Is Bush Really Responsible for Anti-Americanism Around the World?

News Abroad

Judy Colp Rubin is co-author, with Barry Rubin, of Hating America: A History, just published by Oxford University Press. This essay, and an earlier one by Barry Rubin on “Understanding Anti-Americanism,” are based on an FPRI BookTalk delivered on August 12, 2004.

We are constantly reminded nowadays of how much the world hates America. According to polls, many Chinese believe that the United States deliberately started the SARS epidemic; Islamic leaders in three Nigerian states blocked critical polio inoculations for children, denouncing them as a U.S. plot to spread AIDS or infertility among Muslims. And best-selling books in France and Germany claim that 9/11 was a propaganda stunt by American intelligence agencies and the military industrial complex. While anti-Americanism came most sharply into focus with the most horrific act of anti- Americanism the world has ever known -- the 9/11 attacks -- it is important to remember that ever since there was a America to love, there was an America to hate.

The kind of attacks encountered today would have been all too familiar in tone to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who had to spend as much time and energy as current leaders proving to Europeans that their country was not inherently bad. Many of the best-known public figures in Europe over the last 240 years simply could not resist bashing America. They include such a diverse lot as British author Samuel Johnson, who said "I am willing to love all mankind except an American," to George Bernard Shaw, who quipped that "an asylum for the sane would be empty in America," to Sigmund Freud, who called America "a mistake, a gigantic mistake." The criticisms are so varied, so numerous and at times so improbable that it has long seemed as if America can never overcome them. Almost fifty years ago, American humorist Art Buchwald placed a classified ad in the London Times asking those who disliked Americans to let him know why they felt that way. He concluded from the results that their dislike would only be solved "if Americans would stop spending money, talking loudly in public places, telling the British who won the war, adopt a pro-colonial policy, back future British expeditions to Suez, stop taking oil out of the Middle East, stop chewing gum, . . . not export Roll n' Roll music, and speak correct English." Wouldn't the results likely be very similar today?

In order to really understand today's anti-Americanism, we must consider its deep roots in the past. In our book, we have identified five phases in this anti-Americanism, and even now, in this most recent phase, the historical continuity and repetition of the themes from each of the different eras remains striking.

The Early Years

The first phase began in the eighteenth century with the argument that there was something inherently wrong with America that made animals there smaller and people physically and mentally inferior. Both animals and humans who came here from Europe were due for the same fate. The so-called degeneration theory, propounded by leading 18th-century European scientists such as Georges Louis LeClerc, Comte de Buffon, found support among such prominent thinkers as Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel. and Friedrich von Schlegel, and in the 19th century, even the father of evolution, Charles Darwin. The degeneration theory would eventually be discredited and forgotten, but the idea behind it would continue on in the nagging proposition that what eventually became the United States was somehow innately bad.

From Revolution to Civil War

By the 1830s, with the United States a political reality, the American character replaced the American climate as the focus of explanation regarding its inferiority. Increasingly, stress was placed on the idea that the American democratic experiment had failed, leading to a degraded society and culture. So began the second phase of anti-Americanism, which lasted through to 1880. The United States was a laboratory for a new type of country with no monarch, aristocracy, strong traditions, official religion, or rigid class system. It regarded itself as superior to the existing European systems, all of which might be in jeopardy if the United States worked.

Consequently, due to unfamiliarity, self-interest, and long-formed taste, many Europeans saw the United States as a travesty or even as a threat, should its example appeal to their own peoples. They agreed with those like Frederick Marryat, a British naval officer who wrote "democracy is a miserable failure" and that in America the good citizens had retired rather than submit to the "insolence and dictation of a mob." There were also just as many criticisms of the cultural side of the United States. Frances Trollope, author of Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), probably the single most influential person shaping European perceptions of America in the nineteenth-century, observed that the greatest difference between England and the United States was "want of refinement." In America, she explained, "that polish which removes the coarser and rougher parts of our nature is unknown and undreamed of."

