Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Blame America . . . and oh yeah, the Jews" - Review of Markovits on European anti-Americanism (Jeffrey Kopstein)

Jeffrey Kopstein of the University of Toronto has written an excellent review of Andy Markovits's important and illuminating new book on European anti-Americanism, Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, for the Toronto Globe & Mail. This review is worth reading in full (below)--and then the book, too. Some highlights:
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. [....] 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. [....]

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. [....] 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. [....] "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. [....]

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." [....] 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. [....]
The Chronicle of Higher Education also carried an overview of the argument in Markovits's own words, using excerpts from the book itself ("Western Europe's America Problem").

=> Some other comments, reactions, and reviews::

Joschka Fischer, former Foreign Minister of Germany; and Professor, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University : In Uncouth Nation, Andrei Markovits provides deep insights into anti-Americanism in Europe today and delves into many of the facets that make the American-European relationship so unique. This book should be read and discussed!

Josef Joffe, Publisher and Editor of Die Zeit, and Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University : Anti-Americanism is as old as the Republic--a historical constant, which is only remotely related to specific American behavior. So what is new? Andrei Markovits has delivered the best answer yet, ranging across an astounding wealth of material from politics and culture. Uncouth Nation is a rare academic treat. Rigorous and analytical, the book is also a pleasure to read as it penetrates a critical issue of our time.

Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White: Disturbing and provocative, this wide-ranging and passionate intervention convenes history, social analysis, and a sense of anxiety to rouse attention to the underside of the European critique of America. Just as it intends, the book will stir comment and debate on both sides of the Atlantic, especially on the Left. For one, I can't wait.

Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study : Andrei Markovits does three things in this excellent book: he provides an account of the historical and contemporary forms of European anti-Americanism (and of its close relative, anti-Semitism); he analyzes the roots and causes of this phenomenon; and, best of all, he gives us a running critique of the frequent silliness and malice of the anti-Americans and of their role in fashioning a certain kind, which is not the best possible kind, of pan-European politics.

Richard Wolin, Graduate Center, City University of New York author of The Seduction of Unreason: For many years now, Andrei Markovits has been North America's most insightful analyst of European political culture. In Uncouth Nation he has written a near-masterpiece. On page after page, Markovits convincingly demonstrates the all-consuming nature of European anti-Americanism. He shows that, in an era where European collective identity remains in tenuous flux, anti-Americanism has become a mainstay of ersatz ideological cohesion. In a classical instance of ressentiment, Europeans deride America not so much for what it does but because of what it is-an orientation that often says more about contemporary Europe than about its despised trans-Atlantic rival. Uncouth Nation is lucidly argued and mellifluously written. Markovits has provided us with a landmark study in political pathology.

Ezra Suleiman, Princeton University, author of Dismantling Democratic States: Recent events, from September 11 to the Iraq war to repeated acts of terrorism, have given new vigor to the debate on anti-Americanism. Uncouth Nation contributes significantly to the debate. Its author, who is deeply familiar with both the European and American literature on the subject, has clearly thought a great deal about anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in his quest to make sense of each as well as to determine how they interact.

Jeffrey Herf, University of Maryland, author of The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust: Andrei Markovits, with a mix of analytical clarity, historical perspective, and years of personal experience as one of our most informed observers of European politics, offers a challenging, disquieting yet certainly important analysis of views that have entered the continent's political mainstream. While many think or hope that the hostility of recent years is primarily a short-term reaction to the policies of George W. Bush, Markovits makes a compelling case that longer-term currents are at work. Uncouth Nation should be read by policymakers, scholars, and citizens who seek a deeper understanding of recent tensions and prospects for trans-Atlantic relations and for Europe's future.

Caroline Walsh Irish Times : Promises to explain how Europe's aversion to the US has been catapulted into overdrive by George W. Bush's policies.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Toronto Globe and Mail
January 21, 2007
Blame America . . . and oh yeah, the Jews
By Jeffrey Kopstein

Review of:
Andrei S. Markovits
Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America
Princeton University Press

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.

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. It's an ironic antipathy, because the United States was a European creation. Even so, a long line of European cranks -- from the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc (better known as the Comte de Buffon), who took the sparse body hair of the U.S. native population as proof of its sexual degeneracy, to the German pulp fiction novelist Karl May, who wrote book after book about the relationship of the "redmen" to the "whitemen" without having ever visited North America -- attempted to fashion an image of America and Americans as unhealthy and corrupt.

More respectable European intellectuals played their part, too. Germany's great philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, viewed the U.S. political order as immature and chaotic. Heinrich Heine lamented that "there are no princes or nobles there; all men are equal -- equal dolts." Sigmund Freud considered the United States to be hopelessly materialist, a place with "no time for libido" and "a gigantic mistake." According to Markovits, "a strong negative assessment of things American has far outweighed any positive views of the United States on the part of German intellectuals and elites."

And it's not just the German-speakers. Britain's Frances Trollope reproached the United States, in her 1832 bestseller Domestic Manners of the Americans, for its vulgar materialism, its food culture (Americans eat, they don't dine) and its obsession with efficiency. Charles Dickens, in his 1842 American Notes, bemoans the heterogeneity of the country: too many immigrants, too dirty, too corrupt, too individualistic and too brutal. Renowned 19th-century journalist Frédéric Gaillardet educated the French Republic on American women who "dominated their husbands" and ran the country.

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. As magnanimous as the Americans were in Europe after the war, cultural dependence on the United States elicited a deep and abiding resentment. 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.

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