Via Jeremy at the excellent new blog Who Knew? I learn that Jean-François Revel’s French best-seller L’Obsession Anti-Américaine will soon be translated in English and released in the United States. The English version will be titled, simply, Anti-Americanism.
Here are some excerpts from the Introduction, where he explains both left-wing and right-wing Anti-Americanism in Europe.
First he takes on the left.
Since the Soviet Union’s collapse—with the liberation of Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War and a polarized world—it is often said that today’s anti-Americanism stems from the fact that the United States is the “hyperpower,” a term made fashionable by Hubert Védrine, a French minister of foreign affairs. But this interpretation, which presupposes that American hegemony was previously easier to justify, first because it dominated fewer nations and second because it answered to the need to protect against Soviet imperialism, doesn’t reflect reality: anti-Americanism was almost as virulent during the period of threatening totalitarianism as it has been since the latter’s disappearance (in its Soviet version, at least).
Within some democratic countries, a subset of the population—political party members and the majority of intellectuals—were likely to adhere to Communism, or at least support similar ideas. For this crowd, anti-Americanism was rational, since America was identified with capitalism, and capitalism with evil. What was less rational was their wholesale swallowing of the most flagrant and stupid lies about American society and foreign policy, with a concomitant flight from accurate knowledge of the Communist systems.
Then he takes on the right.
The European Right’s anti-Americanism stems fundamentally from our continent’s loss during the twentieth century of its six-hundred-year-old leadership role: Europe as powerhouse of enterprise and industry, innovator in arts and sciences, maker of empires—in practical terms, the master of the planet. It was sometimes one European country, sometimes another, that took the lead in this process of globalization avant la lettre, but all more or less participated, either in concert or by turns. Today, by contrast, not only has Europe lost the ability to act alone on the global scale, but it is in some degree compelled to follow in the footsteps of the United States and to lend support. It is in France that this loss—real or imaginary—of great power status causes the most bitterness. Meanwhile, hatred for democracy and for the liberal economy that is its necessary condition is the driving force of the extreme Right’s anti-Americanism, as it is for the extreme Left’s.
What’s sad is that so many Americans take all this seriously instead of blowing it off as the bigotry that it is. Don’t assume that just because Europeans are mad at us that we’re doing something wrong.
The illogicality at base consists in reproaching the United States for some shortcoming, and then for its opposite. Here is a convincing sign that we are in the presence, not of rational analysis, but of obsession.
As an hors d’oeuvre, let me offer a particularly flagrant manifestation of this mentality, on display as I write these lines in September, 2001. Until May of 2001, and for some years now, the main grievance against the United States was formulated in terms of the hyperpower’s “unilateralism,” its arrogant assumption that it could meddle everywhere and be the “policeman of the world.” Then, over the summer of 2001, it became apparent that the administration of George W. Bush was less inclined than its predecessors to impose itself as universal lifesaver in one crisis after another—especially in the Middle East, where the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians was heating up alarmingly. From then on the reproof mutated into that of “isolationism”: a powerful country failing in its duties and, with monstrous egocentricity, looking only to its own national interests. With wonderful illogicality, the same spiteful bad temper inspired both indictments, though of course they were diametrically opposed.
Here is what this is really about, when you get down to it:
The principal function of anti-Americanism has always been, and still is, to discredit liberalism by discrediting its supreme incarnation. To travesty the United States as a repressive, unjust, racist—almost fascist—society was a way of proclaiming: look what happens when liberalism is implemented!
The good news is that this book is a best-seller in France. It won’t change the world, but it could help a little. In the meantime, our own intellectual class should take note. It is not necessary to lash ourselves with the whip just because reactionaries in Paris think we’ve been bad.