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Euro-Snobs Slight American Literature

The other day, Mr. Horace Engdahl, a man who normally occupies a rather obscure outpost when it comes to public awareness, bought himself a few minutes of fame by engaging in everyone’s favorite pastime: America bashing. Mr. Engdahl’s statements in this regard were noteworthy only because he happens to be the top member of the committee charged with awarding the Nobel Prize for literature.


In an “exclusive” interview with the AP, Mr. Engdahl pulled no punches when it came to demeaning Americans. In his estimation, “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”

This was a rather interesting comment coming from a Swede. Sweden is a lovely country, and the very nice people who live there all seem to speak beautiful English. It’s also a country of only about nine million people, 87% of whom profess the same religion, speak the same language, and share the same ethnicity. Oh! Don’t forget that it’s surrounded on all sides by similar nations (Norway, Denmark, and Finland). I don’t say any of this to insult Sweden. I just think it’s worth pointing out that those who live in insular countries shouldn’t throw snide stones.

We shouldn’t really be surprised at this, however. Democrats and other Americans of the liberal persuasion are desperate to throw the Republicans out of the White House so that they can curry favor with the Europeans they so much admire. I’m afraid they have a tough road to hoe — and an Obama election may not be enough to do it. The fact is that Europeans don’t like us, and they never have.

Because Mr. Engdahl started this discussion about the dislike Europeans (or, at least, Europe’s intellectuals) feel for America, we should look first to Nobel Prize winners when we cast about for examples of European anti-Americanism. In the world of literature, last year’s controversial winner was Doris Lessing, she of the famous “they would murder Obama” attitude. (Ironically, the only place that’s almost happened, at least by tragic proxy, is in England, where a white racist shot — but thankfully did not kill — a black man wearing an Obama shirt.)


Lessing is only the most recent anti-American winner. Two years before her prize, the winner was Harold Pinter, a leftist amongst leftists, who has called George Bush a “mass murderer.” He was preceded by Elfriede Jelinek, another European Communist who deeply hates America.

This year’s winner, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, has not (yet) ascended to the ranks of rabid America haters, but his general theme seems to be a disdain for all things Western. Work your way past the prize committee’s incomprehensible praise for him as an “explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization,” and you can find the meat of his writing, which one reviewer explains the Third World as “a utopian antithesis to the ugliness and brutality of European society.”

And don’t even get me started on the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here are just a few of the luminaries in that rogue’s gallery:

  • Yasser Arafat, one of the bloodiest killers in the Arab world, and a man who easily deceived a credulous West as he unrelentingly, to the day of his alleged AIDS-induced death, plotted to destroy Israel.
  • Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian who is probably single-handedly responsible for both the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran and the fact that we went to war with Iraq. As to the latter, if there were in fact WMDs, it happened under his watch; and if there weren’t, it was his agency that allowed Hussein to create the nuclear Potemkin village that led to the war.
  • Wangari Maathai, who claimed that “the West” bio-engineered HIV and realized it on Africa, one of the most paranoid conspiracy theories around.
  • Jimmy Carter, one of the worst presidents — and one of the worst ex-presidents — in modern American history.
  • Kofi Annan, who should be remembered for Rwanda, Oil for Food, the increasingly virulent anti-Semitism that’s become the UN’s hallmark, the Congo sexual transgressions, and just about every other horrible thing that happened on his watch.
  • Rigoberta Menchu Tum, the Marxist confabulator.

Still, who are we to be surprised? Engdahl and his fellow committee members come by their America hatred honestly. In his informative Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, Andrei Markovits takes us back to the moment Europe became aware of America. Even then, while alive to its natural riches, Europeans viewed it as a savage, alien place — an attitude that, rather surprisingly, remained almost unchanged even when Europe managed to populate vast swaths of the Eastern seaboard with her own citizens. In European eyes (and tell me if this doesn’t sound precisely like Mr. Engdahl’s little screed), Americans were crude, immature, rude, and blustering — everything the suave, sophisticated Europeans disliked (recall that even our charming children’s song Yankee Doodle Dandy started life as an insult to bumptious Americans trying to ape British fashions.)

