Thursday, January 25, 2007


Doron likes this book review by Jeffrey Kopstein* from The Globe and Mail, 20/1/2007 ...

Book: "Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America" By Andrei S. Markovits

...After decades of writing scholarly books sympathetic to the European left, U.S. political scientist Andrei Markovits is fed up with the anti-Americanism of Europe's intellectual and political elites. Anti-Americanism, Markovits writes, "is unifying West Europeans more than any other political emotion -- with the exception of hostility to Israel. In today's Western Europe, these two closely related antipathies and resentments are now considered proper etiquette. They are present in polite company and acceptable in the discourse of the political classes."

I think it is safe to say that Markovits is going to lose some of his European friends with this book. Markovits sensibly distinguishes between disapproval of the United States for what it does and dislike of the United States for what it is. The former is not anti-Americanism; the latter is. In practice, however, the line isn't so easy to draw. Some people find fault with the United States no matter what it does. It is bad for intervening militarily to stop a genocide in Kosovo but equally bad for failing to intervene to stop a genocide in Rwanda. It is wrong for promoting free trade and globalization but equally wrong for raising tariffs to protect its industries. It is this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't approach of Europe's elite critics of the United States that bothers Markovits.

George Bush and the war in Iraq have fuelled anti-Americanism among Europe's masses, but Markovits impressively documents the long history of anti-Americanism among Europe's elites going back to the settlement of the New World. ....from the French naturalist Georges-Louis the German pulp fiction novelist Karl May....philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel....Heinrich Heine .... Sigmund Freud .......Britain's Frances Trollope .... Charles Dickens... 19th-century journalist Frédéric Gaillardet..... The list goes on. A broad array of Spaniards, Italians, Russians and even Norwegians (including Nobel Prize-winning novelist and Nazi sympathizer Knut Hamsun) have found the United States distasteful not for anything it did but for what it is and what it stands for.

In a fascinating twist, Markovits highlights the gradual transformation of European anti-Americanism after the Second World War from an ideology of the discredited right to one of the anti-imperialist left. .... It became the source of all of modernity's evils. Longer working hours, "publish or perish" at French universities, the dramatic increase in lawsuits and the prestige of "L.A. Law" lawyers in Great Britain, reality TV (which, in fact, originated in Europe), even the dominance of black over brown squirrels in German parks, are seen as evidence of a pernicious "Americanization."

And then there is the anti-Semitism. In what is surely his most controversial chapter, Markovits draws the connection between European anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. He maintains that the old and discredited anti-Semitism of the European right has migrated to a new anti-Semitism of the left. In some ways, of course, this should not surprise anyone. Many early socialists -- most famously Karl Marx -- shared the romantic right's prejudice of Jews as embodying everything that was bad about capitalist modernity. Markovits, however, is saying something different and far more volatile: The issue is not capitalism but ethnic identity. The left accepts Jews, but only on the condition that they shed their Jewishness. In a moment at once self-revelatory and accusatory, Markovits writes, "Indeed, the Left always reserved its universalism for the Jews while applying the legitimacy of its identity politics to all other nationalities."

Anti-Zionism and the demonization of Israel have become vehicles for the reintroduction of anti-Semitism into respectable European conversation, especially since the Six Day War in 1967. The syllogisms are simple enough: Israel commits atrocities. Why? Because the United States lets it. Why? Because guess who controls the United States? You got it: the Jews.

What is disturbing for Markovits is that this is not simply the nutty left but his old buddies, the Social Democrats and the Greens. He notes that "all the historical ingredients used to demonize Jews are simply transferred to the state of Israel, which -- in the standard diction of anti-Semitism -- behaves Jew-like by grasping for global power, exhibiting Old Testament-like (pre-Christian) vengefulness. It bamboozles the world, as cunning Jews are wont to do, extorts money from hapless victims who have been fooled into seeing the Jews as victims, exhibits capitalist greed and, of course, indulges in constant brutality toward the weak.

Israel thus becomes a sort of new Jew, a collective Jew among the world's nations." The book offers a great deal of convincing evidence for these assertions, some of it based on survey research, but most of it based on Markovits's deep familiarity with Europe's left-wing scene. Whether it is Jews being beaten up at anti-war demonstrations in Paris in 2003 or respectable left-wing publications in Europe deploying Nazi-like imagery of Israeli leaders with spindly legs and hooked noses, or the repeated superimposition of a swastika on the Star of David (itself now a European symbol for "Israeli aggression"), example after example, from the profound to the trivial, makes for painful reading. "By constantly bringing up the truly warped and ill-willed analogy of the Israelis with the Nazis," Markovits tells us, "Europeans absolve themselves from any remorse and thus experience a sense of liberation."

Uncouth Nation also raises the crucial question of whether it is possible to build a European identity without demonizing the United States. For the most part, European anti-Americanism has been an elite phenomenon. George Bush, however, has made it possible to close the gap between a "separatist" European elite that wants to break away from the tutelage of the United States and the broad masses who still see themselves as part of the "West." It is no accident that Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida and other European intellectuals celebrated the anti-war demonstrations that took place on Feb. 15, 2003, in London, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Helsinki and Athens as the birthday of a united Europe. Although these same intellectuals hailed the now-50-year-old project of European integration as a "post-national" exercise, the temptation to use the traditional tools of nation-building in the service of a new pan-European nationalism -- including demonizing the "other" -- has been irresistible.

... At stake here, however, is much more than mere vanity. The Americans don't really have much else besides that for which they stand. Part of being rich and powerful is to put up with a certain amount of criticism from others. But if we wish to sustain the West into the future, it is probably best if we all construct our political identities based on our highest ideals rather than on our deepest loathing.

*Jeffrey Kopstein is director of the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and professor of political science at the University of Toronto. His book Growing Apart? America and Europe in the 21st Century will appear this year.

1 comment:

bytycci said...

"Some people find fault with the United States no matter what it does. It is bad for intervening militarily to stop a genocide in Kosovo but equally bad for failing to intervene to stop a genocide in Rwanda."

Completely agree.