Sunday, September 05, 2004

A Brief History of anti-Americanism - Part III

This is the third and final part of a three-part blog involving my study and reflections on the history of anti-American sentiment in the world. You can find the first two parts of this work in the previous entries.

1865-1945:

In the late nineteenth century America was emerging as a great industrial country. While still behind Britain, France and Germany in military and political terms, America was rising to global preeminence as it pioneered in the development of big industries and assembly-line methods. The modernization of Europe seemed to parallel what already existed in America. It became more secular, democratic, urban, faster paced, mass-oriented, geographically mobile, classless etc. Ironically as the United States proved wrong its historic anti-American critics who said it could never succeed, this very success only inspired more anti-Americanism. As discussed in the first two parts of this work, America was traditionally a land to be laughed at. A science project gone bad. A Volcano was about to explode, or implode depending on your perspective. The idea that America was a failure was now proved wrong. America went from a country to be ridiculed as politically unviable, socially failed and culturally impoverished to become a country who's influence (potential and realized) was to be dreaded.

French economist Paul de Rousiers wrote in 1892, "America ceased to be an object of curiosity to become an object of dread."∆ If the United States was going to become a great power in the world, it might impose itself on others. If Europeans voluntarily accepted its spirit, soulless industrialization and modernization would they also sink into social, cultural and political barbarity?

It should also be noted that there were many sympathizers with America (outside of the emigrants who continued to flock the United States). Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, opposing his own dictator, Napoleon III, wanted to establish a French republican government modeled on America's constitution. Along with several other leading French intellectuals he produced a movement that helped France reestablish a republic, which also resulted in the presenting of the Statue of Liberty to New York.

Again and again America was deemed as too badly an organized society because people there did not know their place. Among the evils of democracy were a "commonness of mind and tone, want of dignity and prevalent in and about conduct of public affairs, insensibility to nobler aspects and finer responsibilities of national life; apathy among luxurious classes and fastidious minds because they are no more important than ordinary voters, and because they're disgusted by vulgarities of public life; lack of knowledge, tact and judgment in legislature."˚˚

America was accused of being so terrible because it was simultaneously too homogeneous and yet too varied, too democratic yet not democratic enough, too amoral and yet too puritanical. If these same measurements were applied to the very own countries of the anti-American Europeans, they might also be found wanting.

Americans may have lacked the seasoning that Europeans possessed but as a new society it was not all that unique in that manner. America was able to use European achievements as its past while constructing its own future. Europeans had a different problem. Would they be able to build a future different from that of America?

In bragging about their lofty intellectual level and exalted tastes, anti-Americans were comparing the average American to the top 10 percent of their own society. Keep in mind the cultural apex of which Europeans boasted was largely monopolized in each country by a single capital city and by the upper classes alone. Only only a tiny minority of society enjoyed the greatness of opera, ballet, chamber music, or poetry. While it may have been arguable to say that Europe had a high culture and America had a lower one, but how many Europeans actually had access to this culture?

During this period the United States continued to excel in new forms of creativity such as Jazz, film, photography, and dance. While American techniques of mass production could be said to debase culture, they were also the greatest tools ever created for spreading its benefits.

America's first big action on the world stage took place with the Spanish-American war in 1898. Spain was easily defeated and this stood as a pivotal event that European critics saw as the start of an American advancement on the European continent. Philippe Roger, a French historian spoke about it like this, " The idea was that the daughter of Europe--America-- had turned against Europe and was now a potential enemy."

America's second big action on the world stage was its intervention in World War I. This too provoked anti-American reaction, even from the countries it helped as an ally. In France Woodrow Wilson was seen as being too self-righteous and too soft on the defeated Germans. He was also seen as a wooly-minded idealist and a religious fanatic, stereotypes that several American leaders would share. When he failed to persuade Congress to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, French critics added weakness to their indictment of him. In the 1920's and 30's America was portrayed as the main threat to Europe. This in an era when Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin were among that continent's rulers. Why was this? Perhaps the fact that the 1920's were a period of great prosperity in the United States. Economic growth was accompanied by the spread internationally of such American innovations of jazz, films, and automobiles. To many there was no difference between German Nazism, Soviet Communism, and Americanism. Of these, however, Americanism was the most dangerous of all because it was the most appealing.

