While idly browsing the shelves at our local public library, I stumbled across a fascinating book — one that is fascinating on a couple of different levels. It’s called Uncouth Nation : Why Europe Dislikes America, and was written by Andrei S. Markovits, a Jewish man who was born in Romania, and raised during the 1960s in Vienna and America. He is now a professor of comparative politics and German studies at the University of Michigan.
Although Markovits occasionally lapses into the terrible writing of academia (e.g, at p. 28, “To be sure, anti-American sentiments have indeed varied in their manifest expressions both diachronically and synchronically….”), he presents his thesis very lucidly, and it’s a good thesis. Markovitz believes that the anti-Americanism that is increasingly present in Europe is not George Bush’s fault, but that it has been present in Europe since Columbus’s time. Even when America was just a little blink over the horizon, elite Europeans viewed it as a threat to their cultural stability and own sense of superiority. This sense of threat only worsened in the 20th Century as America, along with its siren song of freedom (economic and social), gained the actual power to affect European affairs. Now, Europeans have to deal, not only with their ancient and visceral dislike, but also with the reality that they are dependent on a nation they have historically disdained. In other words, Markovits describes an “American Derangement Syndrome” throughout Europe:
Just like anti-Semitism, so, too is anti-Americanism antonymous. Everything and its opposite pertains: too religious, too secular; too idealistic, too materialistic; too elitist, too populist; too prudish, too pornographic; too individualistic, too conformist; too anarchic, too controlling; too obsessed with history, not having any history; too concerned with culture, not having any culture; too dominated by women, too controlling of women. America, in the view of some Europeans, is so obsessed with freedom and individualism that this obsession impedes genuine individuality and creates what one conservative German critic of the United States tellingly labeled ‘freedom Bolshevism”…. In short, the motto is clear: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. (p. 24.)
I agree and, with every paragraph I’ve read in the book, I think Markovits makes and proves his point about the deep roots anti-Americanism has in Europe. There’s more to the book than that, though.
What caught me was the way in which Markovits is forced to expose the anti-Americanism that characterizes the American Left, and that cannot be excused by looking to Europe’s long-standing dislike for America. The topic comes up because Markovits tries to increase his argument’s credibility by establishing his own position. At least, that’s why I think he is forced to acknowledge that the American Left, like the world Left, is defined by its hatred for America. After all, if this were a standard rant against the Left coming from someone on the Right, no one would pay attention to it. The argument about Europe’s chronic, historic dislike for America gains credence only if it’s made by an insider. And so, in the book’s preface, Markovits is forced to explain that Europe’s almost hysterical anti-Americanism is a coming together of ancient hatreds and modern politics (most that go far beyond BDS), and that this hatred infects the American Left, which has made him something of an outcast.
Markovits begins by pointing out the anti-American and anti-Semitic animus that is becoming the core definer for the Left:
There can be no doubt that anti-Americanism has become a kind of litmus test for progressive thinking and identity in Europe and the world (including the United States itself). Just as any self-respecting progressive and leftist in Europe or America, regardless of which political shade, simply had to be on the side of the Spanish Republic in the 1930s, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism have become the requisite proof of possessing a progressive conviction today. [Snip.] Over the last thirty-five years, a steady anti-Americanism and an uncompromising anti-Zionism, which occasionally borders on the anti-Semitic, have become key characteristics that both divide and determine political identity absolutely. They are “wedge issues” — clear articles of faith or “deal breakers” — whose importance overshadows, and even negates, many related components of the “clusters” that characterize such an identity. (p. xiv.)
