Gloria global Research in International Affairs Center

Download 0.89 Mb.
Size0.89 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   23


Global Research in International Affairs Center

Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center

Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, PO Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel

Tel: +972-9-960-2736 Fax: +972-9-956-8605

url: email:

The Loathing of America
Edited by

Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin

Table of Contents
The Loathing of America: Anti-Americanism Old and New

Table of Contents 



1: Judith Colp Rubin, Degenerates, Bores and Materialists

2: Mark Falcoff, Latin America: The Rise and Fall of Yankee Go Home 


3: Stefani Hoffman, No Love From Russia

4: Fiamma Nirenstein, Anti-Americanism Italian Style
5: Bret Stephens, United and Divided Against America
6: Yossi Klein Halevi, Twin Hatreds: Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitisim


7: Josh Pollack, Total Opposites: Saudia Arabia and America

8: Hillel Frisch, The Palestinian Media and Anti-Americanism: A Case Study
9: Cameron Brown, Middle East Anti-Americanism: September 11 and Beyond


10: Reuven Paz, The Islamist Perspective 

11: Patrick Clawson, Big Satan No More: Iranians’ View of America   
12: Adel Darwish, Arab Media: Purveying Anti-Americanism

13: Abdel Mahdi Abdallah, Anti-Americanism in the Arab World: A Socio-Political Perspective

14: Robert Lieber, Why Do They Hate Us and Why Do They Love Us.


15: Barry Rubin, The Usefulness of Anti-Americanism


For many Americans, anti-Americanism was once a topic solely of interest to some diplomats and academics, a phenomenon thought to be confined to a few distant and radical countries. The United States was, its citizens believed, loved and admired throughout most of the world for her democratic values.

This seemed especially likely to be true in the aftermath of the half-century-long Cold War, which ended in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the apparent gratitude of those liberated from Communism, and the spread of democracy to Eastern Europe seemed the utmost vindication of the principles for which Americans had fought for so long.

At first, the events of September 11, 2001, when over 3000 people were killed in direct terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, seemed likely to further a pro-American trend. Of course, it was horrifying to perceive the intense hatred of the United States that had inspired these actions. Yet surely the global revulsion to an essentially unprovoked assault of this nature was spreading a wave of pro-American sentiment almost everywhere.

Soon, however, it became clear that many of the reactions to this event were almost as disturbing as the attack itself. Although many in the world sympathized with America this response was often accompanied by reservations. Even worse, many others responded by suggesting that the United States somehow deserved it.

Such sentiments were not only expressed in the Arab or Muslim world but also by many influential individuals and public opinion polls in European countries which Americans considered to be allies. This anti-Americanism only increased as America sent troops to Afghanistan, to catch the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks and their protectors, and prepared for a war in Iraq that ultimately took place in 2003.

Understanding the roots and depths of such anti-Americanism suddenly became a top national priority, a task taken up by this book.

It should be crystal clear that anti-Americanism here is not defined as opposition or criticism to specific U.S. policies or actions. Such divergent views are understandable and at times quite justified. We define as anti-Americanism something much broader, more pernicious, and inaccurate, as including one or more of the following characteristics:

--An antagonism to the United States that is systemic, seeing that country as completely or inevitably evil.

--A view that greatly exaggerates America’s shortcomings

--The deliberate misrepresentation of the nature or policies of the United States for political purposes.

--A misperception of American society, policies, or goals which falsely portrays them as ridiculous or malevolent

--A hatred for the United States which leads to a desire to slander or injure it and its citizens.

Understanding that anti-Americanism is not a new phenomenon is the goal of the first part of this book. In “Degenerates, Bores and Materialists,” (Chapter One) Judith Colp Rubin describes how anti-Americanism began in Europe, even before the United States became a country, with a belief that the land of the New World was intrinsically inferior to that of Europe. After the United States won its freedom from England, anti-Americanism in nineteenth-century Europe focused on the lack of culture, inferiority of democracy and excessive materialism–criticisms that are still made today.