In this second stage of anti-Americanism, it was believed that if the United States posed any threat to the world, it was because of its potential to serve as a bad example rather than because it had any global ambitions. The American "model" was dismissed in anti-American literature, which predicted the nation's demise. But the United States did not collapse.

American Ascendancy

After the Civil War, when the third phase of anti-Americanism began, there was a growing fear abroad that the American model of populist democracy, mass culture, and industrialization might come to take over the world, changing everyone's way of life. It was this fear that had prompted many in Europe to support the slave-holding states of the Confederacy, seeing those Southern states as sharing more closely the values of the European aristocracy. The most celebrated European writers brought their pens down on the heads of America. French poet Charles Baudelaire lamented in 1873 that humanity was hopelessly Americanized -- the word "Americanized" came into usage around this period -- because of the triumph of the physical over the moral element in life, while in Britain a resolution was passed in 1900 denouncing the demoralizing effects of American plays on the British stage. The idea took hold that in Europe, as German philosopher Richard Muller-Freienfels wrote, technology was (at least in theory) the servant; but that in America it had become a despot.

The fear that America would take over the world reached its height in 1898, when America showed its strength in its military victory over Spain. By the new century, anti- Americanism penetrated Latin America, one of the few regions where it actually now seems to be on the decline. Ignoring any lessons they might learn from their northern neighbor's success, and notwithstanding their own bad experiences with Europe, many Latin American thinkers firmly placed themselves in the European, especially French, camp of high culture and good taste, in contrast to what they saw as America's lack of both.

Uruguayan Jose Enrique Rodo wrote an allegorical essay, Ariel (1900), which was hailed for decades as the definitive manifesto of Latin America. The title character, representing Latin America, personifies the "noble, soaring aspect of the human spirit, he is spirituality in culture, vivacity and grace in intelligence." The United States is depicted as Caliban, who embodies the "spirit of vulgarity." As Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes wrote decades later, agreeing with Rodo's assessment, "It was France that gave us culture without strings, and a sense, furthermore, of elegance, disinterestedness, aristocracy, and links to the culture of the classics solely lacking in the vagabond, unrooted homogenizing pioneer culture of the United States."

This French belief in the superiority of their own culture has contributed to France's anti-Americanism from the two nations' early days. The relative lack of immigrants to early America from France, compared to the high numbers from England and Germany, left France with no expatriates in America to soften public opinion back home. Nor did France share in the Anglo-Saxon heritage. By the twentieth century, despite, or perhaps because of, America's coming to France's rescue in the world wars, the French left and right alike saw the United States as the land of harsh and brutal "absolute capitalism" that threatened to engulf the world with its malformed society. A series of influential books of the interwar years had such unambiguous titles as The American Cancer and America's Conquest of Europe. Everything American was open to criticism, from jazz music to refrigerators to the American woman, a figure allegedly wielding too much power.

Among French intellectuals, America made even the Soviet Union look good. While both the U.S. and the USSR are totalitarian, Alain de Benoist, leader of the French intellectual right, wrote: "The Eastern variety imprisons, persecutes and mortifies the body, but at least it does not destroy help. Its western counterpart ends up creating happy robots. It is an air-conditioned hell." But the French could not deny that America was attractive to the masses, who have always been more pro-American than the intellectuals, and this may be what disturbed them most.

Postwar Years

In the fourth phase of anti-Americanism, from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, fear of American domination became less abstract. America was supposedly taking over the world and had to be prevented from so doing. A striking illustration was the battle over exporting Coca-Cola, that quintessentially American drink, into Europe. The popular communist newspaper in Italy warned that it would turn children's hair white, while French critics spread a rumor that the company wanted to put an ad on the front of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Similar criticism eventually attended the opening of McDonald's and Disneyland in France.

