Anti-Americanism, by Paul Johnson

Anti-Americanism is Racist Envy

Paul Johnson, Brits historicus en auteur
Anti-Americanism is the prevailing disease of intellectuals today. Like other diseases, it doesn't have to be logical or rational. But, like other diseases, it has a syndrome--a concurrent set of underlying symptoms that are also causes.

• First, an unadmitted contempt for democracy. The U.S. is the world's most successful democracy. The right of voters to elect more than 80,000 public officials, the length and thoroughness of electoral campaigns, the pervasiveness of the media and the almost daily reports by opinion polls ensure that government and electorate do not diverge for long and that Washington generally reflects the majority opinion in its actions.

It is this feature that intellectuals--especially in Europe--find embittering. They know they must genuflect to democracy as a system. They cannot openly admit that an entire people--especially one comprising nearly 300 million, who enjoy all the freedoms-- can be mistaken. But in their hearts these intellectuals do not accept the principle of one person, one vote. They scornfully, if privately, reject the notion that a farmer in Kansas, a miner in Pennsylvania or an auto assembler in Michigan can carry as much social and moral weight as they do. In fact, they have a special derogatory word for anyone who acts on this assumption: "populist." A populist is someone who accepts the people's verdict, even--and especially--when it runs counter to the intellectual consensus (as with capital punishment, for example). In the jargon of intellectual persiflage, populism is almost as bad as fascism--indeed, it's a step toward it. Hence, the argument goes, the U.S. is not so much an "educated democracy" as it is a mediaswayed and interest-group-controlled populist regime.

The truth is, on the European Continent there is little experience of working democracy. Italy and Germany have had democracy only since the late 1940s; Spain, since the 1960s. France is not a democracy; it is a republic run by bureaucratic and party elites, whose errors are dealt with by strikes, street riots and blockades instead of by votes. Elements of the French system are being imposed throughout the EU, even in countries such as Denmark and Sweden that have long practiced democracy with success. In a French-style pseudodemocracy, intellectuals have considerable influence, at both government and street levels. In a true democracy, intellectuals are no more powerful than their arguments.

• Second, anti-Americanism is a function of cultural racism. An astonishingly high proportion of European elites know very little about U.S. history or culture and even deny that they have a separate existence apart from their European roots. It is strange that those seeking to bring about a European federal state or union have at no stage sought to study the lessons Americans learned during the creation of the U.S. in the 1780s. After all, the U.S. Constitution (suitably amended) has lasted for more than 200 years, and within its framework the country has emerged as the richest and most powerful society in world history. You might think, therefore, that European elites would seek to learn something from such a successful process. Not at all: The view is that sophisticated, civilized Europe has nothing to learn from "adolescent" America. What these Euro-elites particularly abhor is the way in which the framers of the Constitution made every effort to involve the population through the process of public debates, town meetings and ratification votes--and this at a time when Europe was still governed (for the most part) by the absolute sovereigns of the ancien régime.

This cultural racism is particularly directed at the supposedly "know-nothing" President George W. Bush and his "gung ho" Texas background. The European intelligentsia gets its notion of America chiefly from Hollywood, TV soaps like Dallas and fiction. Few of them have any experience of America, outside of three or four big cities. Middle America is unexplored territory. The fact that the U.S. has proved a highly efficient crucible for melding different peoples into a human sum greater than its constituent parts is seen as a misfortune in Europe because it produces a cultural stew that lacks purity of any kind and is therefore at the mercy of commercial forces.

• Third, European elites tend to look at Americans as a subcivilized mass, whose function is to be obedient consumers in a system run by big business. The role of competition in U.S. economic life--and in every other aspect of life--is ignored, because competition is something Continental Europeans like to keep to a minimum and under careful control.

Although Americans are seen as highly materialistic consumers, they are also despised and feared for their spiritual interests, their participation in religious worship and their subscription to creeds of morality. Europeans see no inconsistency in their condemnation of the U.S. for being at one and the same time paganly unethical and morally zealous.

The truth is, any accusation that comes to hand is used without scruple by the Old World intelligentsia. Anti-Americanism is factually absurd, contradictory, racist, crude, childish, selfdefeating and, at bottom, nonsensical. It is based on the powerful but irrational impulse of envy-- an envy of American wealth, power, success and determination. It is an envy made all the more poisonous because of a fearful European conviction that America's strength is rising while Europe's is falling.

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(copyright Jeroen Thibaut (& Paul Johnson)-- 2005)