The American Enterprise

Red, white, and bruised: a brief history of European anti-Americanism.(Cover Story)

Over the last few years, the media have created the distinct impression that the anti-American attitudes now visible (and quite audible) in various parts of the Earth are something new. Some blame it on George Bush's foreign policy. Others say it's a natural byproduct of the U.S.-led war on terror. The deeper reality is that anti-Americanism is as old as America itself. It didn't begin on Bush's watch, and it won't end any time soon.

Researcher Barry Rubin reports that "the first clear statement of anti-Americanism" can be traced back to a predictable source: France. According to Rubin, a French lawyer named Simon Linguet warned in the 1780s that "the dregs of Europe ... would build a dreadful society in America, create a strong army, take over Europe, and destroy civilization."

There were competitive feelings about America on the other side of the Channel as well. Adam Smith's 1776 assessment of Britain's breakaway North American colonies was that they were "employed in contriving a new form of government for an extensive empire which will become one of the greatest and most formidable that ever was."

More commonly, European elites took the opposite view--arguing that America was inherently deficient and hopelessly inferior to Europe. "Various continental and British scientists," notes Austrian journalist Michael Freund in Understanding Anti-Americanism, "warned of the degenerative effects of the New World on plants, animals and human beings." James Ceaser of the University of Virginia makes the same point, reporting that by the eighteenth century it was widely accepted that "all living things in the Americas were not only inferior to those found in Europe but also in a condition of decline."

Early anti-Americanism was expressed in more than just pseudo-science. France held the nascent American republic in such low regard that it demanded bribes from American diplomats seeking to negotiate with Paris. A quarter century after Americans ratified their Constitution, Britain was still flouting American sovereignty by seizing U.S. ships and forcing their crews into service on British vessels.

Of course, this transatlantic antipathy flowed both ways. Our ancestors dismissed Europe as "the Old World"--decaying and dying. George Washington's contempt bled through at the close of his Presidency: "Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation.... Our detached and distant situation ... enables us to pursue a different course." Some of his successors would not be so polite; Dwight Eisenhower dismissed the French as "a hopeless, helpless mass of protoplasm."

Those insane Americans

Whether or not Linguet was the first exponent of anti-Americanism, he wouldn't be the last. …

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