – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin – on their banners.
You could say, “Of course they did. It was the Cold War. Every Third World country was debating which alliance to join.” But there’s a stark asymmetry. While most Third World countries had a faction that wanted to ally with the U.S., few had factions that emphasized their desire to emulate the United States. You could say that many in Western Europe and Japan wanted to model their societies after the U.S., though even that’s a stretch. As far as I know, the Christian Democratic parties of Germany and Italy never anointed the United States as the Promised Land. But in the Third World, it’s hard to think of any major political parties that held the U.S. up as an ideal. For example, the governments of South Korea and South Vietnam angrily rejected the Soviet path, but their alternative was independent nationalism, not Americanism.
Personally, I think post-war U.S. institutions and policies were often bad. But it still seems like American emulationism should have had great psychological appeal at the time. Compared to the rest of the world after World War II, the U.S. looked absolutely fabulous: rich, strong, tranquil, and safe. You’d think that anyone from a newly independent country who visited the U.S. would say, “The Americans have their act together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make our country just like theirs?” Furthermore, the Us-Versus-Them mentality of the Cold War should have amplified the variance of opinion. Once you dub communists the spawn of Satan, it seems natural to embrace the Yankees as God’s Chosen People. But almost no major movement did.
All of this leads me to a question I struggle to answer: Why exactly was Soviet emulationism so much more prevalent than American emulationism? While you’re at it, what are the strongest counter-examples to my claim? Again, I’m looking for Third World movements that explicitly advocated the emulation of the United States, not groups that were merely “pro-Western.”
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