The Flavors of Anti-Americanism

The Flavors of Anti-Americanism

Anti-Americanism is nothing new, but it seems there are different categories of dislike.

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The source: “Anti-Americanisms” by Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, in Policy Review, Oct.–Nov. ­2006.

The Founders were still scraping up votes to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787 when Alexander Hamilton fought back against the anti-Americanism that was already popular in Europe. Only “arrogant pretensions,” he wrote in one of the early Federalist papers, allowed serious men to claim that the American continent was so degenerate that “even dogs cease to bark.”

Two hundred and twenty years later, anti-Americanism hasn’t tapered off. It isn’t even a single phenomenon, according Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, political scientists at Cornell and Princeton, respectively. It reaches far beyond what the United States does to what the United States is. The complexity and kaleidoscopic nature of American society trigger a similar broad and complex range of anti-American feelings, and their examination has become something of an academic cottage industry. Katzenstein and Keohane wrestle the phenomenon into six categories.

The most benign, “liberal ­anti-­Americanism,” thrives in some former colonies of Great Britain, the authors write. These and other advanced indus­trialized communities mourn America’s failure to live up to its high principles. They see democratic America as a hypocritical, self-­inter­ested pow­er, for example, supporting dictatorships or ad­vo­­cating free trade while protecting its own farmers from ­competition.

“Social ­anti-­Americanism,” found most commonly in Scan­dinavia and Japan, decries Uncle Sam’s relatively unfettered capitalism and ­go-­it-­alone exceptionalism in international ­affairs.

“Sovereign-­nationalist ­anti-­Amer­i­canism” is particularly strong in China, where the history and aspirations of the ancient kingdom combine to trigger virulent outbursts in response to any perceived lack of “respect.”

“Elitist ­anti-­Americanism” is not confined to French intellectuals, but they form its epicenter. Americans, Katzenstein and Keohane write, are viewed by this small but vocal group as uncultured materialists without concern for the finer things of ­life.

“Legacy ­anti-­Americanism” lingers in societies  such as ­Iran, where American intervention in the past sup­ported despised rulers.

The most dangerous form is “radical ­anti-­Americanism,” whose adherents see America as so de­praved that it must be destroyed. This brand of hatred animates suicide bombers and the remaining ­Marxist-­Leninist rulers. Only America’s renunciation of its ­political-­economic system and culture can rectify the situation, the radicals ­say.

Unitary grand explanations for ­anti-­Americanism are futile, Katzenstein and Keohane contend. The phenomenon is too broad and diverse, reflecting the attitudes of ­America-­haters as much as the America they hate. The most puzzling thing about it is why Americans care so much. Americans had an insatiable need for praise in 1835, said Alexis de Tocque­ville, and apparently they have not yet had enough. Perhaps, the authors con­clude, it is because they lack self-confidence and are uncertain themselves about whether the nation should be a source of pride or dismay. ­“Anti-Amer­icanism is important for what it tells us about United States foreign policy and America’s impact on the world,” they write. “It is also impor­tant for what it tells us about our­selves.”

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