Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Anti-Americanism and Anti-Europeanism

In 2004, I reviewed a book called Anti-Americanism, written by the French philosopher and essayist Jean-François Revel. Revel was at the time eighty years old; he was to die two years later. A socialist in his youth, he later became a prominent European proponent of classical liberalism and free market economics. You can read the essay that he later expanded into the book here.
Although I found his book, ultimately, insubstantial, I appreciated his effort to show that the kind of anti-Americanism then fashionable in Europe was irrational and internally incoherent: 
The book’s chief mode of argument is to expose the inherent contradictions in their position: Americans, he notes, are pilloried simultaneously for their puritanism and their materialism, for their isolationism and for their imperialism, for their reluctance to dispense economic aid and for dispensing that very aid—this last generally interpreted as a sinister effort to control the destinies and dignity of the beneficiaries. 
Revel had little trouble convincing me that Europeans who were obsessed with American failings were often hysterical, inconsistent, or ungrateful. But why were these view so commonly found in Europe? Ultimately, I wasn’t persuaded by his explanation:
Revel’s answer: To affirm the anti-American position is to attack liberalism itself; modern anti-Americanism, he holds, is the socially acceptable avatar of illiberal belief systems—Marxist ones, chiefly—discredited by history. Anti-globalists, in his view, are synonymous with the anti-Americans.
Now, remember that I wrote that in 2004, when no one imagined that in 2016, an American president would come to power on an anti-globalist platform. Anti-globalism was at the time the purview of the protesters who rioted, vandalized, and terrorized Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial conference.
l thought Revel spent too much time picking off the low-hanging fruit, intellectually speaking:
… not all anti-globalists are unreconstructed cold warriors, and not all criticism of the modern economic order is crude. If it was Revel’s aim to dismantle their arguments conclusively, he does not succeed. To do so, he would have had to engage with the anti-globalists’ best arguments rather than their worst ones. The most sophisticated critics of the American-led economic order contend, for example, that the advantages of free trade posited by Adam Smith can accrue only in the context of other liberal freedoms, most notably free movement of labor. The decreasing regulation of trade has in the past half-century been accompanied by increasing regulation of migration. In this context, critics charge, the assumption that all nations will by means of the Invisible Hand take their rightful and prosperous place among the community of nations fails to obtain. It is the lack of freedom—the lack of liberalism’s benefits—suffered by those structurally excluded by the GATT and various multilateral agreements on investment to which these critics address themselves, not always absurdly. Anti-globalists charge that these agreements effectively remove power from accountable bodies such as parliaments and repose it in unaccountable corporations, a criticism that is ideologically compatible with classical liberalism. It may not be correct, but it is not anti-liberal.
Still, I thought Revel did two important things. First, he demonstrated with ample evidence that this delusional species of anti-Americanism truly was widespread in Europe:
Note the reception of 9/11: The Big Lie, a book by the French journalist Thierry Meyssan, who argues that no airplane crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. He proposes that the American secret services and its military-industrial complex invented the event to prime their gullible, sheep-like countrymen for a war of imperial conquest against Afghanistan and Iraq. The book was a bestseller in France.
Second, he argued that since this kind of anti-Americanism had no evidentiary basis, it could neither be rebutted nor taken at face value: It had to mean something other than what it purported to mean. But what?
Anti-Americanism, Revel concludes, is a cultist system of faith rather than a set of rational beliefs. It is thus impervious to revision upon confrontation with logic, evidence, gestures of goodwill, public relations campaigns, or attempts on the part of the American secretary of state to be a better, more sensitive listener. The American Left’s contention that it is the current administration’s foreign policy that has made the United States an object of hatred worldwide is delusory. Revel is dismissive of their program to understand the world’s antipathy toward the United States by means of pained introspection and to correct it with improved behavior: Nothing Americans might do, short of disappearing politely en masse, will help.
Fifteen years later, I’m not sure how well his book, or my reaction to it, have held up. He missed a lot and so did I.
One of the things we both missed is that a parallel vein of anti-Europeanism runs through American political and cultural life.