Of course, by this time the United States was also being pilloried by the Soviet Union at the extreme left and European fascists at the extreme right. The extreme right argued that America had changed European society too much, while the leftists claimed that it had not gone far enough. Marxists saw America as racist, while fascists saw in it a mongrel society based on race mixing. Beyond avoiding the danger of imitating America, both doctrines sought to use its alleged threat and bad example to mobilize supporters for their own plans to revolutionize society.

Post-Cold War

With the Cold War's end, the United States was left as the sole superpower, thus beginning the fifth and current stage of anti-Americanism. Those who hold anti-American views see a dominant U.S. as a terrible model for civilization, the centerpiece of those supposed ills of globalization, modernization, and Westernization. This has stimulated the most angry and widespread anti-Americanism ever seen. Moreover, hatred is reinforced by claims that America's higher level of development comes at everyone else's expense and, by the same token, America deliberately brings about the failure of others to duplicate its success.


This piece appears courtesy of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The "free world", whatever that exactly means, has no alternative, and not even much of a conception of trying to work out a viable alternative to following the U.S., in broad terms on the major issues, at least. There is a big difference between grudging, mistrustful, resigned acceptance, however, and active, mutually helpful cooperation. The crucial shift in many countries towards the former stance, in recent years, is largely ascribable to George W. Bush's disaster foreign policy, not to garden variety cultural biases and stereotyping which the article here touts as significant.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You make a few good points, but you go too far.

The bombing of Belgrade, clumsy as it was, was hardly unprovoked and was not preceeded by a great campaign of American lies and of torpedoing of all alternatives to it. And it was supported by ALL of NATO (except Greece, I think). You would be hard-pressed, I think, to find a European in one of the great rallies against the invasion of Iraq carrying an anti-Clinton sign.

Here is the basic hierarchy (obviously simplified for illustrative purposes):

1. Europeans believe using military force only in self-defense.

2. Traditional Americans believe in using military for reasons other than self-defense, but only as a last resort.

3. Bush and the so-called neo-cons believe (in nothing except their own lust for power, really) or profess to believe, in the use of military power as a first resort.

There are big differences between all three of these positions.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Of course there have always been and will always be people around the world who will hate/envy/admire/obsess over America no matter what its government says or does.

What is relevant to America's international credibility and effectiveness today is the opinion of tens of millions of people around the globe who were quietly respectful and appreciative of America in the past, but who have become quite discouraged in recent years, because so many American people appear to continue to tolerate a blatantly incompetent and grossly hypocritical leader who cries "wolf" and THEN expects the world to blindly follow him.

Sheldon the Duke of Otsego and Warren - 7/9/2007

I wish to draw the author's and reader's attention to the fact that there is in fact a new American Aristocracy. For more information see the discussion group at http://newamericanaristocracy.freeforums.org

Ronald Cooper - 10/19/2004

Mary Jane apparently does not understand that to some of us, avoiding arrogance and adhering to principles of intellectual honesty and integrity require us to respond to a factual argument with something more than a string of unsupported allegations (often described as a "rant"). We even believe that when we are confronted with previously unknown facts, historical or otherwise, the inability to counter with facts requires us to be silent or even "admit we have been wrong."

For example, from a Daniel Pipes article that links to the above:

Comte de Buffon, renowned French scientist (1749): The American "heart is frozen, their society cold, their empire cruel."
Talleyrand, French politician (1790s): It is a country of "32 religions and only one dish … and even that [is] inedible."
Alexis de Tocqueville, French social philosopher (1835): "I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion."
Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychiatrist (1930s): "America is a mistake, a gigantic mistake."
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright (1933): "An asylum for the sane would be empty in America."
Henry Miller, American novelist (1945): America is "a fruit which rotted before it had a chance to ripen."
Harold Pinter, British playwright (2001): The United States is "the most dangerous power the world has ever known."

If Mary Jane has done some actual research and can prove these quotations inaccurate, then she might be on her way to proving that anti-Americanism never existed before Bush came along, rather than just arrogantly asserting it.