After Europe, the first anti-American region was Latin America. Here anti-Americanism was motivated by American interventionism. But as Mark Falcoff describes in “Latin America: The Rise and Fall of Yankee Go Home,” (Chapter Two) this was far from the only cause. Other factors included perceptions of the United States imported from elitist French culture, an exaggerated blame of all local problems on America, and a belief that its people and society were inferior to those of Latin America. In recent years, a resurgence of democracy in Latin America and growing links with the United States—including a large immigrant community there—has turned the region into one of the less anti-American portions of the globe.

Not so in Russia, as Stefani Hoffman writes in “No Love From Russia,” (Chapter Three). Despite the Cold War’s end and the absence of Communist propaganda both of these factors have left a bitter legacy. Hatred of America is now employed to justify Russian failures and to build a new national identity.

The enhanced U.S. role as the world’s only superpower has revived and expanded European anti-Americanism. This is demonstrated by Fiamma Nirenstein in “Anti-Americanism Italian Style,” (Chapter Four) as traditional Fascist, Communist, and Catholic influences have been reshaped by the forces of European unity and the anti-globalism movement. Bret Stephens describes in “United and Divided Against America,” (Chapter Five), how the gap between European and American has widened so much that Germany and France have become among the world’s top anti-Americanism exporting countries.

One aspect of anti-Americanism shared in both Europe and the Middle East is characterized by Yossi Klein Halevi in “Twin Hatreds: Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism” (Chapter Six). While these two “satans” are often directly linked, the antagonism is rooted in such themes as jealousy of their success, contempt toward them as inferior, suspicion at their providing alternatives to traditional ways, and many other features. The results are conspiracy theories which have been given a remarkable degree of credence that they are united in a drive for world conquest.

Europe notwithstanding, nowhere can anti-America compare in its virulence to the Middle East, especially following the end of the Cold War. One of those countries where it is at its strongest is Saudi Arabia, from where fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers hailed. Josh Pollack in “Total Opposites: Saudi Arabia and America” (Chapter Seven), points to the vast divergences between the two societies as one key factor.

Similar forces are at work in the Palestinian Authority (PA), where anti-Americanism is promulgated by governmental institutions and the regime-controlled media, according to Hillel Frisch in “The Palestinian Media and Anti-Americanism: A Case Study” (Chapter Eight). This is especially ironic given the fact that the PA was a virtual creation of the United States, which provided its funding and offered it an independent state on advantageous terms.

Given the key roles of the September 11 attacks and the ensuing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cameron Brown--in “Middle East Anti-Americanism: September 11 and After” (Chapter Nine)—provides a detailed analysis of responses to these events. Newspapers grossly distorted U.S. policies and actions while promoting conspiracy theories blaming the United States for the terrorism of which it was the victim.

One of the main factors behind these developments was a new theory and strategy by radical Islamist groups, seeking jihad against America. The United States is viewed as an enemy of God and Islam which must be defeated in order to bring the global triumph of Muslims. Reuven Paz in “The Islamist Perspective” (Chapter Ten), shows how these forces view the United States and how promoting anti-Americanism is a centerpiece of their strategy.

In contrast, the world’s only country with a radical Islamist regime, Iran, has been undergoing a pro-American trend among its people, according to Patrick Clawson in “Big Satan No More: Iranians’ View of America,” (Chapter Eleven).

Changing opinions about the United States in the rest of the Middle East will be more difficult as the shape and forms of anti-Americanism in the Arabic language media is all-encompassing, as Adel Darwish writes in Arab Media: Purveying Anti-Americanism,” (Chapter Twelve). Abdel Mahdi Abdallah in “Why They Hate U.S.: An Arab Perspective” (Chapter Thirteen), gives the Arab perception of disliking America based on U.S. political, economic and military support of Israel, air strikes and sanctions against some Arab countries, occupation of Iraq, support for undemocratic Arab regimes, military bases in several Arab countries, and according to some critics, a perceived U.S. campaign against Islam and its own citizens of Arab and Islamic origin.

But in “Why Do They Hate Us and Why Do They Love Us (Chapter Fourteen), Robert J. Lieber argues that support for Israel is one of several flawed explanations for anti-Americanism since attacks against the United States too place after despite the inaccuracy or hollowness of such charges.

