ANTI-AMERICANISMS IN WORLD POLITICS/AMERICANISM: The Fourth Great Western Religion

By Berman, Russell A. | International Journal, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

ANTI-AMERICANISMS IN WORLD POLITICS/AMERICANISM: The Fourth Great Western Religion


Berman, Russell A., International Journal


ANTI-AMERICANISMS IN WORLD POLITICS Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, eds. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007. 351pp, US $24.95 paper (ISBN 978-0801473517)

AMERICANISM The Fourth Great Western Religion David Gelernter New York: Doubleday, 2007. 230 pp, US $24.95 cloth (ISBN 978-0385513128)

The current debate on anti-Americanism is defined-much more so than other scholarly disputes-by the immediate political context, and this discussion is about the foreign policy of the Bush administration and its reception around the world, especially in western Europe. Administration critics invoked European responses as corroborating evidence to support their own positions; administration defenders have tried to discount European reactions by invoking the putative cultural frame of anti-Americanism. Simultaneously, a more profound political debate is underway, beyond the partisan shooting match that involves the post-Cold War international system and the role of the United States in it. The critique of Bush's so-called "unilateralism" is an extension of the European anxiety about American "hyperpower" that dates from the Clinton era; it is therefore a misunderstanding to attribute current suspicion of the US solely to actions of the Bush administration or the personality of the president. On the contrary, the political dimension of the debate includes both matters of short-term electoral politics and longer-term strategy. When opponents of the anti-Americanism thesis minimize the cultural predispositions that generate hostility to US positions by insisting that it is "all about Bush," they misread deep-seated European misgivings. Yet identifying the shortsightedness of that approach that downplays the distinctiveness of European cultural predispositions is only part of the process of sorting these matters out.

These political disputes are fought out over competing scholarly understandings of the relationship between public opinion and attitudes on the one hand and government policies and actions on the other. Methodological debates and disciplinary divides contribute to the varying results, especially in the context of contemporary habits of interdisciplinarity. How can we distinguish between opinions and biases? What impact do popular attitudes have on government policy? Should we look at mass opinion or focus on the inclinations of the elite-intellectuals, politicians, or journalistic "opinionmakers"? Historians with long-term views evaluate these matters differently political scientists focused on contexts of narrow policy debates, and this difference points to the deeper epistemological gap between the interpretive mandate of the humanities and an ever more quantitative political science.

One of the many accomplishments of Anti-Americanisms in World Politics involves the complexity it brings to the topic, opening up these methodological problems and in particular emphasizing the multidimensionality of attitudes to the United States. European (or other) opinions about the US government do not necessarily correlate with opinions about other aspects of American society. A range of international examples highlights the diversity of anti-Americanisms. Sophie Meunier provides a brilliant analysis of anti-Americanism in France-the paradigmatic case for many-but we also learn about attitudes in the Arab world and China, and John Bowen presents a masterful contrast of anti-Americanism in France and Indonesia. The editors deserve credit for broadening the discussion, yet some greater typological distinction among these national variants would have been useful. Anti-Americanism in Indonesia seems to take place within a schema linked significantly to the US role in East Timor's independence, a background that produces a predisposition to judge other, largely unrelated matters in a negative light. To the extent that Chinese perception of the US is a function of the Taiwan question, it is similarly grounded in one significant policy point.

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