In the history of the world, we have had more "anti" and "phobia" sentiments about peoples, than those which are "pro"-something.Case in point
: How many of you know the opposite of "anti-Semitic"? If you answered Philosemitic, you get a cookie.
Now, how many times have you heard Philosemitic used, whether written out or in conversation? Exactly. Further, for those of you who got the cookie, how many times have you heard it, as opposed to anti-Semitic?
Were I Perry Mason, I would rest my case comfortably at this point -- but I'm just getting started.
Me, the first and seemingly only time I've heard this term used outright was in David Frum's book on President Bush the Younger, The Right Man
. He mentioned that President Clinton's administration was the most aboveboard Philosemitic administration in US History. I distinctly recall thinking -- after 3 years at Oxford, how come I have never heard this word before? Especially since I have long known, I myself am Philosemitic.
Though it could say something about me, I doubt it as much as it says something about human nature: that perhaps in ordinary, everyday life we are much more subject to negativity about others, including being aware of self-reproaching phrases, than of those which tout the positive.
It is in this spirit that I read Professor Bainbridge's
recent post on Francophobia, as it pertains to its opposite complaint, Anti-Americanism.
Coincidentally, one of the few "phile" names in common usage is "Francophilia". For example, I myself am an unabashed Francophile. I love French history, French culture, and I love speaking French. Paris, I know like the back of my hand. I'm eminently comfortable in France.
As for the French, they have long had a fascination with the upper-classes of Britain, psychologically lending me a comfort-making hand. If today you were to walk into a country club in France, or were invited for a Battenburg at the Crillon Hôtel
, you would be immediately transported to England.
Not the England of the terraces, the chavs and the Butlin's Camps
, it's true -- but the England of the cream teas, the Harris tweeds, of Cowes Week, of Badminton, of the unhurried air of visiting royalty. To these French, everything British is considered "BCBG" (bon chic, bon genre
How disinflating it must be, then, to find out the English upper-classes have a sneeringly superior attitude towards the French. Just as the English working-classes still seethe with resentment and distrust towards Germans who obliterated the East End, the county set find themselves barely able to stomach, as they see it, their slightly ridiculous neighbours to the South. The French are "too too", as my grandmother once proclaimed. Mind you, her neck was swathed with an Hermès scarf
as she said it.
And not all French have a cultural affaire
with Britain. There are some to whom the British are the peculiar, doltish offspring of the continent. They're like Germans, with less intelligence and even worse food, as my old French tutor at school liked to say. Mind you, he was happily teaching English girls in Oxfordshire
as he said it.
In the distancing of General De Gaulle from the "Anglo bloc
" of Roosevelt and Churchill, you can see traces of this attitude, even moreso, since it threatened to make France a second-rate partner in a post-war English-speaking world. As Britain's empire disintegrated by mutual consent, there came a more vigourous version of it -- these United States of America. An America who had roots in old Europe, without ever wanting to be a part of it, as even the British were by must needs forced to, if only geographically.
Well, because the United States of America was founded on principles which were antithetical in its time to nations in Europe -- they are emblazoned on pieces of parchment whose words still define its children 200 years later. People came as much for economic opportunity, as social freedoms unimagined in their own countries, since tabula rasas
are hard to come by in old worlds. After the wrench from the Motherland, America set forth to conquer itself, with no counterbalance in its own hemisphere to apply the brakes. Though it could have failed a hundred times from birth, it survived a Civil War to prosper, outdoing itself, bettering itself more in each new century. The American Experiment is a success.
France the first republic, was born of fierce, liberating ideals, just as vital to its self-image as the United States' Constitution is to it. But the revolution which pupped it was unaccountably bloody, and most importantly, its form of government didn't last. Monarchies came, republics went. France warred with and was warred countless times by its neighbours. Napoleon in his time was as demonic as Hitler, but Hitler doesn't today lie entombed under a dome of gold.
What would've happened to this fledgling republic had it had a Washington, a Jefferson, and later a Lincoln, instead of a Robespierre, a Napoleon, and later a Napoleon III? These are not names which are committed to the republic, but rather to French glory. Therefore, France, a new republic, was unstable whilst participating in the most unstable form of government there is. We are in its 5th incarnation, with some predicting its end after President Chirac's political demise. Is France a success?
Whilst this question is pondered, you may ask yourself -- why the compare and contrast with the United States? Why do we always have to compare one to the other, which necessitates a winner-loser situation almost by defintion.