Moreover, an extremely important but usually neglected aspect of anti-Americanism is its political usefulness for radical movements and dictatorships seeking to seize or maintain their power, explains Barry Rubin, “The Usefulness of Anti-Americanism” (Chapter Fifteen). He suggests that anti-Americanism be examined in practical terms as an ideological instrument which is very useful as scapegoat and distraction from the domestic or foreign policy failures of others.

This book is based on the papers presented for a project of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC). This project was made possible by a generous grant by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation for which the Center is most grateful.

We also wish to thank those staff members who ensured this project’s success, especially Cameron Brown and Joy Pincus.



By Judith Colp Rubin

In 1831, a young German-speaking, Hungarian poet came to the United States in search of all the values that were drawing thousands of emigrants to this new country. Nikolas Lenau, the so-called German Byron famous for his melancholy moods and lyrics, believed that America would be a beacon of liberty in contrast to a Europe caught in the toils of monarchist repression. But after becoming ill and losing money on property he bought in Ohio, Lenau became disillusioned about the American life. Lenau poured these feelings about America into letters to friends back home which were later published in a book and was also the inspiration for a bestselling German novel. The novel told of a German poet in America who finds the people there to be egotistical, materialistic, vulgar, and immature braggarts who lacked civilization, religion, freedom or equality.1 Lenau eventually returned to Europe “cured…of the chimera of freedom and independence that I had longed for with youthful enthusiasm.”2

Much of Lenau’s dislike was attributed to what he perceived as the inferiority of nature in the New World. As one who had captured birds in Europe to keep them as pets, the poet viewed the absence of songbirds or nightingales to be a symbol of spiritual poverty. “I have not yet seen a courageous dog, a fiery horse, or a man full of passion. Nature is terribly languid,” he wrote his brother-in-law. “There are no nightingales, indeed there are no real songbirds at all.”3

There was, however, one terribly ironic detail of his life that Lenau kept from his readers. He had never intended to emigrate to America but merely went there to invest in property he could lease out. The critic who had castigated America for being in the toils of an avaricious materialism had gone there to cash in for himself.4 Still such facts did not prevent the poet from influencing many in Europe about America. It wasn’t long before British poet John Keats, who had never been in America, called the country “that most hateful” and “monstrous” land because, the author of “Ode to a Nightingale,” complained, it had flowers without scent and birds without song.5

In maintaining that there was something wrong with America, something that repelled the sweet-sounding bird, Lenau was influenced by the degeneration theory – the first version of anti-Americanism. According to degeneration, living things in America were intrinsically inferior to Europe. The basic ideas of degeneracy theory would be discredited and forgotten. Yet that concept would continue to be the basis, a subbasement in effect, for the nagging proposition that perhaps what eventually became the United States was somehow innately bad, or a lesser place entirely. It would find support among such prominent thinkers as Germany’s three greatest philosophers of the era – Immanuel Kant, G.W.F Hegel and Friedrich von Schlegel-- and even the father of evolution, Charles Darwin.

It was not surprising that the very first debate on America, long before the United States existed, was over whether civilization was possible there at all. America was a land before it was a society or country. It was a strange and mysterious place, virtually the first entirely new land Europe had discovered since beginning its own civilization. It was almost like finding an entirely different planet. It seemed likely that not only would the climate, soil, and other features have different effects on human beings, but that it was doomed and destined to be clearly inferior to Europe.

The first thought of eighteenth and nineteenth century European science, then in its own infancy and much taken by ideas of innate and permanent characteristics, was that there was something “degenerate” about North America, lacking even the level of development of the Aztec or Inca empires of South America, which made it innately inferior. Why were those in this land inferior? Were they cursed by the lack of proper religion, some racial handicap, or an environmental deficiency? In a real sense, the last explanation was the most progressive and fair-minded since it did not blame the Native Americans for their backwardness but posited that they were instead victims of their environment. Indeed, the theory predicted that the same plight would strike white Europeans who tried to settle this country.

