Friday, October 27, 2006

Peter Katzenbach and Robert O. Keohane have a fascinating article in the Hoover Institution journal Policy Review called Anti-Americanisms, which Arts and Letters Daily links to this week. Their thesis is that anti-Americanism is too broad a concept and so it should be more clearly defined and if necessary subclassified.

First, they differentiate between opinion and bias; they define anti-American opinion as reasoned opposition to American policies, and consider it unimportant in the long term, as those who oppose said policies will cease to do so when those policies change. Bias, however, is a tendency to always believe the worst about the United States.

Bias implies a distortion of information processing, while adverse opinion is consistent with maintaining openness to new information that will change one’s views. The long-term consequences of bias for American foreign policy are much greater than the consequences of opinion.

However, the authors rather overestimate the amount and influence of mere opinion. In all of Europe, biased anti-Americanism is rife. In 2006, according to a Pew survey, 56% of the British, 39% of the French, 37% of Germans, and only 23% of Spaniards had a favorable opinion of the United States.

The view we take in the volume is that much of what is called anti-Americanism, especially outside of the Middle East, indeed is largely opinion. As such, it is volatile and would diminish in response to different policies, as it has in the past. The left is correct on this score, while the right overestimates resentment toward American power and hatred of American values. If the right were correct, anti-Americanism would have been high at the beginning of the new millennium.

I don't agree. I think most Euro anti-Americanism is definitely based on bias and not mere opinion.

The authors divide bias, quite accurately I think, into four types, from least to most malevolent: liberal, social (which I would call "socialist"), sovereign-nationalist, and radical. Then they add two other "special cases," elitism and historical grievances.

Liberal bias: Liberals often criticize the United States bitterly for not living up to its own ideals...Hypocrisy in American foreign policy is not so much the result of the ethical failings of American leaders as a byproduct of the role played by the United States in world politics and of democratic politics at home. It will not, therefore, be eradicated. As long as political hypocrisy persists, abundant material will be available for liberal anti-Americanism.

Yep. The United States cannot avoid being seen as hypocritical. That's because it has ideals which are very difficult to live up to. Liberal anti-American bias is very common in Spain, affecting nearly all Spaniards at least sporadically.

Socialist bias: Many democratic societies do not share the peculiar combination of respect for individual liberty, reliance on personal responsibility, and distrust of government characteristic of the United States. People in other democratic societies may therefore react negatively to America’s political institutions and its social and political arrangements that rely heavily on market processes...Social anti-Americanism is based on value conflicts that reflect relevant differences in many spheres of life that are touching on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Yep. Socialist ideals are much stronger all over Europe than in the US. I'd say half of Spaniards are affected by socialist anti-American bias.

Sovereign-nationalist bias: Sovereign nationalists focus on two values: the importance of not losing control over the terms by which polities are inserted in world politics and the inherent importance and value of collective national identities. These identities often embody values that are at odds with America’s.

Yep. Nearly all Spaniards are subject to sovereign-nationalist bias at times. Catalan nationalists are a particularly interesting case.

Radical bias: It is built around the belief that America’s identity, as reflected in the internal economic and political power relations and institutional practices of the United States, ensures that its actions will be hostile to the furtherance of good values, practices, and institutions elsewhere in the world...For progress toward a better world to take place, the American economy and society will have to be transformed, either from within or from without. The most extreme form of contemporary radical anti-Americanism holds that Western values are so abhorrent that people holding them should be destroyed. The United States is the leading state of the West and therefore the central source of evil...Religiously inspired and secular radical anti-Americanism argue for the weakening, destruction, or transformation of the political and economic institutions of the United States. The distinctive mark of both strands of anti-Americanism is the demand for revolutionary changes in the nature of American society.

Yep. I'd say about one-fourth of Spaniards are radically biased against the United States, and what pisses them off most is that the US won the Cold War. They wish we had lost.

Elitist bias: Elitist anti-Americanism arises in countries in which the elite has a long history of looking down on American culture. In France, for example...

Yep. Every Spaniard who has graduated from high school thinks he's a member of an intellectual elite in comparison to us ignorant Yankees.

Legacy bias: Legacy anti-Americanism stems from resentment of past wrongs committed by the United States toward another society...Between the late 1960s and the end of the twentieth century, the highest levels of anti-Americanism recorded in Western Europe were found in Spain and especially Greece — both countries that had experienced civil wars; in the case of Spain the United States supported for decades a repressive dictator.

Yep. At least half of Spaniards blame the United States for the Franco dictatorship, in complete ignorance of anything resembling a fact, since the US was no more fond of Franco than any other member of the Western alliance and had absolutely nothing to do with his rise to power. I have actually heard Spaniards blame the US for not having intervened on the Republican side during the Civil War, if you can believe that.

The authors claim that there is no "grand explanation" for anti-Americanism, but they rather defeat their own case by their careful classifications. I would say that anti-American bias in Europe, at least, stems from some combination of these six factors the authors have identified, and different factors have different strengths in different countries--but each country is affected by all these factors to some extent.

They add that American culture is "polyvalent," which means that it is so huge and varied that virtually anyone can find something he doesn't like in it. Too atheistic, as conservative Muslims would have it, or too religious, as liberal Europeans would?

The authors' conclusion is rather weak, though; they wonder why we should care about anti-Americanism.

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about anti-Americanism is that we Americans seem to care so much about it.

I have three reasons: first, it reminds me rather too much of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and xenophobia, and we all know what that's going to lead to if unchecked, an isolated America rather as Israel is isolated today. Second, it's illogical and irrational and contributes to further flawed thinking; anti-Americans use their anti-Americanism to reinforce their national socialist biases. Third, it does positive harm to American (and pro-American; we have many friends in Spain, difficult as that may be to believe sometimes) interests around the world. We'd all be much better off if Zap were not prime minister, for example, but the Socialists were able to play upon popular anti-Americanism after the March 11 bombings.

Anyway, go read the article and see what you think. The essay is the basis for a book to be coming out next year, which I am looking forward to reading.

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