Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Anti-Americanism in Western Europe has deep roots, that are explored in this long but essential essay.

Some excerpts:

Hutton traces the prioritization of society over the individual back to medieval feudalism, which he holds up—hilariously—as an ideal. The trouble, he explains, started when Puritan individualists “who passionately believed that they could individually establish a direct relationship with God” emigrated to North America and invented “an explosively new and radical ideology” that justified “an individualist rather than a social view of property.” This led to the American Revolution, which Hutton compares unfavorably with its French counterpart of 1789, since the former put the individual first (bad) while the latter introduced a “new social contract” (good). “The European tradition,” he instructs us, “is much more mindful that men and women are social animals and that individual liberty is only one of a spectrum of values that generate a good society.” Well, he’s right: Europe has been more drawn than America to communitarianism than to individual rights—and it’s precisely this tragic susceptibility that made possible the rise of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism and that obliged the U.S. to step in and save the Continent from itself in World War II. Nonetheless, Hutton has the audacity to insist that “it would all be so much better if the United States rejoined the world on new terms”—if, in other words, Americans exchanged Jeffersonian values for the currently popular European “ism,” statism.
Which brings us to the thesis of this compact, meticulously argued work: that the “paradise” of peace and prosperity Europe now enjoys is made possible, quite simply, by American power. Provided with “security from outside,” Europe requires no power of its own; yet protected “under the umbrella of American power,” it’s able to delude itself that power is “no longer important” and “that American military power, and the ‘strategic culture’ that has created and sustained it, is outmoded and dangerous.” European leaders, says Kagan, see themselves as inhabiting a post-historical world in which war has been rendered obsolete by the triumph of international “moral consciousness”; yet most of them

"do not see or do not wish to see the great paradox: that their passage into post-history has depended on the United States not making the same passage. Because Europe has neither the will nor the ability to guard its own paradise and keep it from being overrun, spiritually and well as physically, by a world that has yet to accept the rule of “moral consciousness,” it has become dependent on America’s willingness to use its military might to deter or defeat those around the world who still believe in power politics."

In short, though the U.S. makes Europe’s “paradise” possible, “it cannot enter the paradise itself. It mans the walls but cannot walk through the gate . . . stuck in history, [it is] left to deal with the Saddams and the ayatollahs, the Kim Jong Ils and the Jiang Zemins, leaving most of the benefits to others.” And when it does address those threats, furthermore, it feels Europe’s wrath, for “America’s power and its willingness to exercise that power—unilaterally if necessary—constitute a threat to Europe’s new sense of mission.”
In January 2003, leaders of Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, and the Czech Republic urged Europe to join the U.S. in opposing Saddam; in February, ten Eastern European nations issued a similar statement; in March, British, Danish, Spanish, and Polish troops took part in the invasion alongside Americans and Australians. [And yet it's charged Bush didn't have a real coalition! -ed.] There is, then, considerable resistance on the Continent—especially in former Iron Curtain countries—to “postmodern Europe,” a concept intimately tied up, one might add, with French and German ambitions.

If America is founded on liberty—and on the idea that its preservation is worth great sacrifice—those who steer the fortunes of Western Europe have no strong unifying principle for which they can imagine sacrificing much. Their common cause is not liberty but security and stability; the closest thing they have to a unifying principle is a self-delusionary, dogmatic, indeed well-nigh religious insistence on the absolute value of dialogue, discussion, and diplomacy. This dedication has its positive aspects, but it can also make for moral confusion, passivity, and an antagonism to the very idea of taking a firm stand on anything. If, in the view of many Americans, a love of freedom and hatred of tyranny provide all the legitimacy required for taking actions like the invasion of Iraq, European intellectuals, having no such deeply held principles to guide them, turn instinctively to the U.N., as if it existed, like some divine oracle, at an ideal, impersonal remove from any possibility of misjudgment or moral taint.
Revel’s earliest opinions of America, he tells us, were formed by “the European press, which means that my judgment was unfavorable”; yet those opinions changed when he actually visited America during the Vietnam War. Decades later, he notes wryly, the European media still employ the same misrepresentations as they did back then, depicting an America plagued by severe poverty, extreme inequality, “no unemployment benefits, no retirement, no assistance for the destitute,” and medical care and university education only for the rich. “Europeans firmly believe this caricature,” Revel writes, “because it is repeated every day by the elites.” The centrality of this point to the entire topic of European anti-Americanism cannot, in my view, be overstated.