This was no abstract or marginal debate. It involved the best minds of Europe, the leading naturalists, scientists and philosophers of the day. Why, for example, European thinkers asked, was the American continent so sparsely populated? Didn’t this imply it lacked the essential requirements for human life? And even if America could eventually be civilized, this task just beginning would require, as it had in Europe, countless generations to achieve. Moreover, they added, in Europe nature was fairly benign and assisted man, while in America such features as hurricanes, floods, lightning storms, poisonous snakes, deadly insects, and epidemic diseases were a wild force which would have to be conquered with great difficulty.

Providing answers to such questions was the Frenchman, Georges Louis LeClerc, the Count de Buffon. Although now largely forgotten, Buffon was considered to be the greatest biologist and naturalist of his time whose works were widely read and quoted. In 1739 Buffon was elected to the prestigious Academy of Sciences and became director of the Royal Botanical Garden, making him officially the country’s top botanist.6 During the 1740s, Buffon produced his greatest work, a multi-volume natural history that was supposed to summarize all human knowledge about geology, zoology, and botany. Every known animal, for example, was described in great detail. When the first three volumes were finally published in 1749 they were translated into every European language and Buffon became an international celebrity. In honor of his accomplishments, the king made him a count in 1771.

Aside from classifying animals, vegetables, and minerals, Buffon also divided humanity into different subgroups along racial lines. Each type of mankind, he believed, had originated in a single species but been modified by the climate, diet, and physical conditions in which they lived. Of course, there was merit to this analysis but it was also based on very little fieldwork and much erroneous information.

Buffon, who never visited America, insisted that nature there was, “Much less varied and we may even say less strong.”7 Writing without knowledge of the buffalo and grizzly bear, Buffon claimed that the biggest American animals were “four, six, eight, and ten times” smaller than those of Europe or Africa. There was nothing to compare to the hippopotamus, elephant, or giraffe.8 Even if the same animal could be found in the old and new worlds, the version in the former was better. The puma­­­­­­­­--the American equivalent of the lion--was “smaller, weaker, and more cowardly than the real lion.”9

The real proof that the very land and air of America was degenerate, Buffon claimed, was that “all the animals which have been transported from Europe to America--like the horse, ass, sheep, goat, hog, etc, have become smaller” and those found in both continents—like the wolf or elk—were also second-rate imitations.10

What went for animals also applied to people. The Native American “is feeble and small in his organs of generation; he has neither body hair nor beard nor ardor for his female; although swifter than the European because he is better accustomed to running, he is, on the other hand, less strong in body; he is also less sensitive, and yet more timid and more cowardly; he has no vivacity, no activity of mind…,” Buffon wrote. In sum, using phrases like those applied by anti-Americans two centuries later to the people of the United States, he concluded, “Their heart is frozen, their society cold, their empire cruel.”11

What caused this degeneration? Buffon thought it due to the New World’s being too cold and humid. While never inhaling a breath in America, he concluded that the air and earth were permeated with “moist and poisonous vapors” which created a “cold mass” unable to give proper nourishment except to snakes and insects.12 He suggested that European colonists could solve these problems by controlling the wild force of nature, but his disciples interpreted Buffon as saying there was no hope of improving such an unwholesome place. Although it had less effect in discouraging immigration, this negative thesis was repeated by scores of other writers.

The great French philosopher Voltaire believed the American climate and environment were inimical to human life and criticized France’s wars there to obtain “a few acres of snow.”13 Even Peter Kalm, a meticulous and apolitical observer sent by the Royal Swedish Academy on a three-year study trip to America in 1748, described how cattle brought from England became smaller. Though he acknowledged that many of the settlers were robust, he also said they had shorter life spans than Europeans and women ceased having children earlier. Compared to Europeans, the Americans were less hardy. Perhaps, he surmised, this was due to the constantly changing weather, boiling hot one day, very cold the next day, and with a surfeit of insects.14

The first really deliberate anti-American was probably Abbe Cornelius De Pauw. Born in Holland in 1739 he spent most of his life in Germany at the court of the Prussian king in Berlin. Somehow, De Pauw, who like Buffon never visited America, became Europe’s first expert on that land, following publication of his book, Philosophical Research on the Americans, in 1768. It was a big hit in both Germany and France. Like later anti-Americans, he had a hidden agenda. DePauw was a supporter of the Prussian ruler King Frederick II who was engaged in a systematic effort to stop the emigration of Germans to America, where they would become British subjects and enrich that rival country. In this manner, Prussia became the world’s first state sponsor of anti-Americanism.

