Commentary Magazine

Anti-Americanism edited by Andrew Ross and Kristin Ross; Understanding Anti-Americanism, edited by Paul Hollander

edited by Andrew Ross and Kristin Ross
New York University. 344 pp. $49.95

Understanding Anti-Americanism: Its Origins and Impact at Home and Abroad
edited by Paul Hollander
Ivan R. Dee. 372 pp. $28.95

The “only comparison” to the way the United States is behaving on the world stage these days, the British playwright Harold Pinter said recently, is the Third Reich: “Nazi Germany wanted total domination of Europe and they nearly did [accomplish that]. The U.S. wants total domination of the world and is about to consolidate that.” According to Norman Mailer, the “specter of fascism” has been hanging over America, a specter that could become reality “if we are struck by economic miseries.”

Such comparisons have been all too easy to find lately. Indeed, in the years since the attacks of September 11, and particularly in the aftermath of the American response, expressions of hatred and contempt for the United States in general, and for its leaders and policies in particular, have become a staple not only of imams and rabble-rousers in the Muslim world but of Western cultural elites, both at home and abroad.

Nor is the global upsurge in anti-Americanism confined to opinion-makers and political or religious figures alone. A series of post-9/11 surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center reveal large majorities in France, Germany, and other major European countries harboring serious suspicions about America’s motives in prosecuting the war on terrorism. (Among Muslims, Pew found overwhelming majorities opposing U.S. policies, along with substantial support for the terrorists themselves.) Books peddling wild conspiracy theories in which American officials are said to have organized the attacks of 9/11 have become European best-sellers.

What lies at the core of such attitudes? Are they a reaction to American military conduct and/or to our policies in the Middle East, or is there a more fundamental cause? These questions, and other closely related ones, are addressed in two recent collections. Anti-Americanism, edited by Andrew Ross and Kristin Ross (no relation), consists of contributions from seventeen professors, primarily from the faculty of New York University and all hailing from the Left. Understanding Anti-Americanism, edited by Paul Hollander, a long-time student of the subject, comprises essays by a variety of experts from the center and Right. Although the books approach the subject from widely divergent ideological perspectives, they agree on a number of points.



One of these is the crucial importance of economic globalization to the phenomenon under discussion. As cross-border trade and technological innovation have spread throughout the world, traditional norms have been overturned at an ever more rapid pace. In the third world, an agricultural transformation has spurred mass migration from the countryside to the cities, with wrenching political effect. In wealthy countries like France and Germany, the pain of globalization is felt in the form of pressure for a longer work week and fewer unemployment benefits. In both cases, the United States and “Americanization”—the putative engines of globalization—are held to blame.

The contributors to the Ross volume are themselves sympathetic to the anti-globalist movement. They see it as continuous with resistance to American imperialism and to the encroachments of multinational corporations—holdover rallying points for the cold-war Left—and their analysis of the phenomenon is peppered with neo-Marxian buzzwords.

More incisively and more convincingly, the contributors to Paul Hollander’s Understanding Anti-Americanism tend to view the anti-globalist movement itself, as well as its anti-American cousin, as but the latest iterations of the Left’s never-ending attack on capitalism. During the cold war, a number of the essayists point out, the radical Left had a dual agenda: deterring American power, and promoting whichever fashionable variant of socialism seemed to offer an alternative to market-oriented democracy. But in the wake of the Soviet empire’s demise, and with the socialist option utterly discredited, these frustrated energies coalesced in an ever more intense hatred of the global power most responsible for capitalism’s triumph. With the end of Communism, James Ceaser writes here, anti-Americanism became the only ideology with a truly global reach.

This is especially the case in Europe, where the disappearance of the threat posed by the USSR seems to have released anti-U.S. hostilities long held in check. During the Reagan era, to be sure, many Europeans had permitted themselves to characterize the American President in language strikingly similar to that applied to George W. Bush today: “gunslinger chauvinist,” “cowboy patriot,” and so forth. But many others, recognizing the security threat posed by the Soviet Union, were appreciative of the American contribution to the common defense. After the Soviet collapse, the terms of the equation shifted. American economic and military strength, once regarded, however grudgingly, as an indisputable virtue, came to be seen as a vice and a threat. Even senior European statesmen, as authors in both volumes point out, began to employ scare phrases like “hyper-power” in referring to the United States, while others used still more hostile terms.



The case of Arab and Muslim anti-Americanism is a somewhat separate phenomenon. In the Ross volume, the sole entry supposedly devoted to the subject consists of an interview with Rashid Khalidi, the holder of the Edward Said chair at Columbia University, but he hardly delves beneath the surface of the issue. The Hollander volume is once again greatly superior. In a co-authored essay, Patrick Clawson and Barry Rubin argue that in the Middle East, anti-Americanism is the sole surviving element of a broader ideology that has outlived its time and place.

In setting out their theme, Clawson and Rubin reject the conventional view, according to which the seething hatred of the United States we see in the Arab world is driven overwhelmingly by our alliance with Israel or our intervention in Iraq, or by the rise of conservative Islam. Instead, they too return to the early years of the cold war, when radical and largely secular nationalists in the Nasser mold assumed power in the region. Embracing ideas rooted in both fascism and Communism, and forming alliances with the USSR, this new generation of Arab leaders had a strong incentive to demonize the United States.

With the passage of time, the power of that incentive only intensified. Authoritarian statism brought with it an era of corruption, bureaucratization, and stasis, and hatred of the United States became an increasingly useful prop for unsteady regimes in need of diverting popular discontent. Step by step, this hatred became one of the core elements of an unchallengeable orthodoxy; as such, it survived even the fall of the USSR, becoming, along with anti-Semitism and loathing for Israel, an all-purpose explanation for omnipresent poverty and economic backwardness.



As for home-grown anti-Americanism, it, too, though sharing characteristics with the European variety, is a somewhat distinct phenomenon. Contributors to the Hollander volume seem to concur that while domestic anti-Americanism remains a force on the radical Left, and of course in the universities, overall it exhibits far less élan than was the case during the Vietnam war. This trend clearly disappoints several of the essayists in the Ross volume, who strive to show that the American domestic order is sufficiently unjust to warrant a much angrier and more deeply seated response.

Interestingly, however, neither collection dwells on the issue of race (apart from one wholly unpersuasive attempt in Anti-Americanism to portray the U.S. as rife with anti-Asian prejudice). This is itself indicative: after all, the image of the United States as a deeply racist society was central to the sweeping indictments leveled against it in the recent past. The disappearance of that image points us to one of the essential characteristics of anti-Americanism, wherever it may be found: for those who hate the United States, the criteria are less important than the hatred.

Indeed, the criteria are infinitely flexible and constantly subject to change. If American race relations improve—as they have done, dramatically, over the course of the last decades—faults that are allegedly no less ineradicable will be found elsewhere; meanwhile, credit will never be given where credit is due.

In the end, what both of these books demonstrate, one of them inadvertently, is that anti-Americanism is not to be equated with dissent from American policies, no matter how passionately that dissent may be expressed. As Paul Hollander’s valuable collection makes clear, and as the Ross volume confirms by the sometimes ludicrous lengths to which its contributors go in order to justify America’s most relentless critics, hatred of America bears, rather, many of the features of a faith, and is not amenable to the usual standards of rational discourse. Those who resent America for what it is—not for what it does—are unlikely to undergo a change of heart no matter what changes take place either in the United States or in the wider world.


About the Author

Arch Puddington is director of research at Freedom House and the author, most recently, of Lane Kirkland: Champion of American Labor.

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