French anti-Americanism

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French anti-Americanism

Post by Haydnseek » Tue Jan 03, 2006 12:51 pm

French anti-Americanism

Spot the difference

Dec 20th 2005 | PARIS
From The Economist print edition

http://www.economist.com/world/europe/d ... nMode=none

France quarrels with America not because the pair are so different but because they are so alike

NESTLING in a valley near Aix-en-Provence, Plan de Campagne is a familiar French landscape. A strip of garish hoardings on stalks reaches into the distance. Le Plan Bowling, a 30-alley indoor centre, squats near the El Rancho Tex-Mex grill, a clay-coloured mock hacienda, complete with cactuses and sombreros. Two McDonald's fast-food joints rival Buffalo Grill, where poulet Kentucky and assiette Texane are served under a red roof topped with giant white buffalo horns. All this is ringed by vast parking lots, crammed with gas-guzzling 4X4s. Welcome to France, cradle of anti-Americanism.

Beyond the Romanesque churches and lavender fields of the tourist trail, France is changing. Slowly, its way of life is beginning to resemble that of the country it loves to hate. Over four-fifths of the French now live in towns or suburbs—more than in America. Less than 4% of the French workforce is in farming. French intellectuals and editorialists may still philosophise in smoke-filled cafés, but their countrymen flock to Hollywood films and devour American brands. American culinary sins—fast food, TV-dinners—are on the rise in the land of gastronomy, and with them child obesity. Yet the more that ordinary French people embrace such American ways, the more the elite seems fixated with an anti-Americanism that runs far deeper than just differences over Iraq. What is it about the French and America?

France has no monopoly on anti-Americanism. But no other country gets such scorn from Americans for harbouring the sentiment. France's defiance over Iraq explains much of this today. But that disagreement swelled into an exchange of insults because it drew from a deeper well of American assumptions about the French—their unreliability, ingratitude, superciliousness—that are in turn inspired by the force of French anti-Americanism.

French anti-Americanism is unlike other European varieties, because it prevails not only on the political left but on the right too. Anti-Americanism in Spain used to be a largely right-wing phenomenon, and the tradition is venerable among right-wing writers in Britain. But only in France has it inspired the most potent strain of right-of-centre politics for nearly half a century. President Jacques Chirac derives most of his support from this tradition, whose champion is still Charles de Gaulle, the president who converted France's dollar reserves into gold and, in 1966, defiantly pulled France out of NATO's military command.

Some, such as Philippe Roger, the author of “L'Ennemi Américain”, detect an undercurrent of anti-Americanism going back to the denigration of pre-revolutionary America by French thinkers in the 18th century. It reappeared, often as cultural snobbery, in the 19th century, and hardened into contempt in the 20th, most virulently among communists, as American industrial might grew. A rash of publications during the 1920s and 1930s—“L'Abomination Américaine” (1930), “Le Cancer Américain” (1931)—railed against the inhumanity of American life. “Out with the Yankees!” wrote one pamphleteer. “Out with the people and their products, their methods and their lessons, their dances and their jazz! Let them take back their Fords and their chewing gum.” The sentiment has found an echo, especially in the columns of France's national newspapers, ever since. The durability of anti-Americanism prompted Jack Straw, Britain's foreign minister, to call it an ancient French “neurosis”.

Scratch the surface of the denunciations from on high, however, and French anti-Americanism is not quite what it seems. First, because it is an elite doctrine that is often not shared by ordinary people. Second, because it is used by the political class more as a scapegoat for its own troubles than as a reasoned response to real threats. And, third, because it implies that the French clash with America out of antipathy. The real reason is rivalry, tinged with jealousy.

“It is an article of faith among American intellectuals”, wrote Thomas Frank, the author of “What's the matter with Kansas?”, “that countries such as France resist Hollywood films because they are snobs, dedicated to bringing ‘culture’—in the form of arty, disjointed films—to the masses.” Certainly, French intellectuals cherish low-plot, high-art films, and the French Ministry of Culture leads a guerrilla war to defend such works from a vulgar American invasion. But what do French people actually watch?

In the first 11 months of 2005, the top film was “Star Wars: Episode 3”. The all-time top box-office film in France is another American blockbuster, “Titanic”. On the small screen, French versions of American reality television and confessional talk-shows clog up the schedules, spawning the term la télé poubelle. French teenagers download American rap to their iPods. In 2004, the person most searched for on Google France was Britney Spears.

The more American brands flaunt their origins, the better they seem to do. In Carrefour at Montesson, a giant out-of-town hypermarket west of Paris, the bakery shelves are stacked with “Harry's American Sandwich” bread, a sliced product that has taken the land of the baguette by storm. In the nearby McDonald's, Le road to America menu tempted customers not so long ago with Le New York burger and Le Texas. Such is the success in France of McDonald's, a chain that is struggling elsewhere, that its boss was promoted to reinvigorate the brand across Europe.