Echoing Buffon, De Pauw wrote that not only were animals in America smaller than in Europe, they were of “inelegant size” and “badly formed.” When animals were brought over from Europe, they became “stunted; their height shrank and their instinct and character were diminished by half.”15 Indeed, everything in America was “either degenerate or monstrous.” The natives were cowardly and impotent. They were so weak “that in a fight the weakest European could crush them with ease.” The women quickly became infertile and their children lost all interest and ability to learn.16

In France, Abbe Guilluame Thomas Francois Raynal, a Jesuit priest, teacher, economist and philosopher, took De Pauw’s arguments a step further in his own history of the Western hemisphere in the 1770s which eventually went through twenty authorized editions and another twenty pirated ones. “Nature,” explained Raynal, “has strangely neglected the New World.” English settlers in America “visibly degenerated.” Not only did they have “less strength and less courage” but were also—he words this quite delicately—rather lacking in the art of love, tending to be impotent and immature in this regard.17

According to Raynal, the brains of Americans were also affected by the environment, being incapable of prolonged thought. In one of the many contemporary remarks that reappear frequently in anti-American discourse, Raynal said that Americans acted like those “who have not yet arrived to the age of puberty.” Why, he asked, had America failed to produce a single good poet, mathematician or any superior person in art or science whatsoever? Granted, he explained, Americans were precocious but then they soon slowed down and fell far behind their European counterparts.18

Raynal justified his arguments by what could later be termed anti-imperialist sentiment. The European construction of empires had brought death, disease, slavery, and destruction to the innocent natives of the Western Hemisphere. The discovery of America was a mistake, he insisted, and personally underwrote an essay contest on whether America was “a blessing or a curse to mankind.”19 Since America was the child of such evil imperialism, Raynal insisted, nothing good could come of it.

As one can well imagine, these prejudices did more than the weather to drive Americans crazy. Benjamin Franklin, whose entire life was a refutation of the degeneration theory, wrote a book in 1755, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, proving that America’s population was thriving not decaying. At a banquet he held at his home in Paris in February 1778 when he was U.S. ambassador, Franklin asked all the guests to stand against a wall in order to see who had really “degenerated.” All of the eighteen Americans were taller than the eighteen Europeans there. And, in the most delicious conceivable irony, the shortest of them all—“a mere shrimp” in Franklin’s words—was Raynal himself, the main champion of the claim that Europeans were physically superior!20 Franklin’s successor in Paris, Thomas Jefferson, compiled weather records to show that America was not so cold and wet. In 1787, he had a moose shot in New Hampshire and shipped to France, where he was ambassador, so it could be stuffed and mounted in the lobby of his hotel to illustrate the large size of American animals.

Buffon, who retreated from the view of degeneration he had started, and Raynal who admitted that education was spreading in America, that children were well brought up, and that Americans had more leisure to develop their intellects than Europeans were persuaded by these men.21

However, the degeneration theory did not disappear entirely. But by the 1830s, with the United States a political reality, the American character was replacing the American climate as the focus of explanation regarding its inferiority. Increasingly, stress was placed on the idea that the American democratic experiment was a failure, leading to a degraded society and culture.

The United States was a revolutionary experiment, a new type of country with no monarch, aristocracy, strong traditions, official religion, or rigid class system. It regarded itself as superior to the existing European systems and if the United States worked every one of them might be in jeopardy. Consequently, due to unfamiliarity, self-interest, and long-formed taste, many Europeans saw the United States as a travesty or even as a threat if its example appealed to their own peoples. In their critiques of America, the British put a little more emphasis on excessive equality, the French intellectual poverty, and the Germans spiritual barrenness. Yet all these themes are found in the critiques of each of them. It is telling, too, how much of this criticism came out of a combination of aristocratic and romantic spirit, of leftist and rightist ideas intertwined. Both aristocrats and romantics, conservatives and radicals, looked down on a middle class republic that was certainly not their idea of utopia.

