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The Domestic Sources of European Anti‐Americanism

  • Sergio Fabbrini (a1)

The Terrorist Attacks In New York And Washington Dc On 11 September 2001, and the killing of thousands of people were not sufficient to dispel a mood of suspicion in European public opinion towards America. Of course, during the very first days after the attack, there was widespread grief and sorrow about the event among Europeans. But, as soon as discussion on the right strategy to pursu to combat terrorism began, the initial mood of identification with America started to change. And when America, although backed by a large international coalition and legitimated by two UN resolutions, moved towards an armed intervention in Afghanistan, European anti-Americanism emerged again. Thus, during the armed intervention in Afghanistan, especially when the bombing led to the death of innocent victims, a social mobilization against the American war grew day after day, with its critics apparently losing sight of the fact that a dramatic terrorist attack on America had recently taken place.

The interesting question is why does anti-Americanism re-emerge regularly in large sections of European public opinion? This intermittent Anti-Americanism appears more in southern and continental Europe, than in the northern British Isles and Scandinavia, where it is outdone by a more vociferous anti-Europeanism. In the latter countries, anti-Americanism takes the form of uneasiness with the United States. In fact, in spite of Britain's traditional special relationship with the United States, the fact cannot be denied that post-war British elites grudgingly accept their inferior status in that special relationship. But, of course, frustration with America is not the same as anger towards America. In any case, in (continental) Europe, anti- Americanism seems to be one of the few public philosophies that can unite large sections of the left, the right and the Catholic Church. It is a public philosophy which emerges especially in periods of war (and of international crisis in general).

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1 Meunier, Sophie, ‘The French Exception’, Foreign Affairs, 79:4 (2000), p. 106.

2 The article, originally published in Le Monde, was extensively quoted by Frank Viviano, ‘Bitter Debate in Europe on US Role. Washington’s Dominance of Nato Creates Waves of Anti-Americanism’, San Francisco Chronicle, 15 April 1999.

3 ‘Anthony Giddens and Will Hutton in Conversation’, in Hutton, W. and Giddens, A. (eds), Global Capitalism, New York, The New York Press, 2000, p. 15 .

4 Ibid., p. 34.

5 See for a critique of the ‘plebiscitary’ interpretation of American democracy Fabbrini, S., ‘American Democracy from a European Perspective’, Annual Review of Political Science, 2 (1999).

6 Consider the tragedy which occurred in the Italian ski station of Cermis (Cavalese, Trentino) in 1997 (when an American airforce plane deliberately flying off course sliced through the cables of a cabin-car carrying skiers, causing dozens of deaths and injuries). The Italian press, besides rightly criticizing the unjust sentence handed down by an American court martial in 1999, which cleared the pilots of serious offences, repeatedly attacked President Clinton for not keeping his promise of compensation to the families of the victims (the relative item of expenditure had been cut by the Congress budget committee). The press was entirely ignorant of the fact that the American budget is decided by the House of Representatives (and not by the president, nor by the other branch of the legislature, the Senate), and also that the House was controlled (when the decision was taken) by the rival party to the president’s. In short, the outcry was justified, but not the ignorance of the basic notions of the separation of powers that accompanied it.

7 See Wood, Gordon S., The Radicalism of the American Revolution, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1992 .

8 Indeed, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out (in Democracy in America, edited by J. P. Mayer, New York, Garden Books, 1969, p. 114), since ‘(t)he new federal government took up its duties in 1789’, one may say that ‘the American Revolution ended exactly when ours (the French. n.d.r.) began’.

9 de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America, op. cit., p. 241.

10 Wiebe, Robert H., in an amusing chapter entitled ‘The Barbarians’ (in his Self Rule. A Cultural History of American Democracy, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995 ) draws on travel diaries and letters as well as the literature published in the course of the nineteenth century to provide a detailed survey of the interpretation of homo americanus by (aristocratic) Europeans). There is little difference between that literature and a certain type of journalism today. For both the Americans depicted are uncouth and ill-mannered. What essential difference is there between the lofty disdain shown by the well-educated English lady, Marie Lundie Duncan, when she expresses in her America as I Find It, 1852 (cit. in Wiebe, op.cit., p. 45) her disdain for a society ‘(w)here a scavanger was a gentleman and a whore was a lady’ and that of many European cultural correspondents in the United States when they report snobbishly on the habit of Americans to call by first name and eat hot dogs.

11 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, op. cit., p. 186.

12 See Kazin, Michael, The Populist Persuasion, New York, Basic Books, 1995 .

13 See Bobbio, Norberto, Sinistra e destra, Rome, Donzelli, 1994 .

14 Walzer, Michael, What It Means To Be An American. Essays On The American Experience, New York, Marsilio, 1996, p. 108 .

15 Bellah, R. N., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985 ; and Wald, K. D., Religion and Politics in the United States, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1987 .

16 Lipset, Seymour M., American Exceptionalism. A Double-Edged Sword, New York, W. W. Norton, 1996, p. 19 .

17 Walzer, Michael, On Toleration, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1999, p. 67 .

18 Lipset, Seymour M., American Exceptionalism, op. cit., pp. 62–3.

19 3 September 2000.

20 Waltz, Kenneth N., ‘Globalisation and Governance: The James Madison Lecture’, PS: Political Science and Politics, 32:4 (1999).

21 Kenneth N. Waltz, ‘Globalisation and Governance’, ibid., p. 699.

22 Badie, Bernard, Un monde sans souvraineté, Paris, Fayard, 1998 .

23 Sanders, Christopher, America’s Overseas Garrisons. The Leasehold Empire, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 323 .

24 John Ikenberry, C., ‘Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Persistence of American Postwar Order’, International Security, 23:3 (1998), p. 47 .

25 Waltz, Kenneth N., ‘America as a Model for the World’, PS: Political Science and Politics, 24:4 (1991).

26 Philippe C. Schmitter, How to Democratize the European Union and … Why Bother?, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, ch. 3, note 33.

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