Existentialism on the rocks

The French seduction by Americana is not new. The French fell for American jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, welcoming black American musicians who saw France as a haven from the racism at home. Josephine Baker became a music-hall star in Paris. Sidney Bechet lived his last years there. Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong were mobbed when they toured France. American writers, too, from Richard Wright to Henry Miller, made a home in Paris, finding a reception and stimulation that eluded them at home. Sartre and de Beauvoir adored America's jazz, its novels, its films and its whisky.

Of course, a taste for American brands or popular culture does not necessarily mean a taste for America, its citizens or leaders. Consumption patterns are no guide to affinity, argues Mr Roger: American brands are popular in the Arab world, after all. Yet even the evidence for popular anti-Americanism is ambivalent.

For sure, 85% of the French disapprove of George Bush's international policies, according to the latest German Marshall Fund transatlantic survey, compared with 72% of all Europeans and 62% of the British. Mr Bush's French supporters are a silent minority: just 11% would have voted for him, said one poll before the 2004 presidential election. And today's America—God-fearing, fixated by terrorism, militaristic—is not the Europhile America of old that a nostalgic France often yearns for.

Yet the French do not seem to generalise this dislike. In one 2004 poll, 72% of the French had a favourable view of Americans, more even than in Britain (62%) or Spain (47%). Some 68% of those questioned in another poll the same year said that what unites France and America was more important than what separates them. During the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2004, politicians were frosty, but the people at large showed an outpouring of gratitude to American veterans.

Even in the 1950s, as anti-Americanism raged on the left, ordinary French people did not express hostility to America. Between 1952 and 1957, according to Michel Winock, a French historian, polls found the French on average unequivocally favourable to America. Today America still draws the French. Young French bankers, cooks and students head for New York or California. Even French politicians cannot resist the allure. On the left, Laurent Fabius snapped up a short summer job lecturing at the University of Chicago in 2003 and again in 2004. On the right, Nicolas Sarkozy, who found an hour to entertain Tom Cruise at his ministry in Paris, told a New York audience that “The dream of French families is that their children go to American universities.” Even Mr Chirac has fond memories of a summer at Harvard. He may rail about American cultural imperialism, but could not resist inviting Steven Spielberg to the Elysée Palace to award him the légion d'honneur. So much for French disdain for the new world.

In truth, the allergy to America was always a rather intermittent complaint.

When we recall the fervent anti-Americanism of the left in the 1950s and of the right in the 1960s, we can't help but be struck by the transformation of attitudes and sensibilities that have opened the door to American mass and high culture. The transformation of attitudes has even resulted in general support for American foreign policies. Survey data show that while France manifested the strongest hostility towards the United States in the post-war period, it is now probably the least hostile of the European countries.

This was Ezra Suleiman, a political scientist at Princeton and astute observer of France, writing some 20 years ago. It is easy to forget that Ronald Reagan's America was widely admired by François Mitterrand's France. Even the French elite does not always feel compelled to stir up anti-Americanism.

Consider the revolutionary period, which Patrice Higonnet, a Harvard historian, calls the “mythological age” of mutual admiration. French and Americans, intoxicated by modern ideas about liberty, swapped theory, gunpowder and manpower. The Marquis de Lafayette, who was made an American officer and helped to defeat the British at the battle of Yorktown in 1781, was a shared hero. Tom Paine, an American by adoption, was granted French citizenship for his contribution to revolutionary thinking. Benjamin Franklin was adored in the salons of Paris, and Thomas Jefferson was invited to sit in the National Assembly during the writing of the French constitution.

For sure, anti-American feelings later stirred in France. French radicals were disappointed at the timidity of America's revolution. Yet French fascination with the young republic survived. Disenchantment was followed by renewed admiration. Lafayette spent nearly 13 months in the United States as a guest of various Americans in 1824-25, before being sent home in a government frigate with a gift of $200,000 and the ownership of a small town. In 1886, President Grover Cleveland unveiled a gift from the French: a statue dedicated to “Liberty Enlightening the World”.

It's a diversion

What prompted all this to change into 20th-and 21st-century anti-Americanism? Explanations include a clash of commercial interests, as American economic might grew and French clout declined; changing views of common foreign threats; and the two countries' relative balance of power. To these might be added a French sense of insecurity. Anti-Americanism intensifies at times of French uncertainty. It has often flared after French military humiliation—1917, 1940, 1962—or instability at home. Striking positions of independence from America is a way for France to project power when it feels emasculated, something de Gaulle well understood after the American liberation of France.

Today's concern about decline is another such moment. Sure enough, a favourite posture among the French political class is proclaiming the need to build up Europe to counterbalance the United States. Despite a recent thaw in Franco-American relations, President Chirac, in the best Gaullist tradition, continues to call for a “multi-polar world”. On the left, the Socialist Party campaigned for the European constitution with the slogan “Strong in the face of the United States”.