The emerging experts on America were almost unanimous in condemning its political system. To have faith in the political wisdom of the common people, as one French observer, Abbe Mably, wrote in his book about the government and laws of the United States in 1784, was dangerous and impractical.22 Agreeing was Francois Soules agreed and wrote in his 1787 history of the American Revolution, “In America the wise are few indeed in comparison with the ignorant, the selfish, and those men who blindly allow themselves led.”23

The Frenchman Louis Marie Turreau de Linieres, who had fought for the United States during the Revolutionary War and later became ambassador to the country, concluded that the people were incapable of reasoning, and less still of analyzing, and it was “a fraud to call upon their authority and to provide their influence in the direction of public affairs.24

Another French writer, Felix de Beaujour, who had been French consul-general in Washington from 1804 to 1811, said that unless the Senate was elected for life and the House of Representatives restricted to big landowners, the U.S. government would collapse in despotism or disunion.25 He was one of the first to warn that the United States was going to dominate Europe economically while also reinforcing all the French stereotypes about the United States – that Americans were greedy, materialistic and vulgar -- that would prevail during the next two centuries.26 Indeed, Beaujour was so critical of the United States that a British writer translated his book, Sketch of the United States of North America, as anti-American propaganda for his own country during the War of 1812. Once again, an anti-American book had achieved tremendous popularity in Europe.27

Alexis de Tocqueville’s praise of the United States is well-known to Americans. But less quoted have been his remarks that paralleled many of the contemporary European criticisms of its state and society. Like many other observers, when De Tocqueville wrote about America, he was often heavily influenced by or even actually referring to experiences in France. In the 1830s, no country in the world had suffered more from the excesses of democracy. “Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing,” he wrote. “Human beings are not competent to exercise with discretion.” But the founders of America, very aware of this danger, had—unlike revolutionary France—created a division of powers and instituted federalism to avoid that problem. De Tocqueville’s words seem to relate more to the reign of terror, the guillotine, and Napoleon than to the administrations of Washington, Jefferson and Madison: “The main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as it is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny.”28

The real threat he perceived came from the majority, whether in public opinion, the legislature, a jury, or the high officials he saw as passive tools in the hands of the masses. Writing at a time when autocracy was ascendant in much of Europe, he concluded, “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion.”29 Indeed, so great was this majority tyranny that “freedom of opinion does not exist in America…The power of the majority is so absolute and so irresistible that one must give up one’s rights as a citizen and almost abjure one’s qualities as a man if one intends to stray from the track which it prescribes.”30

He added, “The tyranny of the majority has completely destroyed the moral courage of the American people, and without moral courage what chance is there of any fixed standard of morality?”31 Perhaps the paradox of De Tocqueville stems from a combination of accurate reporting in describing American conditions and hostile generalizations to dissuade his countrymen from imitating that system. The latter position is reflected in his dire summation, where he claimed that the United States “has proven to the world that, with every advantage on her side, the attempt at a republic has been a miserable failure and that the time is not yet come when mankind can govern themselves. Will it ever come? In my opinion, never!”32

Clearly, and again seemingly preaching to his audience at home, he viewed the lack of an aristocracy as a key problem. Perhaps the worst insult used by public opinion to force everyone’s compliance is to call dissenters “aristocrats.” The lack of a permanent class ruling the country’s politics and culture inevitably lowers the level of both. After all, if everyone need be elected—if there is “no aristocracy to set an example and tone to society”—the temporary victors are more likely to put expediency before morality. Being poor, they are more likely to be corrupt. The “dread of public opinion,” which can raise or lower them overnight, ensures their “lack of moral courage.”33

It was not just the French who criticized the United States government. Frederick Marryat was a British government official, naval officer and the author of popular sea tales. At the age of forty-five, in 1837, he made a grand tour of America and produced a popular book about his travels, A Diary in America with Remarks on Its Institutions. Echoing De Tocqueville, Marryat proclaimed, “No people have as yet been sufficiently enlightened to govern themselves.”34 More bluntly, Marryat is a reminder of where many American characteristics came from. Political equality, he wrote, “made the scum uppermost.” American democracy “has been a miserable failure.”35 Nevertheless, he concluded, “With all its imperfections, democracy is the form of government best suited to the present condition of America.” 36

