Menace in the West: The Rise of French Anti-Americanism in Modern Times

By David Strauss | Go to book overview

Introduction

It is fashionable for the intelligentsia to detest America.

-- Paul Morand, 1931

In recent years, American intellectuals and policy makers have been particularly sensitive to the views of foreign critics of the American scene. In part, the study of foreign images of America is a case of criticism breeding analysis of criticism, but more deep-seated factors are also at work. As early as 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the thin-skinned American response to criticism of any aspect of the national life.1 No doubt, this sensitivity has been inherited by modern Americans; however, the preoccupation with outsiders' criticism of the United States since 1945 may be explained by more practical considerations. The views of foreign intellectuals about America do, in fact, affect their countries' relations with the United States, most clearly when intellectuals occupy positions of power or when they instruct the minds of those who do. The American government has acknowledged the importance of and has attempted to influence foreign opinion by creating such agencies as the Peace Corps, the United States Information Agency, and the Fulbright program. These institutions operate on the assumption that foreign elites' unfavorable images of the United States are the product of ignorance or incorrect information and that these impressions will be modified if intellectuals are exposed to more--and more accurate--information about the United States.

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