Or consider the use of the term “l'Américain” by French politicians to discredit rivals. Michel Rocard, a Socialist prime minister in the 1980s, was undermined by the label. Today, Mr Sarkozy's rivals on the right pin it on him. The epithet is potent because many current French phobias—capitalism, globalisation, liberalism—are associated with America.

Indeed, Jean-François Revel, author of “L'Obsession anti-Américaine”, argues that French anti-Americanism, particularly in the media, often flourishes at the expense of self-examination. The French delight in exposing American poverty, racism and ghetto life, he pointed out well before the country's recent riots proved his point, when at home a tenth of the workforce is out of work and young French Muslims are isolated in suburban tower blocks. America, he argues, “serves to console us about our own failures by sustaining the myth that things are even worse there—and that what is going wrong for us comes from them.”

Thomas Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, kicked up a stir among the French during the stand-off over Iraq when he declared that “France is becoming our enemy.” But is it really hostile to America?

America is, after all, one of the few western countries with which France has never been to war. Even de Gaulle supported America during the Cuban missile crisis, and reminded a joint session of Congress of the two countries' history of shared values. The country that supposedly scorns American capitalism has spawned global companies that feed the American army (Sodexho), fit tyres on American cars (Michelin) and put the gloss on American lips (L'Oréal). In many ways, France and America clash so often not because they are so irreconcilably different, but because they are so alike.

The modern French and American polities may have evolved quite differently, notably where the role of the state is concerned, but both emerged as highly codified, anti-clerical, secular republics. Both—unlike the dissembling English—can articulate unapologetically what their country stands for. Born of revolutions, America and France each established republics inspired by Enlightenment thinking, and based on freedom and individual rights. Within the same year, 1789, both the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Bill of Rights were drafted.

Above all, each nation believed in the universalism of its model—the Americans stressing liberty, the French civilisation—and shared an ambition to spread it abroad. The conviction among the French elite that France represents an alternative to the American way runs deep. It forms part of the national mythology that has helped to shore up French pride. And it explains why the French so readily pick on America at times of self-doubt.

Just listen to Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, who came to embody anti-American defiance. “What an honour to be French,” he wrote in a recent book, “loyal to a...responsibility to bestow a conscience, a soul upon our Earth. Our democracy was built upon the affirmation of universal values,” he adds, and France's destiny is to enact “our universal and humanist dream”.

Such florid romanticism may provoke derision on the other side of the Atlantic, never mind how closely it parallels Mr Bush's belief in his duty to spread freedom. But the basic point is keenly felt among the French governing class. It echoes de Gaulle's “certain idea” of France, “dedicated to an exalted and exceptional destiny”, 50 years ago. This competitive instinct explains why anti-Americanism was the natural flipside to de Gaulle's effort in the 1960s to turn Europe into a French-led superpower.

As with de Gaulle, so with his inheritors. Romantic rivalry inspires Mr Chirac's determination to create a “multi-polar” world, and his resistance to Mr Bush's doctrine of unilateral pre-emption. It explains France's desire to keep its own spheres of influence, whether in Africa or the Arab world. And, incidentally, it explains France's eagerness to see off others whom it considers to be encroaching on its domain, notably the British, whose first attempts to join the European common market were vetoed by de Gaulle.

Moreover, defying the might of America is a form of muscular self-affirmation, to be contrasted with the unmanly British tendency to jump when American fingers click. To be pro-American for long would emasculate. After all, what is France for if not to represent an elegant, pleasurable alternative to the American way, even if it does so as most of the country munches its burgers and goggles at its trashy television?
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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jan 03, 2006 1:55 pm

I heard a similar (tho more erudite) argument from Tony Judt in his cogent and enlightening talk on his new book, Postwar. His comment, in answer to a question, was that there are only two nations who consider themselves ordained of God to export their systems and life-styles to other states for the betterment of the world as a whole: France and America. As such they are in relentless competition with each other and have the same tolerance for each other that competitors do. An interesting take, but I don't see France as being in the same class with the US, not even in a second class, for a multitude of reasons.
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:07 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:An interesting take, but I don't see France as being in the same class with the US, not even in a second class, for a multitude of reasons.
Times change, but the historical consideration is apt.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:22 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:An interesting take, but I don't see France as being in the same class with the US, not even in a second class, for a multitude of reasons.
Times change, but the historical consideration is apt.
You're right. One does need a historical context. See:
A genealogy of anti-Americanism
By James W. Ceaser


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, Après 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. Max Gallo, in the weekly magazine Le Point, drew the typical 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 François 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. The identification of America with a general idea or concept has gone so far as to have given birth to new words that are treated nowadays as normal categories of thought, such as "Americanization" or "Americanism." (By contrast, no one speaks of Venezuelanization or New Zealandism.) Americanization today, for example, is almost the perfect synonym for the general concept of "globalization," differing only in having a slightly more sinister face.