Europeans managed to hold to these condescending views despite the fact that it was their suave, sophisticated continent that, in the years after 1776, (a) hosted the French Revolution (regicide, the guillotine); (b) managed to engage in the 20-year Napoleonic War; (c) saw Revolution sweep the Continent in 1848; (d) witnessed Europeans gobbling up Africa with unparalleled brutality (especially the Belgians in the Congo); (e) gave Florence Nightingale her start because of the horrors of the Crimean War; (f) saw Germany invade France in 1872 (the first of Germany’s three tries against that country); (g) launched the Boer War in South Africa; (h) got the Russian Revolution started (regicide, mass executions); and then, in quick succession (i) started World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War (which you’ll recall was France’s war first).


And all that’s just off the top of my head. I bet you can think of a lot of Continental engagements that I missed.

These same Europeans managed to cling to their condescension even though, in those last three engagements, they needed America to ride to the rescue. World War I witnessed England and Germany in a war of attrition that was a death spiral for both nations. The outcome would almost certainly have been akin to this pretty scene — in which a python tried to swallow an alligator, with the result that both died — had not America chosen sides and ridden to England’s rescue.

In World War II, Germany quickly and effectively gobbled up all of continental Europe up to and including most of the USSR, while then-valiant Britain struggled alone. Churchill, despite the bold speeches, knew the end was near, and thanked his lucky stars that he was able to have America come on board. England kept the flame of freedom alive in the early days, but America won the war. Only Vietnam saw us flail about, and by then it was not Europe’s fight any longer.

In our modern era, despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that we so often rode to Europe’s rescue, European disdain for us has increased at an unheard of rate. As Mark Steyn explained in the introduction to America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It:

America is the most benign hegemony in history: it’s the world’s first non-imperial superpower and, at the dawn of the American moment, it chose to set itself up as a kind of geopolitical sugar daddy. By picking up the tab for Europe’s defense, it hoped to prevent those countries lapsing into traditional power rivalries. Nice idea. But it also absolved them of the traditional responsibilities of nationhood, turning the alliance into a dysfunctional sitcom family, with one grown-up presiding over a brood of whiny teenagers – albeit (demographically) the world’s wrinkliest teenagers. America’s preference for diluting its power within the UN and other organs of an embryo world government has not won it friends. All dominant powers are hated — Britain was, and Rome — but they’re usually hated for the right reasons. America is hated for every reason.


It came as no surprise to me, therefore, that when America’s financial markets started to show signs of strain, Europeans (or at least those same self-styled intelligentsia who have expressed their anti-Americanism for so many centuries and in so many ways) could not resist gloating. I think that this story from Spiegel strikes precisely the note I’m talking about (emphasis mine):

America Loses Its Dominant Economic Role

The banking crisis is upending American dominance of the financial markets and world politics. The industrialized countries are sliding into recession, the era of turbo-capitalism is coming to an end and US military might is ebbing. Still, this is no time to gloat .

I found that last sentence quite amusing, because the Spiegel staff is so obviously gloating. After 60 years of being dependent on America — to rescue them from the Nazism they imposed on themselves, to protect them from Communists, and to support their economy by providing all the military they needed — the Germans (and most of the rest of Europe) are just too delighted with themselves over America’s current economic woes.

I will only say, Twain-like, that I suspect reports of America’s death are greatly exaggerated. And more to the point, the Europeans had better hope that they are, in fact, exaggerated because we are the last bastion of small “d” democratic freedoms, whether the Europeans want to admit it or not. We’re not holding our own as well as we once did, and some Europeans are wising up the hard way. But we’re still the last best hope.


And through all this — through the petty insults from the Engdahls of Europe, through the leftist ideological warfare emanating from Europe’s talkers and thinkers, and through the schadenfreude that characterized Europe’s initial take on America’s market failure — America and Americans will do what they always do: roll with it and, if needed, help Europe out. Even now, when Europe is in the vanguard of nations falling off the cultural and moral precipice that once was Western civilization, and seems desperate to drag us with her into the abyss.

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