Item by item, Revel refutes the European media’s picture of America. Poverty? An American at the poverty level has about the same standard of living as the average citizen of Greece or Portugal. (Indeed, according to a recent study by the Swedish Trade Research Institute, Swedes have a slightly lower standard of living than black Americans—a devastating statistic for Scandinavians, for whom both the unparalleled success of their own welfare economies and the pitiable poverty of blacks in the racist U.S. are articles of faith.) Crime? America has grown safer, while the French ignore their own rising crime levels, a consequence of “permanent street warfare” by Muslim immigrants “who don’t consider themselves subject to the laws of the land” and of authorities with “anti-law-and-order ideologies.” Revel contrasts France’s increasingly problematic division into ethnic Frenchmen and unassimilated immigrants with “America’s truly diverse, multifaceted society,” pointing out that “the success and originality of American integration stems precisely from the fact that immigrants’ descendants can perpetuate their ancestral cultures while thinking of themselves as American citizens in the fullest sense.” Bingo.
The closest Willis comes to a thesis is a not altogether tidy theory that he concocts after hearing an American refer to soldiers dying for “others’ freedom.” Like many Europeans, Willis doesn’t get this “very American” thing about fighting and dying for freedom, and he figures that behind all the talk of freedom there must be some other, more comprehensible motive or value. Pondering the insights of a friend who defends the French Empire as an admirable “attempt to spread French civilization and culture” but who condemns American wars as being “only about money,” Willis decides that this business about “freedom” must, indeed, have something to do with money—specifically, with the American drive to succeed.
The authors begin by examining the geographical distribution of anti-Americanism, which, while low in Asia, South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe, is widespread in the Islamic world, is even higher in Western Europe, and is highest of all in France. (53% of Frenchmen “take a negative view of American democratic ideas,” [And we expect these people to be our allies?!? -ed.] while 64% of Czechs, 67% of Venezuelans, and 87% of Kenyans are positive.) Though fewer than 14% of Frenchmen have visited America, “most have strong views” of it; indeed, “Europeans who have not been in the U.S. . . . have the strongest opinions” about it, and malice toward America is inversely proportional to the amount of time individuals have actually spent there. Another illuminating statistic: contrary to the notion that anti-Americanism is a reflection of opposition to Republican presidents and U.S.-led wars, French sympathy for the U.S. stood at 54% in 1988, during the Reagan administration, but dropped to 35% by 1996, when Clinton was in office. Why the decline? Simple: in 1988 the U.S. was a protector; in 1996, after the Berlin Wall fell, it was a resented “hyperpower” (to employ French politician Hubert Védrine’s gratuitous term).
Indeed, nineteenth-century European aristocrats despised America as a symbol of progress, innovation, and (above all) equality, ridiculing it as a mongrel land of simple-minded Indians and blacks; later, avaricious Jews were added to the list. These stereotypes soon spread to Americans generally, resulting in today’s European-establishment view of Americans as materialistic morons.

If privileged Europeans of generations ago quaked in fear because they knew that America, and American equality, represented the future, so too did many of the Continent’s leading authors and intellectuals. Bromark and Herbjørnsrud examine the rather sorry Norwegian record (to which that nation’s twin titans, Ibsen and Bjørnson, were honorable exceptions): in 1889, Knut Hamsun denounced what he considered to be America’s sexual equality; in 1951, Agnar Mykle sneered that American mothers “raise children, not as boys and girls, but first and foremost as people who will become adults, with clean souls, well-scrubbed teeth, well-ordered hair, clean hands and a big smile.” (America’s excessive cleanliness was long a European theme: Hamsun whined that in the U.S. you couldn’t “spit on the floor wherever you want.”) But the main flash point was race: in America, complained one Norwegian writer, one “had to fight for one’s blond scalp in conflict with bloodthirsty natives.” Bjørneboe wrote in his teens that the physiognomy of immigrants to America changed after three years (“Northern and Central Europeans become Indian, Southern Europeans become Negroid”); Hamsun grumbled that the U.S., by allowing blacks to work in white restaurants, had created “a mulatto stud farm”; Mykle, spotting a mixed-race couple in New York, had “the same uncomfortable feeling as when you see a bulldog mate with a birddog.” Note that these writers were not marginal cranks: they were major literary figures. Nor were these Norwegian writers very different from their colleagues south of the Skaggerak. For an appalling number of them, America’s supreme iniquity was, as Bromark and Herbjørnsrud put it, its “project of [ethnic] blending.” Such views, which remained in the European mainstream well into the 1950s, had by the 1970s, however, been supplanted by reflexive, supercilious condemnations of American racism, the implication usually being that racial prejudices of the sort found in the U.S. were utterly foreign to Europeans.
Kerry is the overwhelming choice of Western Europe -- a people indoctrinated and inclined to despise and loathe us and everything we stand for.

'Nuff said.


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