Capitalism itself became a common target but as Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski pointed out " Why the problems of the real and the only existing communism, which Leftist ideologies put aside so easily, are crucial for socialist thought is because the experiences of a new alternative society have shown very convincingly that the only universal medicine these people have for social evils, state ownership as a means of production, is not only perfectly compatible with all disasters of the capitalist world, with exploitation, imperialism, pollution, misery, economic waste, national hatred and national oppression, but that it adds to them a series of disasters of its own: inefficiency, lack of economic incentives, and, above all, the unrestricted role of the omnipotent bureaucracy, a concentration of power never known before in human history."÷

Increasingly, both French and German anti-Americans closely linked their anti-American doctrine with anti-Semitism. Jews and Americans became twin symbols of blame for those who hated modern society and rapid change. American action was put in the worst possible light. The United States only entered the war in 1917 because it wanted to profit from European suffering as long as possible and then dominate the continent at the lowest possible cost. American society was thought to be hypnotized by technology and obsessed with moneymaking to the point where human spiritual life was destroyed. Europeans genuinely loved their countries while Americans only supported their nation out of greed.

The contradictions continued in European criticism. Americans were cowboys who prided themselves on their individualism, reject social controls to an extent almost unprecedented in the world, yet French anti-Americans insisted that the United States was a mass society that imposed unacceptable standardization on each person.

By the late 1930's into the 1940's anti-Americanism would be temporarily restricted to pro-Communism and pro-fascist circles. While French and other European cultures would survive quite nicely through the depression of the 1930's, the Nazi era and later Communist challenge, the anti-Americans worst nightmare came true. The United States became more powerful and influential, saving Europe in another world war and the subsequent cold war while finding even more ways to spread its culture. The thoughts, influence and ideas from the first three periods of anti-Americanism would lay dormant for a short while, waiting to be revived on numerous occasions thereafter.

Final thoughts:

Contrary to public theory, anti-Americanism is nothing new. As I have demonstrated (albeit briefly) anti-American sentiment had predated the founding of the United States as a nation. What started as a broad prejudice against innate inferiority of the land, broadened to include the belief that the systems and people of America were derelict. Finally, when America's political, social and economic success would not be denied anti-Americans focused on the fear of American expansionism in the forms of cultural absorption and military imperialism.

Because so much of the criticism from anti-Americans was almost always based on the lowest common denominator, Americans have been in a simultaneous struggle in resenting and resembling some of the harshest criticism.

While I consider 1945-present the present stage of anti-American sentiment, with Europe now being joined by Latin American and Middle-East/Asia, is far from complete for review. I would suggest that upon any study, much of the foundation in both argument and practice would be heavily comprised of rehashed, reshaped arguments

What can be observed through the first three stages though, is that anti-Americanism was a reaction to the concept and phenomenon of America itself. The success it had become as a nation and the ideological alternative it had become to existing nations.

End Part III




∆ Paul de Rousiers, La Vie Americaine (Paris: Diderot, 1892)
˚˚ As quoted in Baker, America Perceived, 160.
÷ David Horowitz, Left Illusions, 109.
Posted by mightymerk, 5:44 AM

15 Comments:

By Blogger anti

good read, get a links section

@ 5:10 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

appreciate the feedback...

I am not sure how to set up that links section

@ 9:29 AM  

By Blogger Vector

Quite an interesting angle you have there and I agree - this thing has long roots.

For some, I think, it would be usefull to read something like this. Get some more perspective.


Vector
hydropidity.blogspot.com

@ 9:29 AM  

By Anonymous Anonymous

The only thing I don't like about the post is you make warfare sound like a football game.

At first I didn't like it because you didn't cite sources, but often blogs are just too impractical for that.

Are you a grad student somewhere???

@ 3:15 PM  

By Blogger mightymerk

How did I compare war, or make it sound like a football game? Not sure what you meant by this.

@ 5:21 PM  

By Anonymous Anonymous

Ok, theatre. not football, theatre- just an observation, bud....an entertainment analogy. Its a good post.

@ 2:22 AM  

By Anonymous Anonymous

I do not think you have described anti-Americanism, rather you have articulated a conspiracy theory. All you’ve done is interpret anything negative about the United States as being part of a sinister plot to oppose the United States at all costs, at all times. Perhaps it is a sad attempt to mute criticism through the creation of a term of ostracism – a term that can be flung – like shit – rather than deal with substantive critique. It is a clear avoidance of complexity, a refusal to acknowledge error and more of an attempt at self pity than dealing with reality.

I don’t purport to know what anti-Americanism is, as far as I know no one has a patent on what is “American” and American society, like others, is complex and diverse. I would contend that “anti-Americanism” is a phrase designed to connote a consistent prejudice against Americans (people who reside in the United States or have citizenship but live abroad) simply because they are Americans or a consistent opposition as formulated in a doctrine or theory to any undertaking by America or, for lack of a better phrase, the progressive founding ideology of America (by this I mean, freedom not slavery, democracy not voting rights for white propertied males, equality nor racism or sexism and so forth) strictly because of the fact that it was/is emanating from America.