Although anti-Americanism is a construct of European thought, it would be an error to suppose that it has remained confined to its birthplace. On the contrary, over the last century anti-Americanism has spread out over much of the globe, helping, for example, to shape opinion in pre-World War II Japan, where many in the elite had studied German philosophy, and to influence thinking in Latin American and African countries today, where French philosophy carries so much weight. Its influence has been considerable within the Arab world as well. Recent accounts of the intellectual origins of contemporary radical Islamic movements have demonstrated that their views of the West and America by no means derive exclusively from indigenous sources, but have been largely drawn from various currents of Western philosophy. Western thought is at least in part responsible for the innumerable fatwahs and the countless jihads that have been pronounced against the West. What has been attributed to a "clash of civilizations" has sometimes been no more than a facet of internecine intellectual warfare, conducted with the assistance of mercenary forces recruited from other cultures. It is vitally important that we understand the complex intellectual lineage behind anti-Americanism. Our aim should be to undo the damage it has wrought, while not using it as an excuse to shield this country from all criticism.


Degeneracy and monstrosity
Developed over a period of more than two centuries by many diverse thinkers, the concept of America has involved at least five major layers or strata, each of which has influenced those that succeeded it. The initial layer, found in the scientific thought of the mid-eighteenth century, is known as the "degeneracy thesis." It can be conceived of as a kind of prehistory of anti-Americanism, since it occurred mostly before the founding of the United States and referred not just to this country but to all of the New World. The thesis held that, due chiefly to atmospheric conditions, in particular excessive humidity, all living things in the Americas were not only inferior to those found in Europe but also in a condition of decline. An excellent summary of this position appears, quite unexpectedly, in The Federalist Papers. In the midst of a political discussion, Publius (Alexander Hamilton) suddenly breaks in with the comment: "Men admired as profound philosophers gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America -- that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere." The oddity of this claim does not belie the fact that it was regarded for a time as cutting-edge science. As such, it merited lengthy responses from two of America's most notable scientific thinkers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. In Jefferson's case, the better part of his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, consists of a detailed response to the originator of this thesis and the leading biologist of the age, the Count de Buffon. The interest of Franklin and Jefferson in refuting this thesis went beyond that of pure science to practical politics. Who in Europe would be willing to invest in and support the United States if America were regarded as a dying continent?

Although Buffon was its originator, the most earnest and best known proponent of the degeneracy thesis at the time was Cornelius de Pauw, whom Hamilton cited for the aforementioned claim of canine quietude. Pauw's three-volume study of America, which was widely regarded as the book on the subject, begins with the observation that "it is a great and terrible spectacle to see one half of the globe so disfavored by nature that everything found there is degenerate or monstrous." (The attribution of monstrosity, seemingly in tension with the more general characteristic of contraction, was thought to apply to many of the lower species, such as lizards, snakes, reptiles, and insects, producing a still more sinister picture of America.) It was Pauw who insisted as well on the inevitability of an ongoing and active degeneration in America, a point on which Buffon equivocated: No sooner did the Europeans debark from their ships than they began the process of decline, physical and mental. America, accordingly, would never be able to produce a political system or culture of any merit. Paraphrasing a sentence of Pauw's, the great Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal famously opined: "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science."


Rationalistic illusions
The degeneracy thesis could not in the end stand up to Franklin's and Jefferson's careful empirical criticisms, which demonstrated that nothing, on the surface at least, was degenerating at an unusual rate in America. Nature, as Jefferson so felicitously put it, was the same on both sides of the Atlantic. But what their responses could not entirely refute was the contention that the quality of life and the political system of America were inferior. Precisely this claim lay at the core of the second layer of anti-American thought, developed by a number of romantic thinkers in the early part of the nineteenth century. These thinkers placed degeneracy - for almost the same language was used - on a new theoretical foundation, arguing that it resulted not from the workings of the physical environment but from the intellectual ideas on which the United States had been founded. Anti-Americanism now became what it has remained ever since, a doctrine applicable exclusively to the United States, and not Canada or Mexico or any other nation of the New World. Many who complain bitterly that the United States has unjustifiably appropriated the label of America have nonetheless gladly allowed that anti-Americanism should refer only to the United States.

The romantics' interpretation of America owed something to the French Revolution, which inspired loathing among conservative philosophers such as Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre. The French Revolution was seen as an attempt to remake constitutions and societies on the basis of abstract and universal principles of nature and science. The United States, as the precursor of the French Revolution, was often implicated in this critique. These philosophers' major claim was that nothing created or fashioned under the guidance of universal principles or with the assistance of rational science - nothing, to use The Federalist's words, constructed chiefly by "reflection and choice" - was solid or could long endure. Joseph de Maistre went so far as to deny the existence of "man" or "humankind," such as in the Declaration of Independence's statement that "all men are created equal." According to Maistre, "There is no such thing in this world as man; I have seen in my life French, Italians, and Russians ... but as for man, I declare that I have never met one in my life; if he exists, it is entirely without my knowledge." Not only was the Declaration based on flawed premises, but so too was the U.S. Constitution with its proposition that men could establish a new government. "All that is new in [America's] constitution, all that results from common deliberation," Maistre warned, "is the most fragile thing in the world: one could not bring together more symptoms of weakness and decay."