American-style democracy was a step backward, German poet Heinrich Heine wrote in 1830 without visiting the United States, for it was merely a “monstrous prison of freedom, where the invisible chains would oppress me even more heavily than the visible ones at home, and where the most repulsive of all tyrants, the populace, hold vulgar sway.”37

There were also just as many criticisms of the cultural side of the United States. Frances Trollope was probably the single most influential person shaping European perceptions of America in the nineteenth-century, as Buffon had been in the eighteenth. Her book Domestic Manners of the Americans, published in 1832, enjoyed a phenomenal success and was translated into several languages. Within a few years, people were speaking of “to trollopise,” meaning to criticize the Americans. To “sit legs a la trollope” referred to that allegedly rude American habit of putting one’s feet on the table and slouching back in a chair.38 In response to her work, on display in New York was a waxwork of the author in the shape of a goblin.39

So much did Trollope dislike the United States that the experience of visiting there transformed her from an optimistic liberal regarding the prospects for democracy to a hard line conservative opponent of change. A summary of her impressions may be gleaned by her conclusion that the main reason to visit America is “that we shall feel the more contented with our own country.”40

But Trollope never set out to play such an important role. In 1827 she arrived in Cincinnati with three small children – one of whom, Anthony, became a famous novelist who later wrote his own book about America - sent by her eccentric husband to open a department store there. The store went bankrupt and Trollope was stranded with her ill offspring. Desperate for money, she hit on the idea of writing a best seller about America. Not only was the book criticized – although bought-- by Americans, but British defenders of the United States also condemned it as an exaggerated indictment. Still, it proved a most persuasive one.41

The mainstay of her criticism was not political but aesthetic and cultural. Like other Europeans before her, she disliked American nature for being too wild, compared to the highly domesticated ideal expressed in the British garden. This simile was extended to American behavior, which she saw as too untamed and uncontrolled. People ate too fast, had bad table manners, spoke poor English, talked too much about politics and religion (subjects not appropriate for public conversation), and did not respect individual privacy.

When Trollope wanted to take her meals at a Memphis hotel in a private room, the landlady considered her request an insult. In Cincinnati, another hotelkeeper demanded she drink her tea with the other guests or leave. People tried to engage her in conversation when she wanted to be alone. One can imagine how American gregariousness grated on British sensibilities. To her, it seemed to be a raw and unkempt society too close to nature.

Asked the greatest difference between England and the United States, Trollope pointed to the latter’s “want of refinement.” In America, she explained, “that polish which removes the coarser and rougher parts of our nature is unknown and undreamed of.”42

Always, the subtext was the ruinous nature of the American belief in equality, ranging from the commonness of American political leaders to the difficulty of finding proper servants among such people. Indeed, Trollope wrote, “If refinement once creeps in among them, if they once learn to cling to the graces, the honors, the chivalry of life, then we shall say farewell to American equality, and welcome to European fellowship one of the finest countries on earth.”43

Criticism of later American culture—or even that country’s choice of presidents—would so often come down to sneering at an insufficient elitism, an excessive emphasis on the lower common denominator. Even when those complaints would later come from leftist intellectuals who claimed to revere equality, the old aristocratic disdain for the masses was often barely concealed beneath the supposed love of all humanity.

Even the kindly novelist Charles Dickens, least snobbish of his nation in print, where in his country he was known as a defender of the downtrodden, could not quite shake himself loose on this point. Dickens had much that was positive to say about the United States in his American Notes, the record of his journey there in 1842 and when he turned against America he had at least good reasons for bitterness, having been cheated by American speculators in a canal company fraud and by publishers who stole his writings and never paid him royalties. Nevertheless, his conclusion was that while the British suffer from being self-absorbed, inner-oriented characters, Americans are colorless because they are obsessed with what their fellows think of them, a result of that dreaded equality which makes them want to be like everyone else.

