The Paradoxes of Anti-Americanism

The Paradoxes of Anti-Americanism

Pascal Bruckner explores anti-Americanism in Europe

Interviewed by Philip Roth, Saul Bellow recounted a particular episode in his career, his move to Paris in 1948:

OK, the Americans had liberated Paris, now it was time for Paris to do something for me. The city lay under a black depression . . . . The gloom everywhere was heavy and vile. The Seine looked and smelled like some medical mixture. Bread and coal were still being rationed. The French hated us. I had a Jewish explanation for this: bad conscience. Not only had they been overrun by the Germans in three weeks, but they had collaborated. Vichy had made them cynical. They pretended that there was a vast underground throughout the war, but the fact seemed to be that they had spent the war years scrounging for food in the countryside. And these fuckers were also patriots. La France had been humiliated and it was all the fault of their liberators, the Brits and the GIs.

In Europe, especially in France, anti-Americanism fundamentally structures political life and thought. In its most extreme forms, it embodies a whole way of interpreting the world. Explanation by means of America offers us the vertiginous feeling of the panoramic and allows us to embrace the totality of the real.

If America didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it: upon what other convenient scapegoat could we so conveniently load our sins and dump our garbage? Where else would we find such a place to whitewash the crimes of the planet, since anything that goes wrong on earth, from global warming to terrorism, can be laid at America’s door? It’s a stroke of good luck for a dictatorship or a criminal gang finally to be chased down and singled out by the United States. It gains them immediate sympathy, the goodwill of all for whom, in Chris Patten’s words, “the only authorized racism in the modern world is anti-Americanism.” We don’t doubt it for a moment: if the June 1944 landings were happening today, Uncle Adolf would enjoy the sympathy of innumerable patriots and radicals of the extreme left with the excuse that Uncle Sam was aiming to crush them.

Let’s immediately dispose of one paradox: anti-Americanism is not a critique of America, of its faults or its crimes. As any democracy and especially as a superpower that uses and abuses its power, the United States is eminently criticizable—and Americans don’t deprive themselves of the opportunity to do so when it arises. In the same vein, let’s not confuse anti-Americanism with hostility to George Bush, that unpopular ambassador of freedom, whose style, a mixture of militant bigotry and exalted messianism, has earned him near-universal antipathy. As long as his administration remains in power and carries the burdens of a semi-failure in Iraq...

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