By the early nineteenth century, as the principal surviving society based on an Enlightenment notion of nature, America became the target of many romantic thinkers. Instead of human reason and rational deliberation, romantic thinkers placed their confidence in the organic growth of distinct and separate communities; they put their trust in history. Now, merely by surviving - not to mention by prospering - the United States had refuted the charges of the inherent fragility of societies founded with the aid of reason. But the romantics went on to charge that America's survival was at the cost of everything deep or profound. Nothing constructed on the thin soil of Enlightenment principles could sustain a genuine culture. The poet Nikolaus Lenau, sometimes referred to as the "German Byron," provided the classic summary of the anti-American thought of the romantics: "With the expression Bodenlosigkeit [rootlessness] I think I am able to indicate the general character of all American institutions; what we call Fatherland is here only a property insurance scheme." In other words, there was no real community in America, no real volk. America's culture "had in no sense come up organically from within." There was only a dull materialism: "The American knows nothing; he seeks nothing but money; he has no ideas." Then came Lenau's haunting image, reminiscent of Pauw's picture of America: "the true land of the end, the outer edge of man."

Even America's vaunted freedom was seen by many romantics as an illusion. American society was the very picture of a deadening conformity. The great romantic poet Heinrich Heine gave expression to this sentiment: "Sometimes it comes to my mind/To sail to America/To that pig-pen of Freedom/Inhabited by boors living in equality." America, as Heine put it in his prose writing, was a "gigantic prison of freedom," where the "most extensive of all tyrannies, that of the masses, exercises its crude authority."


The specter of racial impurity
A third stratum of thought in the development of anti-Americanism was the product of racialist theory, first systematically elaborated in the middle of the nineteenth century. To understand today why this thought qualifies as anti-American requires, of course, allowing oneself to think in the framework of another period. The core of racialist theory was the idea that the various races of man - with race understood to refer not only to the major color groups but to different subgroups such as Aryans, Slavs, Latins, and Jews - are hierarchically arranged in respect to such important qualities as strength, intelligence, and courage. A mixing of the races was said to be either impossible, in the sense that it could not sustain biological fecundity; or, if fecundity was sustainable, that it would result in a leveling of the overall quality of the species, with the higher race being pulled down as a result of mingling with the lower ones.

The individual most responsible for elaborating a complete theory of race was Arthur de Gobineau, known today as the father of racialist thinking. Gobineau's one- thousand-page opus, Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, focused on the fate of the Aryans, whom he considered the purest and highest of all the races. His account was deeply pessimistic, as he argued that the Aryans were allowing themselves to be bred out of existence in Europe. America became an important focus of his analysis since, as he explained, many at the time championed America as the Great White Hope, the nation in which the Aryans (Anglo-Saxons and Nordics) would reinvigorate their stock and reassert their rightful dominance in the world. In this view, while America's formal principle was democracy, its real constitution was that of Anglo-Saxon racial hegemony. But Gobineau was convinced that this hope was illusory. The universalistic idea of natural equality in America was in fact promoting a democracy of blood, in which the very idea of "race," which was meant to be a term of distinction, was vanishing. Europe was dumping its "garbage" races into America, and these had already begun to mix with the Anglo-Saxons.

With notable perspicacity, Gobineau foresaw the Tiger Woods phenomenon. The natural result of the democratic idea, he argued, was amalgamation. America was creating a new "race" of man, the last race, the human race - which was no race at all. Gobineau modeled his system on Hegel's philosophy of history, substituting blood for Spirit as the active motor of historical movement. The elimination of race marked the end of history. It presented - and here one could, in his view, see America's future - a lamentable spectacle of creatures of the "greatest mediocrity in all fields: mediocrity of physical strength, mediocrity of beauty, mediocrity of intellectual capacities - we could almost say nothingness."

Racialist ideas persisted throughout the nineteenth century and affected many of the social sciences, especially anthropology, a discipline that remains so traumatized by its origins that even today it cannot treat questions of race without indulging in paroxysms of guilt. The extreme of racialist thinking in the early twentieth century served as the foundation of Nazism. Today, the substance of the racialist philosophy is rejected except by a few elements on the extreme right. Yet traces of it have managed to find their way, often unconsciously, into subsequent theorizing about America. The European anti-American Left today has been divided in its criticisms of race in relation to America. Some follow the analysis, though not the evaluations, of Gobineau, arguing that the universal principles in the American experience, when they have not produced the brutal repression of the "Other" (the Indian and African), have fostered blandness and homogeneity. Alternatively, it is sometimes said that the process of amalgamation is not proceeding rapidly enough, especially in regard to African Americans. America is tardy and hypocritical in its promise to eliminate race as a basis of social and political judgment.