I’ve been thinking of this recently as I’ve read comments about Europe on various social media that might have been written Russian bots programmed to alienate the United States from its Atlantic allies, but were probably written by real Americans who feel about Europe pretty much the way Thierry Meyssan felt about the United States — and with about as much basis in logic.
So when recently I happened upon this paper by the economist Patrick Chamorel about anti-Europeanism and Euroscepticism in the United States, I read it with interest. It was published in 2004, shortly after Revel’s book. Chamorel was then at the Hoover Institution:
The paper documents and tries to explain the rise of anti-European and Eurosceptical sentiment in the United States since the end of the Cold War. Contrary to anti-Europeanism, which has always permeated American culture and underpinned American exceptionalism, Euroscepticism is more confined to political and business elites and targets the process, main policies and identity of the European Union. Although usually conservative, Anti-Europeans and Eurosceptics do not necessarily overlap: anti-Europeans are Eurosceptical but the reverse is not necessarily true. However, Anti-Europeanism and Euroscepticism have become entrenched beliefs among many conservatives.
Europe’s positive image since WWII and the wide support for European unification among American elites, have been replaced by competing views: for example, neo-conservatives believe Europe to be in economic, demographic and cultural decline that the EU only precipitates. Others see a unifying Europe as a rising power which will become more a rival than an ally for the US. Since the early 1990s and increasingly until the war in Iraq, conservative commentators have attacked the style and content of European foreign policy, especially with regard to the Middle-East, Europe’s weak defence budgets, its lack of resolve against terrorism, its welfare state and highly regulated economy, its left-leaning political culture, its growing anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. The centralizing, elitist and regulatory aspects of the EU have also been denounced to justify Euroscepticism.
It’s only about a dozen pages, so you can read the whole thing quickly, but I’ll just pull out a few passages that struck me. Here, for example, he suggests that some Americans have come to see Europe as a kind of oversized Blue State:
As you keep reading, you may find yourself asking whether the criticisms of Europe that were widely heard in 2004 are still germaine. Was Europe — France in particular — right about Iraq? The current American president certainly thinks so; so obviously, the beliefs for which the French were pilloried in the runup to the Iraq war are now widely accepted among Americans.
The following passage is especially interesting, because it shows exactly the kind of contradiction that Revel pointed out when he wrote about European anti-Americanism:
He expands on this point, but the key, to me, is that the EU is criticized for being too weak and for being a challenge to US power. Like the accusation that the US is both too imperialistic and too isolationist, the claim is so internally inconsistent that we have to assume it’s not an argument but an article of faith. But faith in what?
It’s also interesting to see what American conservatives found objectionable about Europe in 2004 and how different their criticisms were from their criticisms today — even though the underlying sentiment seems unchanged:
I now see some American conservatives criticizing France for not being as eager as they think the French should be to put a Le Pen in power. (France just can’t win with that crowd.)
Then there’s this argument, which is remarkably different in emphasis from criticism nowadays, isn’t it?
Like Revel, Chamorel suggests that these arguments are too contradictory and illogical to be taken at face value.
What, then, really underlies anti-Europeanism? He entertains the following hypotheses:
  1. It’s a backlash against anti-Americanism in Europe.
  2. It’s a response to the end of the Cold War. The United States promoted European integration as a response to the Soviet threat; now that the threat has abated, the EU has come to be viewed as a strategic competitor, rather than an ally.
  3. The United States favors globalization, whereas Europe uses the EU as a shield against globalization.
  4. Americans think of themselves as manly men from Mars and Europeans as sissies from Venus.
  5. There’s no divide between the US and Europe; the divide is an internal one between America’s coastal elites and the culturally conservative “America First” hinterland. (Interesting that he uses the phrase “America First” in 2004.)
  6. It’s a neo-conservative reaction to the strength of the left and far-left in Europe, which have paradoxically become more critical of the United States in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
None of these hypotheses, he acknowledges, quite account for the phenomenon. (And two of them certainly couldn’t account for the phenomenon now: The Russians are back; and Americans themselves have elected a president who promises to unravel the “false song” of globalization.)
What, if anything, strikes you as notable about Revel’s claims or Chamorel’s arguments? How well do you think these essays have held up to the test of time? What do you think really underscores anti-Americanism in Europe or anti-Europeanism in America?

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