Among her weekend round-up of interesting links, Sarah pointed to this article at the Globe and Mail, reviewing Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America by Andrei S. Markovits.
Jeffery Kopstein’s review is very much worth a read, and very interesting to those of us from the States living in Europe. While the focus of this book is Western Europe’s thought, even here in the east one runs into the knee-jerk anti-Americanism the book describes.
Of course, the reasons are sometimes different. Like, in Novi Sad, tough questions about my country often surround the NATO bombing campaign that plagued that city for many days. Tell someone that “those were NATO planes, not just American,” and you get one of those looks that suggests you’re the most naive child they’ve ever run across. That, or a bald-faced liar.
Now, I can understand this kind of anti-American feeling. Bombs are bombs. Even when the recipients of those bombs were (and many of the people I know in Novi Sad were) actively anti-Milosevic and agreed with the aims of those bombs, one doesn’t always agree with the methods. But the kind of anti-Americanism described in Uncouth Nation, Kopstein points out, goes beyond disagreements over US foreign policy. It becomes a cultural disdain.
In a fascinating twist, Markovits highlights the gradual transformation of European anti-Americanism after the Second World War from an ideology of the discredited right to one of the anti-imperialist left. As magnanimous as the Americans were in Europe after the war, cultural dependence on the United States elicited a deep and abiding resentment. It became the source of all of modernity’s evils. Longer working hours, “publish or perish” at French universities, the dramatic increase in lawsuits and the prestige of “L.A. Law” lawyers in Great Britain, reality TV (which, in fact, originated in Europe), even the dominance of black over brown squirrels in German parks, are seen as evidence of a pernicious “Americanization.”
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And then there is the anti-Semitism. In what is surely his most controversial chapter, Markovits draws the connection between European anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. He maintains that the old and discredited anti-Semitism of the European right has migrated to a new anti-Semitism of the left. …
… The issue is not capitalism but ethnic identity. The left accepts Jews, but only on the condition that they shed their Jewishness. In a moment at once self-revelatory and accusatory, Markovits writes, “Indeed, the Left always reserved its universalism for the Jews while applying the legitimacy of its identity politics to all other nationalities.” Anti-Zionism and the demonization of Israel have become vehicles for the reintroduction of anti-Semitism into respectable European conversation, especially since the Six Day War in 1967. The syllogisms are simple enough: Israel commits atrocities. Why? Because the United States lets it. Why? Because guess who controls the United States? You got it: the Jews.
…Can one be a good Canadian without being anti-American? Five years after I returned to Canada, my conclusion is that it’s not easy. As the torturous conversations over what it means to be Canadian have shown, the efforts often yield modest results that promise little in the way of shoring up the Canadian nation-building project, at least in the short run. It’s much simpler to say, “Whatever else we may be, one thing we can agree upon is that we are not those silly Americans.”
But this is lazy nation-building and works only at the expense of sustaining the community of free nations of the West. Perhaps none of this would really matter if the Americans didn’t care about what others thought of them. But they do and always have. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted in 1835: “The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise.”