The empire of technology
The fourth stratum in the construction of anti-Americanism was created during the era of heavy industrialization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. America was now associated with a different kind of deformation, this time in the direction of the gigantesque and the gargantuan. America was seen as the source of the techniques of mass production and of the methods and the mentality that supported this system. Nietzsche was an early exponent of this view, arguing that America sought the reduction of everything to the calculable in an effort to dominate and enrich: "The breathless haste with which they [the Americans] work - the distinctive vice of the new world - is already beginning ferociously to infect old Europe and is spreading a spiritual emptiness over the continent." Long in advance of Hollywood movies or rap music, the spread of American culture was likened to a form of disease. Its progress in Europe seemed ineluctable. "The faith of the Americans is becoming the faith of the European as well," Nietzsche warned.

It was Nietzsche's disciples, however, who transformed the idea of America into an abstract category. Arthur Moeller Van den Bruck, best known for having popularized the phrase "The Third Reich," proposed the concept of Amerikanertum (Americanness) which was to be "not geographically but spiritually understood." Americanness marks "the decisive step by which we make our way from a dependence on the earth to the use of the earth, the step that mechanizes and electrifies inanimate material and makes the elements of the world into agencies of human use." It embraces a mentality of dominance, use, and exploitation on an ever-expanding scale, or what came to be called the mentality of "technologism" (die Technik): "In America, everything is a block, pragmatism, and the national Taylor system." Another author, Paul Dehns, entitled an article, significantly, "The Americanization of the World." Americanization was defined here in the "economic sense" as the "modernization of methods of industry, exchange, and agriculture, as well as all areas of practical life," and in a wider and more general sense as the "uninterrupted, exclusive and relentless striving after gain, riches and influence."


Soullessness and rampant consumerism
The fifth and final stratum in the construction of the concept of anti-Americanism - and the one that still most powerfully influences contemporary discourse on America - was the creation of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Like his predecessors in Germany, Heidegger once offered a technical or philosophical definition of the concept of Americanism, apart, as it were, from the United States. Americanism is "the still unfolding and not yet full or completed essence of the emerging monstrousness of modern times." But Heidegger in this case clearly was less interested in definitions than in fashioning a symbol - something more vivid and human than "technologism." In a word - and the word was Heidegger's - America was katestrophenhaft, the site of catastrophe.

In his earliest and perhaps best known passages on America, Heidegger in 1935 echoed the prevalent view of Europe being in a "middle" position:

Europe lies today in a great pincer, squeezed between Russia on the one side and America on the other. From a metaphysical point of view, Russia and America are the same, with the same dreary technological frenzy and the same unrestricted organization of the average man.
Even though European thinkers, as the originators of modern science, were largely responsible for this development, Europe, with its pull of tradition, had managed to stop well short of its full implementation. It was in America and Russia that the idea of quantity divorced from quality had taken over and grown, as Heidegger put it, "into a boundless et cetera of indifference and always the sameness." The result in both countries was "an active onslaught that destroys all rank and every world creating impulse.... This is the onslaught of what we call the demonic, in the sense of destructive evil."

America and the Soviet Union comprised, one might say, the axis of evil. But America, in Heidegger's view, represented the greater and more significant threat, as "Bolshevism is only a variant of Americanism." In a kind of overture to the Left after the Second World War, Heidegger spoke of entering into a "dialogue" with Marxism, which was possible because of its sensitivity to the general idea of history. A similar encounter with Americanism was out of the question, as America was without a genuine sense of history. Americanism was "the most dangerous form of boundlessness, because it appears in a middle class way of life mixed with Christianity, and all this in an atmosphere that lacks completely any sense of history." When the United States declared war on Germany, Heidegger wrote: "We know today that the Anglo Saxon world of Americanism is resolved to destroy Europe.... The entry of America into this world war is not an entry into history, but is already the last American act of American absence of historical sense."

In creating this symbol of America, Heidegger managed to include within it many of the problems or maladies of modern times, from the rise of instantaneous global communication, to an indifference to the environment, to the reduction of culture to a commodity for consumption. He was especially interested in consumerism, which he thought was emblematic of the spirit of his age: "Consumption for the sake of consumption is the sole procedure that distinctively characterizes the history of a world that has become an unworld.... Being today means being replaceable." America was the home of this way of thinking; it was the very embodiment of the reign of the ersatz, encouraging the absorption of the unique and authentic into the uniform and the standard. Heidegger cited a passage from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

Now is emerging from out of America pure undifferentiated things, mere things of appearance, sham articles.... A house in the American understanding, an American apple or an American vine has nothing in common with the house, the fruit, or the grape that had been adopted in the hopes and thoughts of our forefathers.
Following Nietzsche, Heidegger depicted America as an invasive force taking over the soul of Europe, sapping it of its depth and spirit: "The surrender of the German essence to Americanism has already gone so far as on occasion to produce the disastrous effect that Germany actually feels herself ashamed that her people were once considered to be 'the people of poetry and thought.'" Europe was almost dead, but not quite. It might still put itself in the position of being ready to receive what Heidegger called "the Happening," but only if it were able to summon the interior strength to reject Americanism and push it back to the other hemisphere.

