Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Rancor

The last of three telling extracts from Andrei S. Markovits’ Uncouth Nation:

This rancor against Europe in American mass public opinion is of a completely different magnitude from anti—Americanism in Europe. In American politics and society; Europe is—if anything—a sporadic and insignificant element of the public discourse. For most Americans, Europe as such is a lovely vacation spot, something fine, quite tasteful, old, safely remote, and—basically—a matter of indifference. Surely this very indifference provides additional grounds flir Europeans’ anti—Americanism, since it intensifies the European notion of Americans’ narrow—mindedness. But, above all, this American disinterest offends European pride. It is, as everybody knows, worse when one is not hated but simply ignored.

Even linguistically there is no American counterpart to the European concept of “anti-Americanism” The word “anti—Europeanism” certainly exists as a concept, but except for the Europhile readers of the New York Review of Books, this is an almost unknown, and above all unused, concept for most Americans.49 Until the very current debate conducted on both sides of the Atlantic about anti— Americanism, the term “anti-Europeanism” did not really exist. Chat these two terms—and by implication their social reality as well - do not have at all the same weight in their respective historical anti-societal contexts is demonstrated by the following bit of Internet research: if one enters “anti—Europeanism” into Proquest, a search engine for scholarly journals and papers of record in Great Britain and the United States, 669 entries appear. For “anti—Americanism” the tally comes to 14,170. Google yields 2,420 entries fir “anti-Europeanism” hut 1 [6,000 for “anti—Americanism,” which in the world of search engines is the equivalent of “no longer countable.” Gerard Baker performed a similar experiment with Yahoo. Entering “anti—Europeanism in America,” begot 358 items. But “anti-Americanism in Europe” gave him 21,400, whereby the round number, as Baker properly notes, is simply Yahoo’s way of reporting “we haven’t got a clue how many are out there hut here’s the first hatch.”
This is confirmed by Herbert j. Spiro’s research. In a historically oriented essay about anti-Americanism in Western Europe, Spiro writes that expressions like “anti-Europism” or “anti-Europeanism” do not occur in either American linguistic usage or ways of thinking.’ This does not mean that even the slightest anti-Europeanism in the United States should be tolerated or justified. But to equate it with the phenomenon of European anti-Americanism would simply be wrong, both analytically and politically. The former is the temporary, marginal affair of conservative Bush fans who make themselves look laughable before the American public with things like “freedom fries,” while the latter is a resentment occurring on the entire European continent whose potential for politics and society is becoming clearer with each passing day. Gerard Baker wrote the following perceptive passage about this issue:

I will wager that, rough as the diplomatic road may get with the Europeans, no American will throw a brick through the gaslit windows of bijou brasserie chains in the Midwest, or carve rude messages about German labor-market rigidity into the back of a Porsche 944,
For even’ Euro-hater in the conservative establishment there arc. at least half a dozen Americans ready to laud Europe. The cultural elite still likes to decry US TV and it longs for the virtues of British television, blissfully unaware that almost every piece of trash on American TV screens -from American Idol to I’m a Celebrity, Get lie Out of Here - has a British provenance Many will chatter fondly about French cinema—though I doubt any of them has actually seen a French film since Belle de Jour. You can still reduce Americans to whispering awe by telling them that you attended Oxford or the Sorbonne, even though the average State University of Wherever knocks the best European academic institutions into a cocked hat. And they might scoff at the nonsense of medieval pageantry but they will roil over like a royal corgi at the prospect of an honorary gong. And it is not just the National Public Radio—listening, Chablis—swilling, cosmopolitan elite of Washington and New York I am talking about, either. out in the great heartland, you will find attitudes to Europe that are far from hostile.

The phenomenon is well captured by die words of Paul Lee, chief operating officer of BBC America: “There is no door you can’t open [in America] with a British accent.”