Ron C

Julien A Furioli - 10/6/2004

I would like to emphasize three key points about the French anti-americanism.

1) the French do not hate America, they have a love-hate relationship with America. At the same time, they love their "Big Mac" (France is McDonald's success story in western Europe) and they will make fun of obese Americans, they keep whining about the dominance of anglo-saxon culture in music but all the French idol from the 60s have American stage names including the indestructible most popular French singer Johny Haliday !!! they repeat how superior from an artistic perspective French movies are but they rush to see the latest American blockbusters, most of the time commenting that they are "not so holliwoodish".

2) The French are jealous of Americans because they cannot exert the same type of military power and cultural influence. And all shall remember that the French have exerted both in the past 2 centuries before, just like the rest of Europe, conceding global power to the superpowers of the cold war. What the French dislike about America intervening in Irak, now and 10 years ago, and anywhere else in the world is the fact that they are followers in the camp of the west. They cannot lead that camp. They were never so resentful when the Russians invaded Prague or Afghanistan in the 80s. Because they were not tied by these actions. When the US moves, the West must follow and the French cannot accept it and will oppose it to regain some feeling of "grandeur".

3) the French elite has had 50 years of building up Anti-Americanism fueled by sovietic propaganda efforts. It is not the case anymore but still, most prominent French thinkers and journalists are leftists, and a significant portion were trained soviet lovers and supporters. After the victory of USSR, the Communist party in France was a strong political and cultural influence. However, when the political influence was fast to recede, the cultural one spread: it was impossible at the time to express any right-wing view without being associated to the fascist camp, it became quickly an obligation for intellectuals to consider USSR as the light from the East. As such, America had to be considered as the new Evil. Things have changed, but the French Elite is stil incredibly light on right-wing ideology: except for a few essayists, there are no right-wing intellectuals. All of our Elite has been trained for years to despise all American. The defeat of Communism in the 80s has not really changed their minds, they are now fueling the "Alter-Globalisation" flavor of Anti-Americanism.

These are all personal views, but I have a feeling they can help explaining why the French are so jumpy at all things American.

Mary Jane VanEsselsttyn - 10/3/2004

Yes but so are the majority of Americans who will never admit it.This article is typical of what we might expect from a vast right wing think tank thathas been saturatimg our country for years and has turned us into an arrogant warlike nation that blames the rest of the world for our own stupidity so we can sulk and feel sorry for ourselves when thing go wrong because others don't love us as we believe we deserve to be loved and worshipped by all humanity as were the ancient gods The only way we can bring back the respect of the world is by giving up our arrogance and developing more humility. It would be the better for our image to admit we have been wrong rather than covering up for unscrupulous behavior of our leaders who take us for morons while continuing to believe the same lies over again . For this reason it is difficult to be proud to be an American unless we have the courage to speak out for our principles such as honesty. decency and integrity that appears to have been lost to this generation of americans who seem to be hopelessly unaware of their inflated egos.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/2/2004


You say I go too far. I say, I go only there where the facts lead me.
You might say that facts can be interpreted differently
and that will be true. However, it is well known that nearly all logical and reasonable folks, on average, give
the same interpretation to the same facts. The main existed differences caused either by ignorance, blind beliefs, dogmatic, partisan thinking, or self-interest, i.e. intellectual corruption.
Sorry for not thinking within any partisan pattern. I understand politics and life too well for having any faith in partisan or ideological blame-game.

"The bombing of Belgrade was hardly unprovoked".
I'm afraid that you use all negatives there, on one simple reason: there are no positives, i.e. you could not
come up with any real 'provocation' for the bombing of civilian targets in the capital of sovereign country,
especially in the light of your own criterion: "Traditional Americans believe in using military for reasons other than self-defense, but only as a last resort."
I can put money where my mouth is, you won't be able to show the alleged provocation and justify that bombing on the basis of your American criterion either.
Just don't give me that "genocide" thing, it wasn't any.

