Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A Brief History of anti-Americanism - Part I

This is the first of a three-part installment involving my study and reflections on the history of anti-American sentiment in the world.

A short intro:

Despite the recent surge in anti-Americanism and despite what many might tell you, anti-Americanism and foreign nations being anti-American is really nothing new.

Today's progressives, leftists, socialist, communism (whatever) might urge you to believe that anti-Americanism started with the advent of the cold war and subsequent CIA covert operations, backing of ruthless dictators and random engagement in conflicts around the world. In short, other nations view America as great oppressors, bloodthirsty capitalist and imperialist.

Today's conservatives, right-wingers, fascist, neo-cons (whatever) would have you believe that anti-Americanism is the direct byproduct of America's advancement as the sole super-power in the world (both militarily and economically). Compounding the issue is the fact that he America is acting unilaterally without the help of some of its traditional allies in the war on terror and in the war in Iraq. In short, other nations view themselves as modern day 'David's' to the U.S.'s 'Goliath'. One might consider that they suffer from Geo/political penis envy.

While both points may contain some merit the overall picture is far from complete and far from new. The fact is that anti-American sentiment has existed for hundreds years (largely in Europe and now more recently in Latin-American and Middle Eastern nations) even well before the birth of the United States.

Early anti-Americanism:

Arguments concerning 'America's' development first took center stage in the eighteenth century. The land that the Europeans knew, as the new world was inhabited by Native Americans found to be technologically behind them and were considered spiritually inferior as well. To many Europeans the ideas of America's innate inferiority validated an existing notion among many Europeans that their way of life was superior and more advanced then all others. Disputes arose early as part of a broader debate over the proper form of a society. Concerns about America's faster pace of life, lower class barriers, democracy, and mass rather than elite culture and whether or not these things would advance or destroy culture. By all regards, America was seen as a test case for all of this.

"This was no abstract or marginal debate. It involved Europe's best minds, the leading naturalists, scientists, and philosophers of the day. Few of those insisted that America was intrinsically inferior to Europe ever visited there. Like those of many later anti-Americans, their theories were based on ignorance and misinformation or a distortion of facts designed to prove some political standpoint, philosophical concept, or scientific theory."†

Mercantilist saw the development of America with its vast natural resources as an opportunity to enhance Europe's wealth, by providing raw materials and furnishing markets, colonies there would bring the mother country endless riches (assuming they remained under European control).

Some of the earliest arguments by proponents and opponents of the 'New World' were expressed by French intellectuals and common men. Michel Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur, who fought in his country's losing war against Britain and then became a farmer in upstate New York wrote lyrically that America as "the most perfect society now existing in the world" because it was so fresh and flexible. It was welding together of immigrants from all over Europe "into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great chances in the world" In contracts to Europeans, Americans did not "toil, starve, and bleed" on behalf of princes but for their own benefit under leaders they freely chose. Europe would learn new ways of living and governance from this people's achievements.*

Conversely most members of Europe's governing and intellectual elite believed that civilization was a delicate matter. To the majority, the new land was simply backward. If European society as already at the peak of achievement (spiritually and technologically), starting afresh was a dangerous and doomed enterprise.

Works by leading anti-American Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were widely and quoted (though largely forgotten now). Buffon who never visited America insisted that nature was "much less varied than in Europe". Ignorant of such impressive American animals as the buffalo and grizzly bear, Buffon claimed that the biggest American animals were "four, six, eight, and ten times" smaller than those of Europe or Africa. Without inhaling a breath in America, he felt confident concluding that its (America's) air and earth were permeated with "most and poisonous vapors" unable to give proper nourishment except to snakes and insects.˜

During the first wave of anti-Americanism the cause of that country's inevitable failure was placed on the innately inferior nature of the land (and not the recently emigrated Europeans). After America's independence, though, this blame was increasingly transferred to a degraded people who lived in a badly structured society. Fears grew in Europe that ideas embodied in the United States (republicanism, materialism, the leveling of classes, and more importantly the rejection of aristocratic high culture) would break back across the Atlantic Ocean.

Once America established itself as a living challenge to the European monarchies, anti-Americanism came to serve a specific political function. While anti-Americanism still incorporated aspects of the degeneracy theory, it increasingly focused on the claim that the American democratic experiment was a failure leading to a degraded society and culture.

With proof that the American continent was a land in which stewardship amongst men and beings could be achieved one would have thought that anti-American sentiment would become less of a focus among the intellectual elite of Europe, but this was not to be.

In Part II I chronicle the growth of anti-Americanism as it evolved from simple criticism of the land and nature of the new world to full blown attacks on the people and government of America. I will also cover the new experience of Americans having to live in the shadow of the American Stereotype.

-End Part I-

† Hating America - A History - Barry Rubin/Judith Colp Rubin -

* Crevecoeur, "Letters from an American Farmer" http////;//

˜ Chinard, "18th Century Theories on America as Human Habitat,"
Posted by mightymerk, 7:00 AM


By Anonymous Anonymous

984 words later I still have no idea what your point is. It would help if you briefly describe or define what you mean by ‘anti-Americanism’. Let me see if I understand this correctly. ‘Anti’ is pretty much straight forward – opposition to something. Now do you mean opposition to ‘Americanism’? Or do you believe that anti-Americanism is a distinctive doctrine, system, or theory that espouses views that are anti-American? My question is anti-Americanism opposition to Americans – people who live in the United States, people who have citizenship in the United States or America in the context of the Americas which includes the regions and inhabitants of North, Central & South America or is it anti-United States-ism, being against the customs, traditions and institutions of the United States or is it being against the policies of various governments of the United States.


A person who is opposed to something, such as a group, policy, proposal, or practice.


1. A custom, trait, or tradition originating in the United States.
2. A word, phrase, or idiom characteristic of English as it is spoken in the United States.
3. Allegiance to the United States and its customs and institutions.


1. Of or relating to the United States of America or its people, language, or culture.
2. Of or relating to North or South America, the West Indies, or the Western Hemisphere.
3. Of or relating to any of the Native American peoples.
4. Indigenous to North or South America. Used of plants and animals.


A distinctive doctrine, system, or theory.

By ‘Early anti-Americanism’ you see to imply that European racism against the indigenous people is the root of anti-Americanism while ignoring the fact that the conquerors/settlers of native land were equally racist. Or is it “high class” European criticism of pioneer settler life or European disdain for the colonies? Is anti-Americanism distinct from European racism and disdain for other cultures, peoples, nations, colonies, countries etc… in the Americas and the rest of the world?

I think what you have described is European racism towards the indigenous people of North and South America and European “high societies’” disdain for pioneer life and a view that ‘colonies’ are inferior. None of which qualifies distinctly as ‘anti-Americanism’.

The independence of the United States did not change Europe’s Lords and Barons minds – despite the fact that European immigration to the USA continued – they had lost what they deemed to be a possession. And yes many new ideas were emerging from the USA while many old ones, such as slavery and racism/genocide against the indigenous people persisted. What’s also ironic is that France concluded an alliance with the USA in 1778 which many argue was critical to defeating the British (ironic in the light of current anti-French sentiments :) and France also persuaded the Spanish to fight against the British. Surely a strategic decision on France’s part but surely not an act of ‘anti-Americanism’. On to part 2.

- el shizz

@ 6:28 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

el shizz,

I responded to your posts in reverse order.

Regarding France's support of America. Absolutely it was a cool thing. In aiding America France helped knock an old enemy (Britain) down a notch.

So would France do the same thing 225+ years later? This time in diplomatic fashion and this time against a new, even bigger foe...America?

@ 12:42 PM  

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