Herbert Eiteneier on Amerika, dich hasst sich’s besser: Antiamerikanismus und Antisemitismus in Europa

, October 1, 2006

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:3-4 (Fall 2006)

 

 European Animosities

Amerika, dich hasst sich’s besser: Antiamerikanismus und Antisemitismus in Europa
(America, Hating You Is Easier: Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism in Europe)
by Andrei S. Markovits

Reviewed by Herbert Eiteneier

 

Andrei S. Markovits was born in Romania in 1948. He lived in Vienna and moved to New York in 1960. In 1971, he became a naturalized American. He frequently traveled to Europe and still does. Markovits is Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies at the University of Michigan, where he launched a major comparative project on anti-Americanism in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy during the twentieth century.

This is Markovits’s first book in German, though it is based on a lengthy English lecture. Intended for a German and European audience, its author takes a very negative view of the Bush administration. He analyzes Europe, however, as a continent that passively and self-righteously defines its identity in terms of disassociation and opposition to America.

Nevertheless, Markovits believes it is still an open question whether Europeans will continue to define themselves in this negative way or find a positive foundation for their unity. As a scholar shuttling between the United States and Europe, he has a strong basis for his observations and generally makes his points persuasively.

An Anti-American Tradition

Markovits points out that European anti-Americanism is not new. Citing statements by European thinkers and leaders, he notes that America, as a concept, threatened Europe even before the founding of the United States. Although such attitudes long typified the European elites but not the citizenry, in the last quarter of the twentieth century this changed.

Drawing his examples mainly from the German experience but also from the French, British, and some other countries’ behavior, Markovits shows how the perceived threat of America persisted throughout European history, even during times of close friendship after World War II. His account is mostly descriptive with some modest effort to explain why this has been so. He cites the European elites’ concerns about American primitivism, corruptibility, and very alien nature, concerns that already existed when America was still made up of English colonies. Moreover, Europeans viewed other Europeans who emigrated to America as a lowly element.

Markovits’s main achievement is his depiction of European anti-Americanism as stemming primarily from the European perception of America, rather than the deeds of Americans and their government. Here he provides ample evidence; though critics might describe it as circumstantial, a more extensive description of the phenomenon would simply go beyond the scope of the book.

The Current Situation

Today, Markovits maintains, the European populace has converged with the elites in viewing the United States negatively. He attributes this particular development to the policies of the Bush administration, but does not offer solid evidence for this claim.

Also notable is Markovits’s insight into the link between European anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. A wide range of examples include slogans like “Bush and Sharon are murderers” in protesting the invasion of Iraq, or the recent decline of German inhibitions toward Israel and Jews, who are more and more viewed as controlling American politics. Not only in Germany but in Europe generally, Jews, by shedding the image of (Nazi) victims and being strong and combative, are perceived as a threat – including Jewish interest groups in both the United States and Europe, and, of course, Israel.

Markovits concludes that European anti-Semitism is part of European anti-Americanism. This is disputable; might it be the other way around? Or neither? Markovits, in any case, clearly shows that anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism – as André Glucksmann put it – are “twins”; one is never found without the other.

A Need for Emancipation?

In the last chapter, Markovits substantiates his conclusions with statements and findings by major, dissenting European thinkers from Hannah Arendt to Anton Pelinka. As early as 1954, in a lecture at a Princeton University conference on “The Image of America Abroad,” Arendt criticized Europeanism as a negative means of “emancipating” Europe from the United States, even though it may have seemed warranted by the then-existing economic gap between them:

Like an invisible but very real Chinese Wall prosperity and wealth divide the United States of America from all other countries of this globe…. We all know from personal experience that equality is essential for friendship…. Distrust of American intentions, the fear of being pushed into unwanted political action, suspicion of evil motives when getting help without political conditions – all this is quite natural and doesn’t need hostile propaganda to evolve. Problematic is the tendency to erect Europe in an act of emancipation from America instead of finding a positive definition to overcome the Nationalism of the European states.

Pelinka views the problem as stemming from the massive disparities and asymmetric structures existing in world politics:

U.S. behavior is a logical implication of an … extreme lack of balance. A power without a counterpower will always try to impose its will and seek to achieve its goals unilaterally if feels it needs to. That is a natural process…. Peace is not endangered by American power, but by the missing counterpart…. If Europe wants to contribute to positive peace it cannot just insist on critical distance from the United States, on self-righteous assurance not to wage war itself.1

It must, in other words, define itself on the basis of its own goals.

This final chapter is written in an academic prose that is not always easy to read, and contrasts with the flowing style of the first four chapters. Also irritating are the author’s constant expressions of antipathy toward the Bush administration throughout the book. As noted, he blames Bush for the popularizing of formerly elite anti-Americanism in Europe. This, however, does not jibe with Markovits’s own account of anti-Americanism as having evolved through the Vietnam War, subsequent U.S. military actions in Panama and Grenada, and the Gulf War of 1991.

Possibly, Markovits seeks to demonstrate that he is still on the Left even after rightly observing that anyone not sharing in the anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism is ostracized by the European Left as a racist and traitor. Indeed, this situation, which he decries, emerged well before George W. Bush became president. For example, he does not mention the virulent anti-American media campaigns in Germany after the accident involving the Italian air force’s aerobatics team in Ramstein in August 1988, which was baselessly blamed on the United States, and after the crash of a U.S. air force plan in Remscheid just three months later.

Overall, though, this is a worthwhile book. It soundly documents and provides insights on a problem that Europe simultaneously denies and takes great pride in.

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Notes

1. Anton Pelinka, ” Die Macht Amerikas, die Ohnmacht Europas (American Power, European Impotence).” Unpublished lecture, BLOBArt Academy, Kloster Pernegg, 30 August 2003. [in German]

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HERBERT EITENEIER is an elementary school teacher in Leverkusen, Germany.