Heidegger's political views are commonly deplored today because of his early and open support of Nazism, and many suppose that his influence on subsequent political thought in Europe has been meager. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Heidegger's major ideas were sufficiently protean that with a bit of tinkering they could easily be adopted by the Left. Following the war, Heidegger's thought, shorn of its national socialism but fortified in its anti-Americanism, was embraced by many on the left, often without attribution. Through the writings of thinkers like John-Paul Sartre, "Heideggerianism" was married to communism, and this odd coupling became the core of the intellectual Left in Europe for the next generation. Communist parties, for their own obvious purposes, seized on the weapon of anti-Americanism. They employed it with such frequency and efficacy that it widely came to be thought of as a creation of communism that would vanish if ever communism should cease. The collapse of communism has served, on the contrary, to reveal the true depth and strength of anti-Americanism. Uncoupled from communism, which gave it a certain strength but also placed limits on its appeal, anti-Americanism has worked its way more than ever before into the mainstream of European thought.

Only one claw of the infamous Heideggerian pincer now remains, one clear force threatening Europe. If Europe once found identity in being in "the middle" (or as a "third force"), many argue today that it must find its identity in becoming a "pole of opposition" to America (and the leader of a "second force"). Emmanuel Todd develops this logic in his book, arguing that Europe should put together a new "entente" with Russia and Japan that would serve as a counterforce to the American empire.


The real clash of civilizations?
There is a great need today for both Europeans and Americans to understand the career of this powerful doctrine of anti-Americanism. As long as its influence remains, rational discussion of the practical differences between America and Europe becomes more and more difficult. No issue or question is addressed on its merits, and instead commentators tend to reason from conclusions to facts rather than from facts to conclusions. Arguments, no matter how reasonable they appear on the surface, are advanced to promote or confirm the pre-existing concept of America constructed by Heidegger and others. In the past, European political leaders had powerful reasons to resist this approach. Such practical concerns as alliances, the personal ties and contacts forged with American officials, commercial relations, and a fear of communism worked to dampen anti-Americanism. But of late, European leaders have been tempted to use anti-Americanism as an easy way to court favor with parts of the public, especially with intellectual and media elites. This has unfortunately added a new level of legitimacy to the anti-American mindset.

Not only does anti-Americanism make rational discussion impossible, it threatens the idea of a community of interests between Europe and America. Indeed, it threatens the idea of the West itself. According to the most developed views of anti-Americanism, there is no community of interests between the two sides of the Atlantic because America is a different and alien place. To "prove" this point without using such obvious, value-laden terms as "degeneracy" or the "site of catastrophe," proponents invest differences that exist between Europe and America with a level of significance all out of proportion with their real weight. True, Europeans spend more on the welfare state than do Americans, and Europeans have eliminated capital punishment while many American states still employ it. But to listen to the way in which these facts are discussed, one would think that they add up to different civilizations. This kind of analysis goes so far as to place in question even the commonality of democracy. Since democracy is now unquestionably regarded as a good thing - never mind, of course, that such an attachment to democracy arguably constitutes the most fundamental instance of Americanization - America cannot be a real democracy. And so it is said that American capitalism makes a mockery of the idea of equality, or that low rates of voting participation disqualify America from being in the camp of democratic states.


Repairing the breach
Hardly any reasonable person today would dismiss the seriousness of many of the challenges that have been raised against "modernity." Nor would any reasonable person deny that America, as one of the most modern and the most powerful of nations, has been the effective source of many of the trends of modernity, which therefore inevitably take on an American cast. But it is possible to acknowledge all of this without identifying modernity with a single people or place, as if the problems of modernity were purely American in origin or as if only Europeans, and not Americans, have been struggling with the question of how to deal with them. Anti-Americanism has become the lazy person's way of treating these issues. It allows those using this label to avoid confronting some of the hard questions that their own analysis demands be asked. To provide just one striking example, America is regularly criticized for being too modern (it has, for example, developed "fast food"), except when it is criticized for not being modern enough (a large portion of the population is still religious).

A genuine dialogue between America and Europe will become possible only when Europeans start the long and arduous process of freeing themselves from the grip of anti-Americanism - a process, fortunately, that several courageous European intellectuals have already launched. But it is also important for Americans not to fall into the error of using anti-Americanism as an excuse to ignore all criticisms made of their country. This temptation is to be found far more among conservative intellectuals than among liberals, who have traditionally paid great respect to the arguments of anti-American thinkers. Much recent conservative commentary has been too quick to dismiss challenges to current American strategic thinking and immediately to attribute them, without sufficient analysis, to the worst elements found in the historical sack of anti-Americanism, from anti-technologism to anti-Semitism. It would be more than ironic - it would be tragic -- if in combating anti-Americanism, we were to embrace an ideology of anti-Europeanism.

