Hating America: A History » Chapter 3-The Fear of an American Future
THE FEAR OF AN AMERICAN FUTURE, 1865-1945
By the late nineteenth-century, America was emerging as a great industrial country. While it was still far behind Britain, France, or Germany in military might or political influence, far-sighted people were starting to see what would become so apparent later: the rise of the United States to global preeminence. It pioneered in the development of big industries and assembly-line methods. By 1924 it produced 38 percent of the world’s coal, 70 percent of petroleum, 38 percent of electric power, 54 percent of copper, 40 percent of lead, 33 percent of iron ore, 75 percent of corn, 25 percent of wheat, 30 percent of cereals other than wheat, 55 percent of cotton, 53 percent of timber, and 22 percent of tobacco.
Culturally, America was becoming known as the land of jazz, movies, and advertising. It was becoming easier to speak of a distinctive American world view, style, and way of life. In some ways, the modernization of Europe seemed to parallel what already existed in America: more secular, democratic, urban, secular, faster-paced, mass-oriented, geographically mobile, classless, questioning of tradition, deifying change, and many other such characteristics.
This prospect, however, while embraced by many Europeans horrified others who identified it with, among other things, the influence of America’s baleful example. This reaction gave rise to the third era of anti-Americanism. “For some reason or other,” the American writer James Russell Lowell wrote in 1869, “the European has rarely been able to see America except in caricature.” Yet this caricature evolved over time. The idea that America was a failure, widely held in the first half of the nineteenth century, had proved wrong. Anti-Americans had discouraged taking that country as a role model by ridiculing it as politically unviable, culturally impoverished, and socially failed.
Now, however, as the French economist Paul de Rousiers aptly wrote in 1892, “America ceased to be an object of curiosity to become an object of dread.” For if America was no longer a joke to be laughed at or an inferior to be sneered at, if it actually was going to be the prototype of their own future, the United States might really be a danger to the entire world/ If America was going to be a great power, it might impose itself on others. And if Europeans were persuaded to copy voluntarily its alleged spirit of relentless, soulless industrialization and modernization they too would sink into social, political and cultural barbarity.
Thus, in 1901, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, a British writer, said in a letter from the United States to his friend, the novelist E. M. Forster: “The thing that rubbed into me in this country are 1) that the future of the world lies with America, and 2) that radically and essentially America is a barbarous country. The life of the spirit…is, not accidentally or temporarily, but inevitably and eternally killed in this country.”
Ironically, then, as the United States proved wrong its historic anti-American critics who said it could never succeed, this very success only inspired more anti-Americanism. One could well believe it was headed for world economic domination and that others must copy its methods or fall far behind. The anti-Americans believed that while the United States had became highly productive it had come at a significant cost to cultural and spiritual values. The cost of the enterprise seemed too high for these critics who felt that it had literally sold its soul to attain material riches..
One clear expression of this attitude came in 1926 from Johan Huizinga, the Dutch historian of the Middle Ages, a time European conservatives might find preferable to the new age. Huizinga wrote that his group of Europeans traveling together through America constantly felt, “We all have something that you lack; we admire your strength but we do not envy you. Your instrument of civilization and progress, your big cities and your perfect organization, only makes us nostalgic for what is old and quiet, and sometimes your life seems hardly to be worth living, not to speak of your future.”
But was it the future of only the United States itself that was at stake? Perhaps that country’s success would allow it to dominate the whole world. Or perhaps that same success would convince others to copy the American model. In his 1926 novel, The Plumed Serpent, the British novelist D.H. Lawrence records the thoughts of his protagonist Kate Leslie on encountering America: “Was it the great continent that destroyed again what the other continents had built up, the continent whose spirit of place fought purely to pick the eyes out of the face of God?” Was America the place “where the human will declares itself ‘free’ to pull down the soul of the world?” Was America merely a negation of all that existed, “the life-breath of materialism? And would the great negative pull of the Americans at last break the heart of the world?”