Such a thing does exist, I don’t think you have described it.

-- The Shizzle

@ 7:36 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

Hi Shizzle,

I appreciate the feedback. It goes without saying though I have some comments from you.

You claim to know that "such a thing does exist", but you have failed to describe it or point out any examples of what you know. Actually at one point you say "I don't purport to know what anti-Americanism is"...so I am kind of confused as to why you are so sure I am wrong, and I am just perpetuating a "conspiracy theory", when you may not be familiar with the subject.

Let's just say I am wrong. I will accept that for now.
Share with us your thoughts on what anti-Americanism is. Again you know it exists so it should be pretty easy. On my word, if you provide me with a new understanding I will have no problem admitting this.

Now please understand my posts were not a defense against criticism of the United States. In fact in my concluding paragraph I speak of Americans resenting yet resembling some of the most severe criticism offered by anti-Americans.

My intent was to expose to people that the United States has been the recipient subject of criticism for several hundred years, actually predating the birth of the United States. Some people believe the world started to turn against us rather recently, this is a popularly held belief. People just need to know there is a deeper history.

I offer you the soap box...

@ 11:55 AM  

By Anonymous Anonymous

[quote]I don’t purport to know what anti-Americanism is, as far as I know no one has a patent on what is “American” and American society, like others, is complex and diverse.[/quote]

My point is that I hear "anti-Americanism" applied in so many different contexts -- from people, including Americans, who oppose the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan / on terror, drugs etc... to persons whose views are often described as anti-globalization, to people who critize the US or any of its policies in any way. And finnaly to people who single out Americans for descrimitaion and base their opposition to US policies solely on prejudice. Because of its wide application I'm confused, I don't know what it means.

Therefore I offered what I *think* it means:

[quote]I would contend that “anti-Americanism” is a phrase designed to connote a consistent prejudice against Americans (people who reside in the United States or have citizenship but live abroad) simply because they are Americans or a consistent opposition as formulated in a doctrine or theory to any undertaking by America or, for lack of a better phrase, the progressive founding ideology of America (by this I mean, freedom not slavery, democracy not voting rights for white propertied males, equality nor racism or sexism and so forth) strictly because of the fact that it was/is emanating from America.[/quote]

[quote]Such a thing does exist,[/quote]

"thing" = The above quote "I would contend..."

claro? Or do you want me to name names :)

[quote]I don’t think you have described it.[/quote]

I believe that you've cataloged historical criticisms of the US -- some of which may be criticisms (rational or not) based on opposition to the US based solely on the fact the it IS the US -- but have failed to show the context in which they were delivered. That is, to show that the oppostition to the US resulted from a particular prejudice against America or Americans or within a distinctive doctrine, system, or theory of opposition to America. Without such a distiction any criticism would be anti-Americanism. And I think that the term may be intended to be used as such.

- shizz

@ 1:23 PM  

By Blogger mightymerk

"My point is that I hear "anti-Americanism" applied in so many different contexts -- from people, including Americans, who oppose the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan / on terror, drugs etc... to persons whose views are often described as anti-globalization, to people who critize the US or any of its policies in any way. And finnaly to people who single out Americans for descrimitaion and base their opposition to US policies solely on prejudice. Because of its wide application I'm confused, I don't know what it means."

Shizz,

I don't get it. I gave anti-Americanism no such wide application. I can only answer for what comment, statements and opinions I hold.

"
claro? Or do you want me to name names :)"

Name, names

"I believe that you've cataloged historical criticisms of the US -- ... That is, to show that the oppostition to the US resulted from a particular prejudice against America or Americans or within a distinctive doctrine, system, or theory of opposition to America. Without such a distiction any criticism would be anti-Americanism. And I think that the term may be intended to be used as such."

I give merit to this point. America is not above reproach and has been accurately criticized throughout its history. With that said I stand behind every quote and comment I have offered in my posts as examples of anti-American sentiment and not just "cricism".

Let's take the Iraq war. A fair statement for someone anti the Iraq-War to make would be something like this. "I disagree with reasons for which we went to war. I believe the strategy for the war is a failed one and I believe that the U.S does not have a viable exit plan".

An anti-American type statement regarding the same war would sound something like this. "America's war with Iraq is yet another imperialistic act in which it can control the world and monetary system of the world".