If you are right about that traditional American approach, and I believe you are not, it sharply contradicts the very idea of humanity, the modern world civilization has crystallized in the course of the last millenium: the human life is most precious thing in this world. More of that, that constitutes one of the major accusations the majority in the world, especially Third World, forwards against this country - routine use of deadly force based not on evidence, but on perception.

Now, let me express the reasons I think your Wild West
approach, allegedly dominating among so-called traditional (perhaps you meant - conservative?) modern Americans is nothing but a legend.
American criminal laws, and, traditionally, this country
is the country of law, prohibit the use of lethal force
by anyone, including police, unless the threat is perceived as mortal. If you had clear oportunity to run away from the mortal danger, or could avoid the threat to your life by some other, not-difficult-to-use means, but instead consciously chose to use deadly force
against human(s) perceived creating the threat, you will be prosecuted for the exceeding the limits of reasonable defense or something like that, right? (Unfortunately I forgot the exact specification of that offense).
Not mentioning a case when you weren't the direct target of the threat, but just a witness, observer, and the human target has not been related to you. If you use deadly force in this latter case based on perception only, you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law; if you killed - for murder.
Any use of force based on the perception of threat is
illegal in this country, unless in some very special circumstances, as in the case of tresspassing,
but then the threat crossed one's territorial borders, so say.
Moreover, even if you actually witnessed a murder, mass-murder, regardless how horrific it was, and you apprehended the murderer at the spot of the crime, killing (even beating him severely) him/her would lead to prosecution against you, according to "traditional"
American laws, and views.
Thus, please, don't give us that obsolete "American traditional values a-la-19th century" excuse; it stopped
working with any more or less reasonable folks long time ago.
The real explanation of this allegedly intricate phenomenon is actually simple: double standards.
This country, i.e. its political and ideological elitarian system, as a whole, developed the incomparable skills in the art of double-speak and application of double standards.
The pattern of at times scandolous double standards runs with read thread throughout the entire post-WWII fabric of the US foreign policy.
The openly murderous and terrorist, but friendly or/and needed for some specific purpose regimes are called 'moderates', the just corrupted and reactionary, but moderately murderous - 'democratic', by both major American parties (commonly, at exclusion of several "left" senators and congressmen).
I would present you dozens of proofs of my latter bi-partisan "charge", but unable to do it in such a short commentary.

The literally barbaric use of force in Korea and Vietnam,
speaking just about the US major wars and not mentioning
minor cases of Serbia, Panama, and Guatemala, was inexcusable either under provision of American laws or the international ones.
Every interested knows: this country "traditionally" and consciously (sorry for not using politically correct -"by mistake") use overkill in its military operations whether they are legal or illegal.
Besides, noone, never was able to explain in any serious logical and legal terms the reason this country can operate outside its own territory based not on the international laws or laws of the state whose territory it operates on, but on its own laws and perceptions?!
I strongly suspect you don't know better explanation
than kind of "we allow it to ourselves".

To Mr. Friedman:

Pleeeeese, stop making comparisons between pre-WWII world
situation, and the current one, stop that outrageously false and ridiculous comparison between incomparables -Saddam and Hitler, or Islamic terrorism and Nazism.
If implanted into your mind by neocons comparison has any chance to be applicable, I have any reason to compare you to Socrates on one hand, and to Nitsche on the other. Try me if I will be able to find the similarities.

N. Friedman - 10/1/2004

I miswrote my comment

The error is in the sentence that reads:

"At present - as Bat Ye'or has shown rather convincingly -, Europeans perceive the terror threat from the Islamists as a unfortunate annoyance to their effort to dominate the Arab World but without realizing that the effort to dominate runs both ways and without realizing that the terror threat is mortal.

