September 23, 2003

Anti-Americanism

Via Jeremy at the excellent new blog Who Knew? I learn that Jean-François Revel’s French best-seller L’Obsession Anti-Américaine will soon be translated in English and released in the United States. The English version will be titled, simply, Anti-Americanism.

antiamericanism.jpg

Here are some excerpts from the Introduction, where he explains both left-wing and right-wing Anti-Americanism in Europe.

First he takes on the left.

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse—with the liberation of Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War and a polarized world—it is often said that today’s anti-Americanism stems from the fact that the United States is the “hyperpower,” a term made fashionable by Hubert Védrine, a French minister of foreign affairs. But this interpretation, which presupposes that American hegemony was previously easier to justify, first because it dominated fewer nations and second because it answered to the need to protect against Soviet imperialism, doesn’t reflect reality: anti-Americanism was almost as virulent during the period of threatening totalitarianism as it has been since the latter’s disappearance (in its Soviet version, at least).

Within some democratic countries, a subset of the population—political party members and the majority of intellectuals—were likely to adhere to Communism, or at least support similar ideas. For this crowd, anti-Americanism was rational, since America was identified with capitalism, and capitalism with evil. What was less rational was their wholesale swallowing of the most flagrant and stupid lies about American society and foreign policy, with a concomitant flight from accurate knowledge of the Communist systems.

Then he takes on the right.
The European Right’s anti-Americanism stems fundamentally from our continent’s loss during the twentieth century of its six-hundred-year-old leadership role: Europe as powerhouse of enterprise and industry, innovator in arts and sciences, maker of empires—in practical terms, the master of the planet. It was sometimes one European country, sometimes another, that took the lead in this process of globalization avant la lettre, but all more or less participated, either in concert or by turns. Today, by contrast, not only has Europe lost the ability to act alone on the global scale, but it is in some degree compelled to follow in the footsteps of the United States and to lend support. It is in France that this loss—real or imaginary—of great power status causes the most bitterness. Meanwhile, hatred for democracy and for the liberal economy that is its necessary condition is the driving force of the extreme Right’s anti-Americanism, as it is for the extreme Left’s.
What’s sad is that so many Americans take all this seriously instead of blowing it off as the bigotry that it is. Don’t assume that just because Europeans are mad at us that we’re doing something wrong.
The illogicality at base consists in reproaching the United States for some shortcoming, and then for its opposite. Here is a convincing sign that we are in the presence, not of rational analysis, but of obsession.

[…]

As an hors d’oeuvre, let me offer a particularly flagrant manifestation of this mentality, on display as I write these lines in September, 2001. Until May of 2001, and for some years now, the main grievance against the United States was formulated in terms of the hyperpower’s “unilateralism,” its arrogant assumption that it could meddle everywhere and be the “policeman of the world.” Then, over the summer of 2001, it became apparent that the administration of George W. Bush was less inclined than its predecessors to impose itself as universal lifesaver in one crisis after another—especially in the Middle East, where the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians was heating up alarmingly. From then on the reproof mutated into that of “isolationism”: a powerful country failing in its duties and, with monstrous egocentricity, looking only to its own national interests. With wonderful illogicality, the same spiteful bad temper inspired both indictments, though of course they were diametrically opposed.

Here is what this is really about, when you get down to it:
The principal function of anti-Americanism has always been, and still is, to discredit liberalism by discrediting its supreme incarnation. To travesty the United States as a repressive, unjust, racist—almost fascist—society was a way of proclaiming: look what happens when liberalism is implemented!
The good news is that this book is a best-seller in France. It won’t change the world, but it could help a little. In the meantime, our own intellectual class should take note. It is not necessary to lash ourselves with the whip just because reactionaries in Paris think we’ve been bad.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 23, 2003 12:51 AM
Comments

A lot of resentment of the United States by many in Europe is that in Europe unlike in the United States Liberal or humanist values never completely domainted the political rainbow (even the conservative minided people in Americia bevelie in core liberal values). In Europe Liberal ideas have been hated both by the anti-democratic reactionary 'right' and the socialist 'left'.

Posted by: Tristan Jones at September 23, 2003 01:15 AM
Don't be overjoyed: Revel's book was a best-seller but you also have Begbeider's novel "News of the World" who is also a best-seller where he imagines the people trapped in WTC spent their last minutes fist-fucking and you also have the TV show "Tout le monde en parle" where Begbeider (a communist) was confronted to people still more heinous than him.

Now before someone rants about those dirty frencvh let me tell you that the structure of
the french press and media allows for a few selected journalists and writers to brainwash
their citizens instead of informing them. In internal matters (where the citizen knows the reality first hand) there is a growing distrust
toward the chattering classes as evidenced by
the fact that media darlings have been faring
very poorly at elections in the last 3 years.

However on external matters the citizen has to rely on the info he gets from press and TV and
those are massively anti-american (the left wing press and AFP have been infiltrated by trostkists and the right wing press is pro-EU thus anti-US and in addition it cannot criticize Chirac). The french citizen doesn't know about Total Fina's deals with Saddam, he doesn't know about the plastic shredder. The liberation of Baghdad got 10 seconds in FR3's (a TV) journal. It was sandwiched between a long report on victims piling in Baghdad hospitals (1) and a long interview of a guy who wasn't happy (2)

Please don't hate French, the people. They are
not evil. Just brainswashed by unscrupulous
"elites" who have a firm control on the info
he needs for forming his opinions. Time to
have "Voice of America" target France.

1) a) this was a guided visit organized
by Saddam's government
b) people were being killed, but other people were being saved from being killed by Saddam's thugs

2) there are ever unhappy people in a regime change. For instance those who benefitted from the former regime.