It is, to some, even a question which borders on the unsophisticated -- the worse lese-majesté a person can embody. Children in playgrounds compare. Intelligent, cosmopolitan adults see the whole sweep of history instead.
But we in the West have a linear sense of history, and the linear is the perfect conduit for a compare-contrast vision of the world. Let's at least just admit this to ourselves straight off, being philosophically honest for once. As Robert Kagan said in his monograph, Of Paradise and Power
, it's time to stop pretending.
What he was referring to was specifically "that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world...". Not that they did. But that in fact, they don't. Anymore.
Wholesale statements of this kind often tend to alienate readers, especially Aristotelians like myself, who always seek to balance extremes. For every example of anti-Americanism or Francophobia, one can think of many others, especially personal ones such as I used earlier.
It's important, then, to note that not all
Americans feel aggrieved at the French. And not all
Frenchmen dislike the American way of life. We do have shared values. We do have admiration for one another. We do visit, talk, romance, marvel at and often just coexist peacefully with each other, free from news pundits or intelligentsia roaring otherwise.
What can harm then are not critics, but the criticisms themselves. And if by chance, it's not criticism but bigotry, then it can harm more than just feelings.
When I was in France a few years ago (pre-9/11), I was asked by a French acquaintance why I wanted to "exile" myself to the US, especially since I was aiming south, not to NYC (the only civilised option, apparently). Before I opened my mouth to respond, I was greeted by a litany of complaints about Americans, all-too familiar as they are to us all.
Americans were fat, uncultured, violent, controlling, conservative, provincial, self-obsessed, sports-mad pea brains with no knowledge of geography or knew how to make conversation. They had no "esprit", no history, they were "nulles".
As if that weren't enough, all the people at the table concurred. There must've been thunder in my eyes since one person piped up, "Of course, not all Americans are like this. But too many are." I looked away, so another explained, "It's not Americans we dislike, but their government." Everyone nodded. Governments are easy to loathe. Surely, I understood that.
It's then that I walked away from the table.
One can tolerate criticisms. One can even tolerate insults. But when you try to cloak them with a hypocritical veneer of "truth", you are in the presence of bigots and that's no good place to be.
Earlier last year, when I first became a pollworker, one of my colleagues was a 50-something lady. Her mother came from Russia as a war bride in the 40's. She herself had travelled all over Europe when younger. She was a registered Democrat, as I found out in due time. And she told me she'd never go back to France again, or buy anything French if she could help it.
"Why not?". Because they are ingrates. And arrogant. "And?". And? And that's it.
Less words, similar sentiments, same bigotry.
What struck me on reflection was that this American's dislike was less detailed. Ingratitude, arrogance. Quick, easy, also built on a coating of "truth". But not targeted the same way. It was...amorphous, and felt less visceral because of it. It made me more curious therefore, since her background could not (easily) explain away her attitudes.
I wish in retrospect I had sought her out about it. I didn't. But the incident has stayed with me.
Is Anti-Americanism then, more entrenched socially with the French, than Francophobia is with Americans? You betcha.
Now if you believe that the French, en masse, have a wider culture and place more emphasis on appreciating the intellectual realm than Americans do in their world (as I do, by the way), why is it that that supra-ignorant attitude known as bigotry has taken root in the two most intellectual countries in Europe -- namely, France and Germany?
That kind of disgust, that level of disdain, that overpowering spite -- surely, this isn't rational, and yet French intellectuals to a man and woman seemed possessed by it. Sartre loathed the US, perhaps because it's that godlike substitute on earth.
Yet, other Empires have existed much worse than the US' could ever hope to be, and indeed, were embodied most recently by France and Germany themselves, so could it be a fear of recognition which fuels this antipathy?
The answers are too detailed for a blogpiece which merely questions, rather than provides solutions. One can even only guess at the reasons, since supposition here triumphs when no real data is present.
The hysterical anti-Americanism then may be traced to, but isn't exclusive to:
1) The American Government post-World War II
. Regardless of administration, the Americans have taken on generational duties vis-a-vis Europe, such as defence and budget in the form of the Marshall Plan. This breeds resentment of the anti-caretaker kind: one resents one's own dependence, obligation, gratitude. The only way to change that legitimately is if one objectifies the bad, and lessens the good of said caretaker. In their eyes, America with all its faults is worse than the worst empires of yore, precisely because their statehood ideals are high. They've set themselves up. People understand evil rogue states. But evil rogue states tend not to survive unchallenged. Is Europe then the challenger?
