A Genealogy of Anti-Americanism
Ceaser, James W., The Public Interest
AMERICA'S rise to the status of the world's premier power, while inspiring much admiration, has also provoked widespread feelings of suspicion and hostility. In a recent and widely discussed book on America, Apres L'Empire, credited by many with having influenced the position of the French government on the war in Iraq, Emmanuel Todd writes: "A single threat to global instability weighs on the world today: America, which from a protector has become a predator." A similar mistrust of American motives was clearly in evidence in the European media's coverage of the war. To have followed the war on television and in the newspapers in Europe was to have witnessed a different event than that seen by most Americans. During the few days before America's attack on Baghdad, European commentators displayed a barely concealed glee--almost what the Germans call schadenfreude--at the prospect of American forces being bogged down in a long and difficult engagement ment. Max Gallo, in the weekly magazine Le Point, drew the t ypical conclusion about American arrogance and ignorance: "The Americans, carried away by the hubris of their military power, seemed to have forgotten that not everything can be handled by the force of arms ... that peoples have a history, a religion, a country."
Time will tell, of course, if Gallo was even near correct in his doubts about U.S. policy. But the haste with which he arrived at such sweeping conclusions leads one to suspect that they were based far more on a pre-existing view of America than on an analysis of the situation at hand. Indeed, they were an expression of one of the most powerful modes of thought in the world today: anti-Americanism. According to the French analyst Jean Fracois Revel, "If you remove anti-Americanism, nothing remains of French political thought today, either on the Left or on the Right." Revel might just as well have said the same thing about German political thought or the thought of almost any Western European country, where anti-Americanism reigns as the lingua franca of the intellectual class.
The symbolic America
Anti-Americanism rests on the singular idea that something associated with the United States, something at the core of American life, is deeply wrong and threatening to the rest of the world. This idea is certainly nothing new. Over a half-century ago, the novelist Henry de Montherlant put the following statement in the mouth of one of his characters (a journalist): "One nation that manages to lower intelligence, morality, human quality on nearly all the surface of the earth, such a thing has never been seen before in the existence of the planet. I accuse the United States of being in a permanent state of crime against humankind." America, from this point of view, is a symbol for all that is grotesque, obscene, monstrous, stultifying, stunted, leveling, deadening, deracinating, deforming, and rootless.
It is tempting to call anti-Americanism a stereotype or a prejudice, but it is much more than that. A prejudice, at least an ordinary one, is a shortcut usually having some basis in experience that people use to try to grasp reality's complexities. Although often highly erroneous, prejudices have the merit that those holding them will generally revisit and revise their views when confronted with contrary facts. Anti-Americanism, while having some elements of prejudice, has been mostly a creation of "high" thought and philosophy. Some of the greatest European minds of the past two centuries have contributed to its making. The concept of America was built in such a way as to make it almost impervious to refutation by mere facts. The interest of these thinkers was not always with a real country or people, but more often with general ideas of modernity, for which "America" became the name or symbol. Indeed, many who played a chief part in discovering this symbolic America never visited the United States or showed much interest in its actual social and political conditions. …