Your thoughts?

@ 1:50 PM  

By Anonymous Anonymous

See, it seems to me, that the main function of the ‘anti-American’ label is to narrow the acceptable bounds of critique. And labeling statements seems a bit awkward but I’ll bite: neither is anti-American.

The first “fair” statement provides disagreement without causation. There are no “reasons” given to replace the “reasons” with which there is disagreement for why the war was started. This appears to be the extent of the mainstream debate/discussion on the war.

The second statement provides reasons and a description of those reasons. (Perhaps I am being a bit generous, just trying to make a point.) It’s not necessarily accurate, but is not anti-American, in my view. The statement does not inherently connote hate or prejudice, and in this case is used as a descriptor suggesting that the US has a history of going to war with imperialistic intentions. The “control of the world” part is rather ripe, in pretty much any context in my view, but I think that people use it to emphasize the fact that the US is the world’s only superpower – both military and economic. Although the phraseology might be unpleasant the general sentiment is not one of hate or prejudice.

I would suggest that something like “see what they did at Abu Ghraib, all Americans are torturers” as representative of anti-Americanism.

- pho-shizzle

@ 5:54 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

Shizz anonymous,

I am not trying to convince you what to think, or what to believe. I am providing my definition and examples of what I believe the history anti-Americanism looks like.

All I can do is offer up what I have, back it as much as possible by resouces and provide supporting arguments.

At the same time, I can honestly say that all of the serious researchs and authors I have read, who provided me with the bulk of the information I have, also tend to lead one to hold views that I do. (unless I am misinterpreting absolutely everything).

Shizz-mesiter, at this point one would believe that you have formulated your own working definition of anti-Americanism. It is clear that you are convinced my argument fails in several ways. To be so sure, you must have some counter points and a good working theory.

Share with us please...otherwise one might assume you are just a shizz-sophist!! :)

mightymerk

@ 9:24 AM  

By Blogger Sean Odell

What i have read in these three posts translates to me, not as anti-americanism, but as a selection of xenophobia directed towards a particular country: america in this case. I would hazard a guess if you researched some of the historical figures quoted as espousing uneducated disregard and contempt for america, you would find that they spoke similarly about most other 'foreign' cultures as well.
What is more interesting then this is the term 'anti-american'. In contrast, you never hear the term anti-canadian, or anti-swedish, or anti-swiss for that matter (other bastions of ‘freedom and democracy’). This type of language is found predominately in fascist states and can be translated to mean any dissent against the ideology of the state; i.e.. anti-soviet behaviour, thought etc.
The rise of ‘anti-americanism’ in the current generation is due largely to fear, anxiety, and anger at the administration. (Which is only continuing and expanding on previous patterns of oppression and terror as a means of controlling foreign assets - ruthless geopolitical chess; albeit, more blatantly).
What makes the term anti-american so apt a term right now, is that it is often used as a wide blanket encompassing all serious dissent.
The term anti-american, interestingly enough, is rarely used outside of america, where criticism remains largely directed towards the administration and the corporate media.
I get the sense from your posts on this topic that you are aware of some of the atrocities committed by the american government, and understand the resentment due to these acts; however, the strain of the post concerns me. It comes across as a bit nationalistic, coming to the defence of 'national character'. Nationalism, and an unconditional patriotism, are pillars of fascism - in no way am i suggesting you feel this way, just pointing out a possible conclusion when continuing in this direction of thought.
This study and refection on the history of anti-american sentiment reads very much as a desire to deflect the real issue, and the real reasons this term is of renewed importance today.

(On a side note - the Soviet Union was not a true example of communism, as the means of production were not owned by the workers, but by the state. The Soviet Union is often wrongly listed as an example of failed communism. There has never been a truly socialist state.)

(please do not construe this response as an attack, I enjoy reading your posts .. And I like a healthy exchange of thought)

(In regards to historical reading ... I would highly recommend Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States of America’. Zin is often labelled an Anti-American, while in truth he stands very much for the true american spirit of freedom and democracy (for all people). This book is paramount reading for understanding the struggle of the common american for their rights and freedoms .... )

(also, if you are interested, go to http://www.zmag.org/ZNET.htm This is a community of people interested in human rights and freedoms across the globe, and specifically in relation to american foreign policy. It is probably the most accurate ‘news’ source in the US for a ‘honest’ look at the effects of American Foreign policy. - I am sure you are aware of the problems with corporate media and their ‘selective reporting’.)

@ 11:51 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

Hi Sean,

I welcome all feedback, even an attack if diserved.