2) Ideological divide
. Americans know their system is imperfect, but can be tweaked to better perform without need of outside intervention or disbanding it. Neither France nor Germany had that luxury historically. Americans were at the forefront versus Communism. Many French and German intellectuals then and now find that unacceptable. The same is true with a newer generation of those committed to international law and institutions, as well as those more environmentally aware than Americans are said to be. The European Union also is not anything more than hybrid -- a cultural and economic unity of people, whose primary interest is peace amongst its membership. It is by definition, anti-military. They have that luxury when the United States was duty bound to defend them.
3) Feelings of Guilt
. France came to the Colonials aid early on, but they didn't actually fight for their freedom from the British Crown with the Americans merely looking on (this is exactly what happened in France, Germany, Japan, and now Iraq -- liberation isn't as straightforward a matter to the liberated). France capitulated to the German blitzkrieg with amazing alacrity, thus unfairly damning them historically ever since in Americans' eyes, and perhaps in their own. France has been on the losing end militarily for a while. Germans were more adept, but consequently had more to lose in the end. But divesting oneself of guilt gets easier if the generations which did the original sinning, die.
3) Sense of Superiority
. Americans are cowboys, a mixed undefined "race" of people with less than 250 years of history. How can they possibly match the grandeur of European civilisation? Even Peruvians had the Incas and Central Americans Aztecs and Mayans, advanced cultures which contrast favourably with anything on the North American continent. America is unworthy to lead the world. It's almost as if Americans were homunculii, with no past, who came from no where out of thin air. Cynically though, if that counterargument is brought before them, they then say that Americans had no "original" thoughts; they're just a derivative, therefore second-rate culture. Bigotry always likes to have it both ways.
. Many Europeans receive visiting relatives from the US with less than enthusiasm. Americans are often hurt and puzzled by this attitude. They shouldn't be. Their ancestors left their homelands for a BETTER place. America was the golden door. So what did that make those who didn't open that door? Losers by inference. Europeans suffered horrors in two World Wars, whereas American land was largely untouched for a century. Not only was the path different, but there is an element of betrayal to it. You left. You took the easy way out. You're a traitor. All emigrants face trouble and heartache in adapting to new countries, but the ones left behind cannot, a priori, ever fully comprehend that.
5) Fear of the Modern
. When you represent the Old World, sometimes you feel yourself old, outdated. Ideas which once came gushing out have become a trickle comparatively. Europeans invented the importance of inventions, but Americans took those ideas and absolutely ran with them. Look around you. Even the blog which we write daily is from the well-spring of the American mind. Luddites are everywhere, but those who fear that modernity means Americanisation are legion.
. America works. Other places don't work as well. If bad things have to happen, it's better if they happen in America, since the solutions, the turnaround time, the money are there. Others wish to have what America has, but only on their own terms, and even worse, they suspect they don't have what it takes. Some countries have even been given a chance, and some have squandered it. That's hard to accept for many.
. America is strong. Militarily strong. Economically strong. Culturally strong. It dwarves the world with its might. And it's just one country. Many Europeans have been waiting for a counter to the American hegemon, since they are used to that ole balance of power system. Some championed the Soviet Union, despite what it stood for. It fell. Then Japan was going to cook the US' economic goose. It stagnates. Now it's China's turn. Almost 2 billion strong. The Chinese Century? We'll see. All the while, the most obvious solution is staring at them in their faces -- Europe. But Europeans lack the will to compete militarily. Indeed, that is now their raison d'être, invoking reason 2 above.
If as Professor Philippe Roger of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
is right, anti-Americanism in France is a "discourse"
, to use a post-modern Foucaultian term, maybe it can be analysed in future.
But as in all discourse, its premise lies in power structure.
Who wields power, who manipulates it, who uses it. And in each situation, though the appearance of power seems to lie within the stronger actor, sometimes the weaker can undermine that position by constantly questioning it. By being a nuisance, the anti-hero becomes heroic to the audience, at once actors and critics. In other words, instead of being passive, the challenger wrenches some power away from the powerful.
This is the role which the French have played since the late 1940's. And the rest of the world is enthralled whenever it happens.
Anti-Americanism is as pervasive today as anti-Semitism, and indeed, are eerily intertwined in some people's minds. It's not enough to shame people into not believing lies. One must also not believe them in part or in toto. The same is true of Francophobia. Or of any self-perpetuating hatred.
If conspriacy theories are graveyards of the intellect, so too are prejudices lifelines for demagogues.
That's one souffle de la vie
we can extinguish together.Further ReadingSixty Million Frenchmen can't Be Wrong: What makes the French so French?
The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism Coming April 22, 2005.