Andrei Markovits on Anti-Americanism

I don’t have a long enough historical perspective to judge whether European anti-Americanism has increased recently, but Andrei Markovits, a Romanian who has commuted back and forth between the United States and Europe since 1960, definitely does.

In a fine essay that you should go read, he says that anti-Americanism has increased dramatically and appears to have become a permanent feature of European cultual life:

Any trip to Europe confirms what surveys have been finding: The aversion to America is becoming greater, louder, more determined. It is unifying Western Europeans more than any other political emotion — with the exception of a common hostility toward Israel. Indeed, the virulence in Western Europe’s antipathy to Israel cannot be understood without the presence of anti-Americanism and hostility to the United States. Those two closely related resentments are now considered proper etiquette. They are present in polite company and acceptable in the discourse of the political classes….

There can be no doubt that many disastrous and irresponsible policies by members of the Bush administration, as well as their haughty demeanor and arrogant tone, have contributed massively to this unprecedented vocal animosity on the part of Europeans toward Americans and America. Indeed, they bear responsibility for having created a situation in which anti-Americanism has mutated into a sort of global antinomy, a mutually shared language of opposition to and resistance against the real and perceived ills of modernity that are now inextricably identified with America. I have been traveling back and forth with considerable frequency between the United States and Europe since 1960, and I cannot recall a time like the present, when such a vehement aversion to everything American has been articulated in Europe. No Western European country is exempt from this phenomenon — not a single social class, no age group or profession, nor either gender. But the aversion reaches much deeper and wider than the frequently evoked "anti-Bushism." I perceive this virulent, Europewide, and global "anti-Bushism" as the glaring tip of a massive anti-American iceberg.

Three recent shifts have transformed anti-Americanism from a fringe phenomenon to a defining aspect of European culture. First, the Bush Administration’s policies have driven anti-Americanism into "overdrive." Second, the demise of the Soviet Union and America’s increasing power and arrogance have seriously weakened neutral or pro-American sentiment, which formerly acted as a counterweight to anti-Americanism. Third, the sheer number of reasons to be angry at the U.S.A. has reached critical mass, furnishing grudges for every European social group:

America [is accused] of being retrograde on three levels: moral (America’s being the purveyor of the death penalty and of religious fundamentalism, as opposed to Europe’s having abolished the death penalty and adhering to an enlightened secularism); social (America’s being the bastion of unbridled "predatory capitalism," to use the words of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and of punishment, as opposed to Europe as the home of the considerate welfare state and of rehabilitation); and cultural (America the commodified, Europe the refined; America the prudish and prurient, Europe the savvy and wise).

Conservative or communist, Arab immigrant or nationalist dock worker, Green party member or factory owner, Europeans from all classes and backgrounds can agree on their disgust with one or another quality they associate with the United States.

Drawing from diverse areas of discourse such as sports and university reform, Markovits shows how America is presumed to have almost unlimited power to force "Americanization" into all the corners of European life, and highlights the incoherence of much anti-American reasoning:

All of these "Americanizations" bemoan an alleged loss of purity and authenticity for Europeans at the hands of a threatening and unwelcome intruder who — to make matters worse — exhibits a flaring cultural inferiority. America is resented for everything and its opposite: It is at once too prurient and too puritanical; too elitist, yet also too egalitarian; too chaotic, but also too rigid; too secular and too religious; too radical and too conservative. Again, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Anti-Americanism, Markovits notes, has desirable side-effects: it provides contrasts which help form a common European cultural identity. Markovits also disagrees with those who maintain that anti-Americanism is an irrational phenomenon, and that Europe will soon "come to its senses" and realize the need to return to a strong trans-Atlantic bond. Anti-Americanism is here to stay, he insists, because "[f]ar from harming Europe and its interests, anti-Americanism has helped Europeans gain respect, affection, and — most important — political clout in the rest of the world."

It’s a balanced and thoughtful piece, devoid of hysteria or defensiveness, and laden with plenty of specific examples. It’s worth a careful read.

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