I apologize in advance for the long reply:

While some anti-Americanism may be an extension of Xenophobia, I do believe that a certain pathology of anti-Americanism in of itself does exist. We can agree to disagree about this.

I would find your assertion that the "anti" tag is prevelent only in fascist states to be false. That is of course unless you believe that a majority of the world is living under fascist dictatorship. If so, I would have to question what your definition of what a fascist state is. Further, I travel frequently (probably to 20+ different countries) and have an intimate understanding of many of the "anti" feelings that people have of one another (and labeled as such) for me to accept your statement. Rather then just rely on my word, do an internet search on "anti-Canadian, anti-Swedish, anti-Muslim, anti-anything". You might be surprised with just how much you find, and from what countries.

"The term anti-American is rarely used outside of America?"
Whether the term is used abundently or not (which is debateable in my opinion) is far less a concern as to the actual pathology of those who are offering criticism of the united states.

Regarding my nationalistic tone: No I am not a Nazi or a Fascist. I do consider myself a Patriot though (and there is a difference). Nazism and Fascism bastardized patriotism and nationalism (agreed). Fascism and Nazism established cult like figures and ideals (much like communism and/or the socialist state).
Patriotism is about the love of your country. It is about the belief in the fallable human being rising to great occassions in cultural and social development, built out of original sin.
Nazism and Fascism turned against their own citizens, their own people and their own culture. I not a proponent of such actions.

Regards of deflecting the real issues with regards to what I have written, you would have to establish what the real issues of the first three stages of anti-Americanism (as I covered) are. With regards to contemporary issues, I have made not such deflection, in fact I specifically sited that it was too soon to make any serious reflection or cast any serious opinion at this point.

Am I aware of attrocities committed by the American Government?

Attrocities? NO
Mistakes and horrible miscalculations of judgements sometimes at the expense of innocent lives? Yes

I have to save the 'attrocity' word for the 100 million lives lost under Communist Rule, the 6 million lives lost during the holocaust, the 3 million slaughtered cambodians at the hands of the North Vietnemese and the millions lost in Darfur.

The Soviet Union was not a true example of Communism? I here this a lot lately. Mostly from people who spent a great many years defending the Soviet Union, only later to recant after the true horrors had to be accepted after Khrushchev's denunciation of the crimes of Stalin and the fall of the Soviety Union. This continued championing of Socialism, absent of any real world examples is quite puzzling to me. The Utopian dream of socialism continues to be less about creating the future than it is about a war against the present.
I just ask you to ask yourself if for one moment it could be considered that Communism is the child of Marxian socialst theories? If Marx's economic theories did not work in a socialist economy, how can they be said to explain any economy? Or be the basis for criticizing any economy?

With regards to Zinn. I own this book. He begins his narrative not with the creation of the United States or the settling of North America, but rather with a long chapter of Columbus's genocide against the native inhabitants. Even if this had happeneed as Howard Zinn describes it, it was an acti committed by agents of the Spanish empire more than a centruy before the English settled North America and nearly three centruies before the creation of the United States, which is also geographically well removed from the scene of the crime. Tough way, in my honest opinion, to start any "paramount" reading. The whole book reads as an indictment of white people and the capitalist system. This from Zinn, a Stalinist in his youth. I could go on and on...

more later

@ 6:33 PM  

By Blogger mightymerk

With regards to American Foreign Policy and corporate media selective reporting:

Despite some of the errors with regards to American foreign policy I find it quite impossible to explain or discuss American foreign policy completely independent of the outside world. So while I will check Zmag out, unless I am surprised I am sure I doubt I can expect lively debate such as you and I are having.

With regards to the American Media, by what standard do you judge American Press any more obedient to the national press of other nations? By what standard do you judge the American Press any more "selective" then that of other non-corporate media outlets?

The American Press and its main stream media outlets continues to provide much of the documentation and material for which both the antiwar and anti-American movement's rely. Take for example the "Pentagon Papers" for which many Government lies during the Vietnam war were revealed. More recently the Abu Ghraib and the recent Marine killing of a wounded enemy soldier in Fallujah were all products of "corporate media".

Sean, I want tothank you for your reply. I look forward to any final comments you have on the subject and in interest in giving everybody their fair time I will let your comments stand, without further reply from me (unless of course you ask). Again, I appreciate the kind comments, questions and critiques. It is clear you are an actively involved individual who cares. I by no means think everything you have said is completely invalid, but I feel some perspective also needed to be brought into the picture.

Let's get your blog updated man! You are a creative individual!!

@ 7:57 PM  

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