That sentence should have read:

At present - as Bat Ye'or has shown rather convincingly -, Europeans perceive the terror threat from the Islamists as a unfortunate annoyance to Europe's effort to dominate the Arab World but without realizing that the effort to dominate runs both ways and without realizing that the terror threat is mortal.

N. Friedman - 10/1/2004

Re: Peter K. Clarke on September 30, 2004 at 6:27 PM (#43330)


Interest comment in its entirety.

On the other hand, I actually do not think that you accurately state the positions.

The European traditional response, if the time before WWII is any indication, is to misperceive the difference between threats in general and mortal dangers.

At present - as Bat Ye'or has shown rather convincingly -, Europeans perceive the terror threat from the Islamists as a unfortunate annoyance to their effort to dominate the Arab World but without realizing that the effort to dominate runs both ways and without realizing that the terror threat is mortal.

The traditional American approach is to view the world in Manichean terms. Once it is perceived that a threat exists, action is taken.

The neocons do not have any unified approach. However, to the extent they do, their approach appears to follow rather closely to the traditional approach after having determined that a threat exists.

In the current circumstance, most of the neocons appear to believe that the threat from the Islamists is mortal. The response of many neocons - not all, as I have discovered-, is to remake the world which created the mortal danger. That response is as typical as American pie. Which is why the views of traditional conservatives like Cheney and Rumsfeld blend so easily with the noted neocons.

Please note: I am not assessing the truth quotient of the administrations response to the Islamists. In fact, I am highly skeptical of what they are up to. However, I do think they are entirely correct that the threat from the Islamists is mortal and that we stand, more or less, in the shoes of England circa 1935.

Arnold Shcherban - 9/30/2004


One can harldy see any dramatic difference between foreign policy of Democratic and Republican goverments
for the last 50 years or so. Democrats, along with Republicans, for example, were responsible for Vietnam War that killed in total immesurably more people on both sides that the two Iraqi Wars killed, combined. Taking more recent events, Democratic administration was also responsible for botched "rescue" operation in Kosovo with, I must say, criminal bombing of Belgrade's civilian facilities, causing, according to the West European and Serbian sources, at the least one thousand
deaths - the fact carefully hidden from the wide US public up to these days. Not mentioning the
non-existence of the mass graves of Albanians; God forgive: no hint at the Iraq's WMDs, intended.
(Haven't we known already then, and much ealier in history, that the US goverment is capable of lying to the American public about the real purposes and causes of future wars).
I appreciate what you were trying to relay in just one regard: the US Western European (primary, France and Germany) allies' rejection of the Iraq's invasion, in particular. However, even in this regard, you are correct, as long as we discuss the respective governmental reaction; many (and by many I mean millions, not a few natural, so speak, ones you mentioned) folks in France and Germany, also in Spain, and Italy, and even in the UK haven't thought in good terms of the US (and even of their own governments') foreign policy towards Central American, Arab, and other Third World countries for at least a decade by now.
It is not coincidental that the British majority was against UK direct military involvement in Iraq, despite Blair's decision.
I don't remember much of enthusiastic support on the part of the broad Western European public of the US-UK bombing of Belgrad. What I do remember is the very enthusiastic and massive protests all over Europe and
not so massive ones here, in the US.
By the way, that indistinction between the govermental
actions and the public opinion is one of the prominent characteristic features of the analytic approach employed by many American analysts in the sphere of international affairs. It more often than not leads
them to the over-optimistic and wrong conclusions on the analyzed issues and situations, and consequently to the wrong predictions and misleading recommendations to the US goverments. The other thing that often that's the only approach the government wants them to take, as it happened with the Bush and Clinton administration, in the respective circumstances.

P.S. In regard to the last decades US Central American infamous involvement I, perhaps, must admit that Republicans should be blamed much more than Democrats.
You seemingly got me on that one.

Val Jobson - 9/28/2004

Can he still be considered the leader of the free world if the free world refuses to follow him?