In Dickens’ rendition, the United States is a land of sleazy business ethics, rampant lawlessness and violence, crass materialism, insufferable and undereducated bores, and gluttony. Many of the critiques on this list would be familiar a century later. Instead of an eagle as its national symbol, the hero redesigns America’s emblem into a more appropriate animal: “like a bat, for its short-sightedness; like a [rooster] for its bragging; like a magpie, for its honesty; like a peacock, for its vanity, like an ostrich” for its desire to avoid reality.44 Although he concluded that Americans are “by nature, frank, brave, cordial, hospitable and affectionate,” he condemned the “universal distrust,” among people and “love of ‘smart’ dealing: which gilds over many a swindle and gross breach of trust.”45

Already in the early nineteenth-century, America in the European vision was coming to be a symbol for all the worst aspects of modern capitalism, whether viewed from the left or right ends of the spectrum.

In his 1841 novel, Ruckblicke Auf Amerika, German Friedrich Rulemann Eylert wrote of the unhappy experiences of a German immigrant who discovers, “Degraded thinking, lying, deception, and unlimited greed are the natural and inescapable consequences of the commercial spirit…that like a tidal wave inundates the highest and lowest elements of American society. Every harmless passion and all moral sentiments are blunted in the daily pursuit of money.”46 Fellow German, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer called America “the most vile utilitarianism combined with its inevitable companion, ignorance.”47 Similarly, the French novelist Stendhal had the hero of one novel ask himself the question: To go or not to go? He takes a long walk and concludes the answer must be “No” because, “I would be bored in America, among men perfectly just and reasonable, maybe, but coarse, but only thinking about the dollars…The American morality seems to me of an appalling vulgarity, and reading the works of their distinguished men, I only have one desire: never to meet them in this world. This model country seems to me the triumph of silly and egoist mediocrity.”48

Often, too, critiques of America were linked with what was seen as an excessively elevated status for women and children, another theme often seen in later decades, and a proof that the natural order was out of place. The underlying problem in this allegedly exalted status was that equality had gone too far, even in an age when no woman could vote.

Schopenhauer’s list of American sins included a “foolish adoration of women.”49 Like others, the Frenchman Mederic Louis Elie Moreau Saint-Mery, who owned a bookstore in Philadelphia, claimed that American women soon lost their beauty (due to the terrible climate) and never found good taste. He also thought their breasts excessively small. But most importantly, he and other Europeans thought they were not well behaved, obedient, or affectionate.50

America was sarcastically nicknamed a “paradise for women.” In the classical statement of one Eylert in Ruckblicke Auf Amerika:
Woman! Do you want to see yourself restored to your aboriginal place of honor with your husband in the house as your slave and at your side in society? Do you want him to dance to your tune and early in the morning rush to buy meat, butter, vegetables and eggs, while you lie comfortably in bed and devote yourself to sweet morning dreams?…If you want to experience the full blessings of a pampered existence, then go to America, become naturalized, purchase an American husband, and you are emancipated…51
As for children, Marryat insisted, “there is little or no parental control,” in America adding:
Imagine a child of three years old in England behaving thus:

`Johnny, my dear, come here,” says his mama`

`I won’t,’ cries Johnny.

`You must, my love, you are all wet, and you’ll catch cold.’

`I won’t,’ replies Johnny.” And so forth.

`A sturdy republican, sir,’ says his father to me, smiling at the boy’s resolute disobedience.52

During anti-Americanism’s first epoch, much of the blame was laid on the innately inferior nature of the land being fatally transferred to the increasingly degraded people, unfortunate enough to live there. America was dismissed as innately second-rate and there was nothing more to discuss. The second stage of anti-Americanism, beginning in 1800, insisted that the United States was a failure with a ludicrous political system, an absence of culture and good manners, excessive materialism, and an inflated role for women and children. If the United States posed any threat it arose from being a bad example rather than any global ambitions. The word “model” sneeringly appeared most often in anti-American literature to discredit the idea that this country might provide an example to emulate. But contrary to these predictions of early nineteenth century anti-Americans, the United States did not collapse. On the contrary, it grew steadily stronger and more visibly successful. Only when the American experiment had clearly worked--around the 1880s, when American industrialization began to lead the world, or after 1898, when the U.S. victory over Spain made it an incipient world power--was it no longer possible to insist that it had failed to build a strong country. But the anti-Americans would find the threat of American success to be an even more serious matter. And this would lead to the third stage of anti-Americanism.

Download 0.89 Mb.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   23

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page