Structural Anti-Americanism

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.

12 thoughts on “Structural Anti-Americanism”

  1. There is French anti-americanism, and there is American anti-Frenchism. It’s difficult to say which is more virulent, but this is the place to come if you want unambiguous French-bashing. Indeed, scarcely a week goes by without a Chicago Boyz anti-French post.

    You might find this survey interesting:

    “In 20 of 23 Countries Polled Citizens Want Europe to Be More Influential Than US

    France Most Widely Seen as Having a Positive Influence in World

    US and Russia Mostly Seen as Negative Influences”.

    “The most highly regarded individual country is France , which is seen as having a positive influence in 21 countries—58 percent on average, with 20 percent seeing a mainly negative influence. [Note: In all cases the population of the country being evaluated was excluded from the totals.]

    Only in the US does a majority (52%) say that France is having a negative influence in the world (positive 37%). ”


  2. Lexington Green,

    The link you have labeled as an “earlier post” immediately prior to your instructions on finding Russel Mead’s review essay, appears to be munged. It just pops me back to the top of ChicagoBoyz rather than taking me to your earlier essay on the topic.

    James Knowles,

    There is French anti-americanism, and there is American anti-Frenchism. It’s difficult to say which is more virulent

    The French anti-Americanism is more virulent – or at least more dangerous, especially to the French. That is true for at least two reasons.

    One is that French anti-Americanism is an expansion of French anti-Semitism. A vile, loathesome, and frequently muderous pathology. American anti-Francism is not tied to any other anti-anything. Many Americans simply don’t like France (or at least its government).

    Another reason that French anti-Americanism is more virulent is that it is based on an envious frustration that lies at the very core of “Frenchness” whereas the American anti-French counterpart is mere amusement or, at worst, occassional aggravation. Russel Mead expresses this much better than I ever could:

    On the one hand, anti-Americanism is, as both Revel and Roger convincingly argue, a self-referential Franco-French phenomenon largely untroubled by larger questions of fact. On the other hand, the rise and persistence of this discourse reflects actual historical trends. Anti-Americanism developed and persisted in France because the United States thwarted, threatened, and diminished that country. Anti-Gallicism in the United States has had a fitful and shadowy life because France has only rarely risen to more than a nuisance in American eyes. In the realms of power politics, economics, and culture, French anti-Americanism is the psychological footprint of a conflict — a conflict all the more irksome to the loser simply because the winner never seems to have paid it much attention.

  3. James, thanks. There does seem to be a strong anti-French consensus here. There is not a lot of consensus on much else, but that is consistent. I have tried to be fair in my assessment of the French. As I said in this post:

    But, France is France, and superior food and drink is an element of their national greatness. I say this in complete seriousness. One of my favorite books is an extended hymn of praise to French food, wine and general attitude toward the pleasant things in life. So, I don’t begrudge them their ways. But we are different, and have different priorities and I don’t think less of us as a consequence.

    And in response to the rather foolish assertions that the French have historically been cowards or militarily inept, I said this:

    Let us also recall Marshall Ney at the Berezina, casting aside the scabbard, leading his frozen band in desperate attacks through the snow shielding the Grande Armee with blows from the encircling swarms of cossacks and the swiftly gathering Russian host, and Napoleon’s engineers, chin deep in water sheeted with ice, building the bridges to effect its escape.

    And of course we hark to the memory of St. Joan in her white-enamalled armor ascending the scaling ladder at Orleans, and her soldiery, with a roar, hurling themselves up beside her, in the teeth of the arrows and stones.

    That blood still runs in the veins of the French.

    They just need to look within themselves, and what they have been and should be and can be again, and then look clearly at the surrounding world. They need to realize that dire threats are massing, that insane and evil criminals are struggling to obtain horrendous weapons, that the Rights of Man and the Magna Carta and the Constitution will all end up in the rubbish heap if these monsters are allowed to strike us all as they so desperately wish to do. Wake up, my friends, wake up. Then think, look, see who your real friends and your real enemies are.

    In this post.

    So, I’m not anti-French. In fact, I am something of a Francophile. I just try to recognize France for what it is and how it relates to us in the family of nations. A close relative who was once rich and powerful, fallen on tough times, diminished and resentful, attached to its ways, but still part of the family whom we have to deal with and work with, someone who will always work at cross-purposes, and on its own schedule and agenda, who genuinely perceives the world in a very different way.

  4. Knucklehead, thanks, I fixed it.

    Good call out from Mead. That captures it. Few of us can do better than he does on encapsulating an issue clearly and briefly.

  5. From Fable de Fontaine:

    There is this frog (France?) that thinks he is a cow (US). So he starts blowing himself until he bursts open.

    France has a good culture (but so do other ancient cultures), but not a very good government. The French government is particularly nasty to the French people and culture itself.

  6. Memories are short, are they not? A majority of France was allied with Hermany against the allies during WW Two. The Vichy French of course claimed that they had no choice but to assist Hitler in the deportation of Jews from France to the gas chambers. If not for DeGaulle and the valiant free French partisans who fought the Nazis France would have been considered pasrt of the axis, which in fact it was.

    I am not sure where French arrogance comes from. I can’t figure what the Frenchman has to arragant about. France is a country seriously lacking in personal hygiene and public hygiene, has not won a war since Charles the Great, currently has a ten percent unemployment rate, and advertises restrauants that serves horse meat. Now this is a lot to proud of and arrogant about.

    All roads lead to Paris but the reverse is true-all road in France lead away from Paris. I once read about a famous part Cherokee writer and stand-up comedian saying ‘that he had never met a man he didn’t like.’ He probably had never been to France.

  7. What I found interesting in this post was the description of the English as “Protestant, capitalist, liberal, and maritime” in the 17th century. Barely any of them applies any longer. It is no wonder the English are about to join Europe, unless the French stop them by voting non.

  8. “Protestant, capitalist, liberal, and maritime” Compared to Continental Europe they are still much more liberal and capitalistic. They are not Protestant anymore in terms of observance, and the cultural dimension that remains is an intangible. As to “maritime”, if that is updated to mean investing abroad, they still do that. They still have a large navy with more than merely regional reach. In comparison to France in particular, the disparity still exists.

  9. The NON to EU will come from the French themselves. Not against the Brits, but against France surrendering more power to Brussels. And this NON will hopefully doom the European POLITICAL integration. Should this happen, we should be thankful to the French people (French government is another matter).

  10. Lex, you dug up gold in this post.

    The same disproportionate pride, sans raison, that irks us Americans may lead the French people to join us as an independant, if often oppositional, free Republic in a global community of nations.

    This is would be an affirmation of the model in which the democratic nation-state is the organizing “cell” of global polity, and of the irrefutable concept that holds that evolution benefits from having a plurality of voices, rather than a singularity.

    Non to the E.U.

  11. Lex,

    Few of us can do better…

    I can think of only Twain of the top of my head:

    France has usually been governed by prostitutes. – Notebook #18, Feb – Sep 1879

    There is nothing lower than the human race except the French. – quoted by Carl Dolmetsch, Our Famous Guest

    In certain public indecencies the difference between a dog and a Frenchman is not perceptable. – Notebook #17, Oct 1878 – Feb 1879

    Just funnin’!

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