CultureWatch

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A review of Anti-Americanism. By Jean-Francois Revel.

Sep 26, 2004

Encounter Books, 2003.

Revel is a bit of a rarity: he is a French intellectual who does not hate America. Unlike many of his elitist countrymen, he actually believes that all things considered, America has been a force for good in the world. In this regard he does have some French predecessors, most notably de Tocqueville.

Revel, a conservative social commentator, has written some important volumes in the past few decades. He penned The Totalitarian Temptation in 1976, and How Democracies Perish in 1984. However this volume most closely resembles his best-selling Without Marx or Jesus (1970). In it he argued that Europeans and others have an irrational dislike of America, and much of the revulsion is based not on fact nor evidence, but on a priori perceptions and dislikes.

This theme has been treated by others of course. Paul Hollander’s 1991 volume by the same title comes to mind. But for a European to write such a volume, and a Frenchman at that, makes this book even more note-worthy. He makes several salient points along the way. First, much of the anti-Americanism is due to a person’s willingness to be disinformed. Psychological and ideological imperatives have simply trumped the evidence.

Second, much of the French and European dislike of America is fuelled by their own shortcomings and failures. That is, the very fact that America, not Europe, is today the sole super-power is in many ways due to the failings and weaknesses of Europe itself.

Third, much of the criticism levelled at the US is duplicitous, given that those making the charges are often guilty of the same ills, and worse.

Never mind that it was in Europe that the last two World Wars broke out. Never mind that it was Europe that had its share of dictatorships, unlike America. Never mind that it was Europe that spawned the two most oppressive ideologies of recent history: Nazism and Communism. It is much easier to make America the scapegoat for the sins of the world than to face up to one’s own shortcomings and deficiencies.

Revel of course acknowledges that America has made many mistakes, just as all nations have. But he rightly points out that there is a difference between being critical of the US and being anti-American. Balanced and fair-minded critiques are always required. But anti-Americanism is as irrational as it is pathological. The truth is, for all its faults, the US has done many praise-worthy and valuable things, both at home and abroad.

For example, it was the hard-headed political realism of Reagan (along with Thatcher), coupled with cruise missiles in Europe and the threat of the SDI that finally tipped Communism over the edge. Of course its own internal economic failings also played a role. But for all the criticism Europeans and others made of Reagan’s tough stance against Soviet imperialism, in the end it proved to be wonderfully successful and prophetically correct.

America’s newer fight against terror is another case in point. Revel reminds us that appeasement and wishful thinking have never stopped terrorists before. Just as Europe tried (and failed miserably) to appease Hitler seven decades ago, so today many are seeking to negotiate and reason with the terrorists. But, says Revel, the Islamist terrorists do not just hate the West for what it does but for what it is. Until the entire world is under Sharia law, there can be no peace. But muddle-headed European (and other) politicians want to pin the blame on global economic disparities or the Palestinian issue.

Or take globalisation, another pet hate of the Left. The truth is, it is market globalisation that the Left despises. They are quite happy with their own versions of globalisation, such as a world government administered by the UN. And of course Muslim extremists also favour globalisation, in the form of a worldwide Muslim state.

Revel shows how globalisation has preceded the US, and how it has tended to have beneficial results. Those cultures exposed to it were strengthened, and not swallowed up, such as when ancient Greece, sixteenth century Italy, eighteenth century France or nineteenth century England extended their dominions.

The US has made many mistakes, acknowledges Revel. But it has also done tremendous amounts of good. The rabid anti-Americanism so much evident in parts of Europe and elsewhere do not spring from a sober and realistic appraisal of the evidence, but of prejudices of presuppositions. A major reappraisal of the facts is urgently required, and this book is a very good place to begin.

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