14 June 2007

Anti-Americanism: An Interesting, and Very Old, Phenomenon

It is always fascinating to listen to people describing their hatreds. America hatred is old, and dates back multiple decades or more in Europe and the third world.
Anti-American sentiment in Europe originated with the discovery of America, the study of the Native Americans, and the examination of its flora, fauna, and climate. The first anti-American theory, the "degeneracy thesis," portrayed America as a regressive and culturally bankrupt continent. The theory that the humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically and morally weakened both men and animals was commonly argued in Europe and debated by early American thinkers such as Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

In 1768 Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia and chief proponent of this thesis, described America as "degenerate or monstrous" colonies and argued that, "the weakest European could crush them with ease."[16]

The theory was extended to argue that the natural environment of the United States would prevent it from ever producing true culture. Paraphrasing Pauw, the French Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal wrote, "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science."[17] (So virulent was Raynal's antipathy that his book was suppressed by the French monarchy.)

....[a] Nazi propaganda poster address[ed] the Dutch public in 1944 with the words: "The USA are supposed to save European culture". The image utilize[d] a number of themes, some of which (racism, use of excessive force, American culture and the influence of Judaism) are still in use within some varieties of modern anti-Americanism.

The French Revolution created a new type of anti-American political thought, hostile to the political institutions of the United States and their impact upon Europe. Furthermore, the Romantic strain of European thought and literature, hostile to the Enlightenment view of reason and obsessed with history and national character, disdained the American project.

The German poet Nikolaus Lenau encapsulated the Romantic view, "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."

With the rise of American industry in the late nineteenth century, intellectual anti-American discourse entered a new form. Mass production, the Taylor system, and the speed of American life and work became a major threat to some intellectuals' view of European life and tradition.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "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."

If you are an American traveling to Europe or the UK, you might be surprised at some of the personal hostility you may face.
European elites tend to look at Americans as a subcivilized mass, whose function is to be obedient consumers in a system run by big business. The role of competition in U.S. economic life--and in every other aspect of life--is ignored, because competition is something Continental Europeans like to keep to a minimum and under careful control.

Although Americans are seen as highly materialistic consumers, they are also despised and feared for their spiritual interests, their participation in religious worship and their subscription to creeds of morality. Europeans see no inconsistency in their condemnation of the U.S. for being at one and the same time paganly unethical and morally zealous.

The truth is, any accusation that comes to hand is used without scruple by the Old World intelligentsia. Anti-Americanism is factually absurd, contradictory, racist, crude, childish, self-defeating and, at bottom, nonsensical. It is based on the powerful but irrational impulse of envy--an envy of American wealth, power, success and determination. It is an envy made all the more poisonous because of a fearful European conviction that America's strength is rising while Europe's is falling.

Several experiences of an American ex-pat in London reported in the British press stirred up a hornet's nest of comments--which tended to reinforce the truth of what her narration.
Typical British pub banter is one thing, says Christian Cox, but the "pure hatred" she says is directed at her for being American is really starting to wear her down.

The former model moved to London a year ago, where she is setting up her own business, and has been surprised at how some people have reacted to her nationality.

Ms Cox, 29, says she has been called, among other things, "terrorist", "scum", "low life", and feels that she is constantly being held to account for the actions of President Bush and for US foreign policy.

This is despite the fact that she doesn't agree with the war in Iraq and didn't vote for Bush.
Reading the comments accompanying the article suggests that many Britons have indeed become intellectually brittle and intolerant. This is unfortunate, given the imminent threat from muslim immigrants that the UK is currently facing. Perhaps a great deal of the blame for English intolerance should be placed at the feet of the British press.

Had the USSR won the cold war, rather than the western world, I suspect that criticism of the USSR would be muted, out of fear of retribution. No one fears retribution from the US, for although the US is wealthy and powerful, historically it has tended to rescue Europeans, not attack them.

This America hatred bears watching. It was there long before Bush and will be there long after Bush. As long as it does not affect the actions of European governments beyond occasional condemnations and non-binding resolutions, there should be no problem. If it rises to the level of an all-out trade war, things could get rather dicey.

There is a slowly rising undercurrent of anti-Europeanism in reaction to perceived anti-Americanism. Eventually, if the reciprocal hatred is allowed to escalate too far, a trade war may be the least of concerns.

Europeans are finding it more difficult to manage healthy economies at the same time as they try to maintain burgeoning social welfare demands. Further, Europeans are under siege from immigrants who are suceptible to barbarian, anti-liberal ideas originating from a militant, imperialist, supremacist religion. Anti-americanism may serve as a useful diversion from the more serious problems that Europeans face. Think of it as an ideological methamphetamine.


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