Posted by: JFM at September 23, 2003 01:59 AM

I was in a college classroom years ago when I finally understood why some people worshiped Europe and found it fashionable to hate America.

A very liberal professor was lecturing the class on "ethnocentrism" and was doing a pathetic job of convincing a room full of us that it was an American problem only and that it would be the downfall of the society. In the brief five minutes that I actually paid attention to the twerp I understood that extreme liberals have embraced "reverse ethnocentrism" and have run with it.

The ethnocentrist sees America as always right.

The reverse ethnocentrist sees America as always wrong. They adopted this philosophy as a direct result of the first guy's feelings.

Why such otherwise intelligent people can't see that their European fetish stems from just being contrary I will never understand. But since you see the ideas in the very same people that believe reverse racism is the key to ending racism, it is not surprising.

Posted by: Roark at September 23, 2003 06:10 AM

The reverse ethnocentrist sees America as always wrong.

Exactly. I will never understand why people on my general end of the political spectrum cannot see that blaming every negative political development in the Middle East on the U.S. is just another way of putting ourselves at the center of the universe, and refusing to take other countries' political and religious conflicts seriously on their own terms.

Thanks for the heads-up on the English-language publication of this book; I'm looking forward to reading it. I have a feeling that a lot of it will apply to American leftists as well.

Posted by: mollpeartree at September 23, 2003 06:49 AM

The ritual genuflection of US elites at the altar of Europe's mythical 'sophistication' has the scent of adolescent insecurity about it -- better to be well-liked than to do what one thinks is best. Add to this the dysfuctional logic of an abused spouse -- if they're mad at us, we must have done something wrong to deserve it. All in all, not the hallmarks of leadership one should expect from a great nation's elites, many of whom seem to prefer having their opinions manufactured for them in Paris.

Posted by: Cosmo at September 23, 2003 08:34 AM

I may have to pick this one up. Other than tech books, I don't read much in the way of non-fiction. Thanks for the heads-up.

Posted by: Mason at September 23, 2003 10:28 AM

The thing about the US is that it is supremely powerful, and therefore most things that are either good or bad about the world could have been significantly affected by the US at some point.

Posted by: Kimmitt at September 23, 2003 02:07 PM

The Italians had a bizarre schizophrenia concerning the US when I interacted with them; they criticized our foreign policy but expected us to solve all of their problems, including handling their neighbors Albania and Yugoslavia.

Posted by: Kimmitt at September 23, 2003 02:13 PM

So it can all be summed up in one word:

Envy.

Posted by: Jonathan at September 23, 2003 03:53 PM

Kimmitt,

It's hardly just the Italians. It's also the Koreans (North and South!), the Liberians, the Nigerians (esp. Mme. Abacha), the Argentinians, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and now the Iraqis, the Whosistanis, Whateverese, Whynotians, and everyone else beset with problems that resist simple-minded solutions-by-decree. The U.S. can hardly solve everyone's problems for them, and it's long past time to rethink all the simple nostrums that have by now proven themselves so ineffective after many decades of trial and error. They may be bumbling, chaotic, and inarticulate in their approach, but at least the Americans are--characteristically--trying something new. Even though, of course, everyone else already knows best.

Posted by: Joel at September 23, 2003 04:32 PM

Joel & Kimmitt, doesn't it strike you that this is also the attitude of "the gov't should fix it", to every problem? Not just in the US, but every country has a streak of: the gov't is supremely powerful, therefore must fix the problem (since God won't, whether supremely powerful or not).

Neither can the US solve most probs of other countries, nor can people's gov't solve most probs of most people. (Best is usually to avoid creating new probs, like red tape; though a force based justice system is required.) But gov't does have significant influence.

It IS destructive envy, sinful, to wish bad upon those who are doing well and deserve it. The undeserving/ criminal rich could well be brought lower; this gets stickier (with Grasso, for instance). But it's important.
There is a distinction between the deserving rich and the undeserving rich. The attacks on America INCLUDE the (claim of) criminal/ exploitive American past, so as to JUSTIFY the (otherwise sinful destructive) envy and desire to destroy the free democratic liberal private property society which has allowed America to become the sole hyperpower (not really supreme, though).

Posted by: Tom Grey at September 24, 2003 02:47 AM

Joel:

It seems Mme. Abacha of Nigeria is one e-mail writing fool. That must be a cottage industry in Africa. And, I thought that the Madame was writing to only me!

Posted by: John J. Coupal at September 24, 2003 06:38 AM

The thing about the US is that it is supremely powerful, and therefore most things that are either good or bad about the world could have been significantly affected by the US at some point.

Affected, yes; determined, no, particularly when you consider that the U.S. has not really been “supremely powerful” for very long. Assuming that, say, Islamic “fundamentalism” is merely a “reaction” to bad U.S. foreign policy completely trivializes the serious political and civilizational questions posed by modernity in that region of the world, to which political Islam is one of many possible answers, in a struggle that has been forming up since Islamic lands first became European colonies. The U.S. has not always made good decisions or even apparently been aware of (or concerned about) what was at stake a lot of the time, but the notion that everything will be solved somehow if we just withdraw from the area because we “caused” all the problems is dangerously naive. (Not accusing you of having this viewpoint, btw, because I don’t know if you do or not, but this attitude is what I was thinking about when I commented earlier).

Posted by: mollpeartree at September 24, 2003 08:45 AM

"this attitude is what I was thinking about when I commented earlier"

I recognized it too, but didn't really feel the need to point it out. The fact that we had just discussed exactly that viewpoint and it still slid right past him seemed to be more telling than anything else.

Posted by: Roark at September 24, 2003 06:17 PM



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