Yet another good article, reviewing yet another book which “discovers” that French culture has a deeply rooted animosity against the United States. (Via Arts and Letters Daily). The book, The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism, by Phillipe Roger, sounds like a solid, scholarly treatment of this topic. Of course, popular works on this theme have abounded recently.
Roger started out researching right wing French anti-Americanism in the 1930s: ”I started working on a small piece … I didn’t realize at all that I had to go back two centuries.” This should come as no surprise. In fact, even a scholarly treatment of French anti-Americanism that — correctly — projects it back as far as the 18th Century misses a large part of the story. First, French anti-Americanism is just the most recent chapter in one of the oldest rivalries in the world — the struggle between France and England, which continued on into a struggle between France and the British Empire, and continues today in a continual state of animosity between France and the daughter polities of that Empire, most importantly the United States, which we are coming to think of as the Anglosphere.
So, this story can be projected back far further than two centuries. I had an earlier post on this topic called “The French Have Always Been Like That”, which focused on a review essay by Walter Russell Mead called “Why Do They Hate Us? Two Books Take Aim at French Anti-Americanism”. Mead pointed out that
Both in France and beyond, new anti-Americanism is simply old Anglophobia writ large. Anti-Anglo-Saxonism has been a key intellectual and cultural force in European history since the English replaced the Dutch as the leading Protestant, capitalist, liberal, and maritime power in the late seventeenth century.
The Mead quote also points out another important fact, French anti-Americanism is merely European anti-Americanism at its most intense. James Ceasar in his Reconstructing America : The Symbol of America in Modern Thought takes up this theme. (He had a short version of this argument in The Public Interest (You have to go to “Previous Issues”, then to the Summer 2003 issue.)
When the smoke cleared at the end of the Cold War we did not behold a new world. Instead, we saw that Western unity had been an unusually strong during the Cold War, due to a perceived shared danger. But with that danger gone much remained as it had always been. The Soviet threat highlighted the historical unity of the West. This unity is real. However, within that unity there have always been many rivalries and animosities. With the advent of more or less democratic government throughout Europe and the development of nuclear weapons, the possibility of any shooting war between these countries and any Anglosphere country is off the table. Nonetheless, other means of opposition and confrontation short of open, armed conflict are available. The two communities have different values and see the world in different ways. The conflict between the continental European states, especially France, the European state par excellence, and the offshore opponent, England, is a fundamental, structural element of world politics. It is not a problem with a solution. It is a permanent feature which needs to be considered and worked around in all dealings between Britain and Europe, or America and Europe, or the Anglosphere generally and Europe.
The surprising thing is that people continue to be surprised by this.