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UNDERSTANDING ANTI-AMERICANISM

Anti-Americanism is a psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general. Such views can be broadly classified into four major types, ranging from least to most intense:

1) Liberal anti-Americanism: Liberals often criticize the United States bitterly for not living up to its own ideals. For example, they disparage the country for proclaiming its dedication to democracy and self-determination on the one hand, while supporting dictatorships around the world (both during the Cold War and afterward) on the other. Most recently, the war against terrorism has led the U.S. to begin supporting a variety of otherwise unattractive, even repugnant, regimes. The formation of such alliances has opened America to charges of hypocrisy from people who share its professed ideals but disagree with its methods.

Liberal anti-Americanism is prevalent in advanced, industrialized countries, especially those colonized or influenced by Great Britain. This phenomenon neither threatens nor aspires to generate violent attacks of any kind against the United States, but rather to reduce support for American policy.

2) Social anti-Americanism: Many democratic societies do not share the peculiar combination of respect for individual liberty, reliance on personal responsibility, and distrust of government that is characteristic of the United States. People in such societies may therefore react negatively to America’s political institutions and its social and political arrangements that rely heavily on market processes. Most notably, they may advocate deeper state involvement in social welfare programs than is politically feasible or socially acceptable in the United States. They tend to decry the injustice embedded in American policies that allegedly favor the rich over the poor. The complaint is different here than for liberals who resent American "hypocrisy."

Other genuine value conflicts also exist on issues such as the death penalty, the use of multilateral (as opposed to unilateral) approaches to international conflicts, and the sanctity of international treaties. Social democratic welfare states in Scandinavia, Christian democratic welfare states on the European continent, and developing industrial states in Asia are prime examples of democracies whose institutions and practices contrast in significant ways with those of the United States.

3) Sovereign-nationalist anti-Americanism: This form of anti-Americanism focuses on political power and the inherent importance of collective national identities. These identities often embody values that are at odds with America’s. State sovereignty thus becomes a shield against unwanted U.S. intrusions into the domestic affairs of other countries.

Sovereign-nationalist anti-Americanism commonly appears where people see their states as potential, but not yet actual, great powers on the world stage; their sense of rivalry breeds animosity. The issues of “respect” and saving “face” in international politics can make anti-Americanism especially virulent in such places, since they stir nationalist passions in a way that social anti-Americanism rarely does.

4) Radical anti-Americanism: This form of anti-Americanism has both religious and secular strands that are built around the belief that America’s identity -- as reflected in the internal economic, political, and institutional practices of the United States -- is irredeemably evil and thus worthy of destruction, or at least of wholesale transformation.

On the secular front, radical anti-Americanism of this type was characteristic of Marxist-Leninist states such as the Soviet Union until its last few years, and it still thrives in Cuba and North Korea today. When Marxist revolutionary zeal was great, radical anti-Americanism was associated with violent revolution against U.S.-sponsored regimes, if not against the United States itself.

Meanwhile, anti-Americanism rooted in religious beliefs is prevalent in the Muslim world, where many people view the United States -- with deep contempt -- as the proverbial "Great Satan."

Two additional subtypes of anti-Americanism also warrant some mention at this point:

 

  •  Elitist anti-Americanism arises in countries where the elite have a long history of looking with condescension upon American culture. In France, for example, discussions of anti-Americanism date back to the eighteenth century, when some European writers held that everything in the Americas -- the climate, the animals, the people -- was degenerate. Throughout much of Western Europe, the tradition of disparaging America and its people has continued ever since.
  • Legacy anti-Americanism stems from resentment over past wrongs that the United States committed, or is perceived to have committed, against another society. For example, the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis were fueled by Iran's bitter memories of American intervention in that nation's politics during the 1950s, and Iran's continuing hostility toward the U.S. today is an outgrowth of those earlier tensions. While legacy anti-Americanism can obviously be explosive, it is not unalterable. As evidenced by the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, and Germany — all highly pro-American countries today — history can sometimes ameliorate or reverse negative views of the United States.

 



Adapted from "Varieties of Anti-Americanism," by Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane (November 10, 2006).

RESOURCES:

The Politics of Envy
By Paul Hollander
November 2002

The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing
By Lee Harris
December 6, 2002

A Genealogy of Anti-Americanism
By James Caesar
Summer 2003

Varieties of Anti-Americanism
By Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane
November 10, 2006

Anti-Americanism
By Jamie Glazov interviews Paul Hollander, Stanley Kurtz, Dan Flynn, and Victor Davis Hanson
November 11, 2002

The Indictment of the West
By Bruce S. Thornton
February 10, 2006

Loving Peace & Detesting America: What Makes the Antiwar Movement Thrive
By Paul Hollander
March 24, 2003


PRESIDENT OBAMA'S PLEDGE TO "TRANSFORM" AMERICA:

Why the Right Fears Transforming America -- and the Left Seeks It
By Dennis Prager
September 7, 2010

Question to Left: If You Love America, Why “Transform” It?
By Dennis Prager
May 5, 2009

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