James W. Ceaser is professor of politics at the University of Virginia and co-author of The Perfect Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).
- Summer 2003 issue of Public Interest


And to follow up your tree analogy, sometimes you have to get a good look at the trees to see the forest better: so look at Miller and Molesky's Our Oldest Enemy : A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France and Ken Timmerman's The French Betrayal of America.
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:30 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:. . . so look at Miller and Molesky's Our Oldest Enemy : A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France and Ken Timmerman's The French Betrayal of America.
Out of curiosity, I found that the Miller/Molesky book was published in October of 2005, and the Timmerman, in March of 2004.

You do read history which was written prior to the Bush administration, don't you, Corlyss?

These two volumes have the look, not of dispassionate history, but of court yes-men, don't you think?
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Post by John Bleau » Tue Jan 03, 2006 3:30 pm

What airheaded blather. Where are the incisive comments on why De Gaulle converted Frances dollar reserves into gold? The article, whose thesis is the anti-Americanism of French intellectuals, gives the impression that it's a wistful attempt at French grandeur, and that Chirac is following in that vein. What De Gaulle deplored, correctly in my opinion, is what his financial advisor, Rueff, called the exorbitant privilege of the United States: the power to issue the key reserve currency and to forego adjustment "a game that could only end in tears – or in sustained inflation." This is one of the reasons conservatives are so convinced that "tax cuts increase revenue" - the French & Germans then (huge holders of dollar reserves) and the Chinese & Japanese now funded the deficits and, by extension, the wars of the time, without the American taxpayer feeling the pinch. At the same time, American conservatives can complain about the lack of balls of the very underwriters of their wars.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:01 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:. . . so look at Miller and Molesky's Our Oldest Enemy : A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France and Ken Timmerman's The French Betrayal of America.
Out of curiosity, I found that the Miller/Molesky book was published in October of 2005, and the Timmerman, in March of 2004.
You must have read the reviews.

What did you expect the MSM to say? "Good job! We really needed to put that French behavior in context."? You will note that the Timmerman book was reviewed by Joseph Nye, who's made no secret of his opposition to the war in Iraq. The last sentence in the review makes reading the rest of the review unnecessary. The only thing that surprises me about it is the fact that the NYT gave the books to Nye to review. At least Nye pays a modest compliment to Timmerman by citing his credentials to write his book:
Timmerman is particularly strong on the history of French relations with Iraq and the massive corruption involved in arms and oil deals between the two countries over three decades. As a reporter in France for 18 years, he was a well-placed observer.* While he footnotes many of his accusations, he also protects his sources in some of the most interesting cases (as any good reporter must), and we are left to judge their veracity on our own.
*Emphasis mine.
Of course, the anti-war faction NEVER use anonymous sources to prop up their positions. :roll:
You do read history which was written prior to the Bush administration, don't you, Corlyss?
Sure I do. Do you read any background on what's happening today that isn't served up to you by the NYT?
These two volumes have the look, not of dispassionate history, but of court yes-men, don't you think?
:lol: :lol: Don't be ridiculous. They are people who take the war and it's importance seriously and who want to inform nervous Americans why they should ignore the self-serving bull crap that comes out of the mouths of governments that were bought and paid for by Saddam's oil money. Some of it is merely the latest act in a longer drama, like the traditional anti-Americanism. Some of it is older than the United States.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:04 pm

John Bleau wrote:What airheaded blather.
You're gonna have to do better than that on an article from the Economist.
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Post by John Bleau » Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:14 pm

Oh dear, I'm again being confronted with an authority in another pithy answer from Corlyss. It ain't just the New York Times that puts out garbage. My assessment does not just consist in the three words you quoted: in the rest of my post I do "better than that."

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:21 pm

John Bleau wrote:Oh dear, I'm again being confronted with an authority in another pithy answer from Corlyss. It ain't just the New York Times that puts out garbage. My assessment does not just consist in the three words you quoted: in the rest of my post I do "better than that."
Sources, John, sources.
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Post by John Bleau » Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:24 pm

I will post sources if necessary - i.e., if you're ignorant of the facts I laid out. I won't jump through hoops as a matter of protocol.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jan 04, 2006 9:11 am

Corlyss_D wrote:You must have read the reviews.
Incorrect.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jan 05, 2006 1:06 am

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:You must have read the reviews.
Incorrect.
I know you didn't read the books. So on what did you base your comments?
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jan 05, 2006 1:07 am

John Bleau wrote:I will post sources if necessary
My asking wasn't compelling enough?
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