Because the “litmus test” is hatred for America, all the other standard Leftist tropes become secondary if you want to belong to that club. Markovits uses himself as an example of this fact. He begins by establishing his Leftist bona fides. Thus, here are the beliefs this comparative politics profession at the University of Michigan holds:
I am an advocate of affirmative action in all realms of public life; a supporter for decades of numerous civil rights organizations, in favor of complete equality for women and discriminated ethnic groups, especially blacks, in the United States; an opponent of the death penalty. I favor legally recognized marriages for gays and lesbians; support the right of all women to complete and exclusive autonomy over their bodies, in other words, the right to an abortion; support unrestricted stem cell research [snip] and favor the Kyoto Climate Protocol, the International Criminal Court, the Ottawa Conventions on the ban of land mines, and the International Biological Weapons Convention. I do not want prayers in public schools and oppose charter schools; I favor strict gun control laws and — as an animal benefit activist — oppose hunting for sport. I have always supported trade unions in their difficult struggles, always favor increases in the minimum wage, have never broken a strike or crossed a picket line, even when I did not agree with the striking union’s demands; I welcome the legalization of marijuana, advocate a more just and socially conscience health care system, and desire progressive taxation and a much greater role for the public sector in economic matters. I am a decisive opponent of subsidies for rich American (and European) farmers, deride th exclusivity and price gouging of the pharmaceutical industry, oppose trafficking in women and exploitation of children, and am appalled by the erosion of civil liberties in the United States as well as by the shameful, completely illegal situation in Guantanamo and the outrageous abuses in Abu Ghraib prison. [Snip.] In terms of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, I have always supported the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state and have held views that have been akin to the Israeli peace camp’s. I have regularly condemned and opposed certain measures of American foreign policy, regardless of which party needed to be held responsible (whether the Vietnam policy of Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson or the Iraq policy of Republican George W. Bush), and I have therefore — as should be obvious from the above list — positioned myself quite clearly on the left side of the political spectrum in America (and Europe as well). (pp. xiv-xv.)
Prof. Markovits Leftist bona fides are as impeccable as they come. He has a problem, though, which is that there is a thread of innate honesty and intelligence running through him, and it is this that leaves him unwilling to accept mindlessly the anti-American and anti-Semitic hostility that is now becoming a dominant trait on the Left at home and abroad. Thus, after reciting his sterling Leftist credentials, Markovits had this to say:
Yet I am increasingly avoided by leftists on both sides of the Atlantic owing solely to the two wedge issues mentioned above [anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism]. As a reaction against this, I find myself having withdrawn from the established American and European lefts in whose presence I feel increasingly misplaced. I am not writing this to elicit sympathy for my increasing political marginalization but rather to make a point of how central anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism have become to virtually all lefts on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. (p. xv.)
In other words, from a die-hard Leftist, you hear that, yes, the American Left is indeed unpatriotic because to hate America is the test for admission into the progressive club.
I’m rather impressed with Prof. Markovits’s ability honestly to confront the fact that the anti-Americanism that oozes out of Europe and keeps popping up at home is not just a figment of the Right’s paranoid imaginings. Instead, it’s real and it’s rising. It is, as I’ve captioned it in this post “America Derangement Syndrome” (“ADS”). Just as with Bush Derangement Syndrome, it exists at an emotional level that has no need for facts. America is evil because it’s evil. Bush is evil because he’s evil. No further proof needed.
What’s sad is that, even as Markovits has been able to break away from the ADS, even to the point of becoming shunned by his former Leftist compadres, he’s still in the grip of an unreasoning BDS. Every few pages, he feels compelled to blame Bush for something, only to back away and acknowledge that, whatever Bush did, it doesn’t excuse the European (and, by extension, American Leftist) animus to America and Israel. For example:
George W. Bush and his administrations’ policies have made America into the most hated country of all time. [Wow! Because apparently everyone loved the Mongols, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Nazis, the Nationalist Japanese, etc., etc.] Indeed, they bear responsibility for having created a situation in which anti-Americanism has mutated into a sort of global antinomy, a mutually shared language of opposition to and resistance against the real and perceived ills of modernity that are now inextricably identified solely with America. [I think this paragraph was written before some recent European elections.] (p. 1.)
After reading the above, I almost felt like snarling, “Smile when you say that, Pardner. Them’s fighting words.” If that’s not unanchored BDS, I don’t know what is — and Markovits is completely unaware that it exists. Even as he’s castigating the Europeans for their unreasoning American hatred, he’s engaging in precisely the same type of thinking vis a vis Bush. There’s hope for him, though. That same inconvenient honesty that finally broke him free of the Left’s strangle hold about America, forces him to acknowledge that Bush is not the culprit in failing American-European relations:
While the politics, style, and discourse of the Bush administrations — and of George W. Bush as a person — have undoubtedly exacerbated anti-American sentiment among Europeans and fostered a heretofore unmatched degree of unity between elite and mass opinion in Europe, they are not anti-Americanism’s cause. Indeed, a change to a center-left administration in Washington, led by a Democratic president, would not bring about its abatement, let alone its disappearance. [Take that, John Kerry!] (p. 5.)
Perhaps, as time goes by, and as Markovits peels away the unthinking allegiance he has to Leftist doctrine, he’ll begin to take stands on matters that are informed and principled, and not driven simply by ideological loyalty. Certainly to leave the ideological trap will make him a more honest thinker and, I’m willing to be, a better teacher (and that’s without regard to how good a teacher he may already be).