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Jean Francois Revel
Encounter Books, 2003
176 pp., $25.95
by Allen C. Guelzo
Of all the great creeds which steered Europeans into disaster in the last century (and the list only begins with Marxism and fascism), only one still survives. But it is thriving, and one does not have to listen very closely in order to hear it: anti-Americanism.
It not only thrives, but has been thriving longer than any of its comparatively short-lived rivals of the last hundred or so years. America was, after all, the place where Britain sent all its unwanted social baggage, starting with its Puritans and eventually running the gamut to include debtors, Quakers, unruly Irish and Scots, unlucky Africans, convicts, and so forth; it was conventional wisdom that no good thing could emerge from this human slag-heap. Nor did the establishment of the new federal Republic in 1787 redeem American reputations. The collapse of the French Republic into Napoleonic dictatorship, and the revulsion from the politics of Enlightenment reason which washed over Europe after Waterloo, made the United States the butt of Romantic scorn. There was no real national identity in America, complained Joseph de Maistre, only a cheap mixture of races and nationalities united solely by the hope of materialistic gain. "The American knows nothing; he seeks nothing but money; he has no ideas," raged the German poet Nichlaus Lenau. America, Heinrich Heine wrote (anticipating Marcuse and the Frankfurt School), was a "gigantic prison of freedom":
Sometimes it comes to my mind
To sail to America
To that pig-pen of Freedom
Inhabited by boors living in equality.1
Never mind that the Americans had to be summoned not once, but twice, to save Europe from self-destruction in the 20th century, and even a third time when Europe seemed unable to save itself from the Soviets. Their thanks for this was to have their role in the war of 1914-1918 dismissed as nothing more than a convenient reinforcement to those great geniuses of the Western Front, Haig and Petain (when in fact the American intervention was, in the ...