This was the fear in Europe. The United States would break the heart of the world by becoming the wellspring of a new and very destructive type of society in which everything was subjected to efficiency, organization, and material gain. This new theme of anti-Americanism began to be apparent during the Civil War. The British and French governments were hostile to the Union partly because they saw it as the embodiment of America’s terrible society as opposed to the more “European-style” agricultural and aristocratic South. The French government was on the verge of recognizing and aiding the Confederacy as an independent country. Despite its own anti-slavery policy, the British government only awaited a decisive Confederate victory to provide an occasion for doing the same thing.
Ironically, the widespread sympathy for the Confederacy in England and France also rested on the fact that a Southern victory would restart the flow of cotton to their textile mills. Thus, on the one hand, the Europeans opposed the Union as a competing industrial power while, on the other hand, in anti-American terms, they condemned it as inferior to themselves because it was an industrial society.
Many Europeans, both conservatives and romantics, thus defended the Southerners as victims of Yankee imperialists who wanted to seize Southern wealth. The Europeans claimed that the drive to eradicate slavery was just a smokescreen for imperialism just as a century later their spiritual descendants portrayed the U.S. role in promoting freedom and democracy the world as an excuse to conquer the globe. In part, Europeans failed to understand that American policies in the Civil War, Cold War, or 2003 Iraq war were motivated in large part—if by no means completely—by moral considerations beyond pure realpolitik. And equally, in all three wars, beyond an alleged humanitarian intention, Europeans were concerned that a U.S. victory would leave the United States too powerful, a threat to their own interests.
European liberals and reformers—like John Bright, Richard Cobden, and John Stuart Mill in England, and even the more leftist Karl Marx –supported the Union precisely because they saw it as a role model. But most of the ruling classes and intellectuals in Britain and France denounced the United States during the Civil War as a country so dreadful that it should not be allowed to survive. The French newspaper, Le Pays, called the U.S. government, “one of the, most barbarous most nefarious, and most inept which has ever been seen.” While the South was a European-style homogeneous, integrated society, the North was no more than a collection “of turbulent immigrants.”
The Spanish newspaper, El Pensamiento Espanol made the comprehensive anti-American case in September 1862: “The history of this model republic can be summed up in a few words. It came into being by rebellion. It was founded on atheism. It was populated by the dregs of all the nations in the world. It has lived without law of God or man. Within a hundred years, greed has ruined it. Now it is fighting like a cannibal, and it will die in a flood of blood and mire.”
Similar sentiments were voiced by The Times, the newspaper of the British establishment, in hardly less restrained language: “We ought to give our moral weight to our English kith and kin [Southern whites], who have gallantly striven so long for their liberties against a mongrel race of plunderers and oppressors.” The breakup of the United States, it concluded, would be good “riddance of a nightmare.”
So deep did the hostility of the Union’s critics run that they even refused to be swayed by President Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 decision to free the slaves, though they had attacked his failure to do so earlier. The British ambassador in Washington, Lord Russell, denounced this step as “cold, vindictive, and entirely political,” a vile encouragement to “acts of plunder, of [arson], and of revenge.” The Times claimed that Lincoln was appealing “to the black blood of the African; he will whisper of the pleasures of spoil and of the gratification of yet fiercer instincts and when the blood begins to flow and shrieks come piercing through the darkness, Mr. Lincoln will wait till the rising flames tell that all is consummated, and then he will rub his hands and think that revenge is sweet.”
Disgusted by the hypocrisy of those for whom the United States could never be in the right, the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill sat down on October 27, 1862 and wrote an American friend a letter noting that “the proclamation [freeing the slaves] has only increased the venom of those who after taunting you for so long with caring nothing for abolition [of slavery], now reproach you for your abolitionism as the worst of your crimes.” And then he added a memorable thought which still rings fresh today denouncing those who claimed only to be objecting only to American policies but “who so hate your democratic institutions that they would be sure to inveigh against you whatever you did, and are enraged at no longer being able to taunt you with being false to your own principles.”
When Mill wrote the phrase “your democratic institutions,” he was quite aware that these critics did not necessarily hate the United States because they opposed democracy as such. The most ferocious British anti-Americans were staunch defenders of parliamentary democracy. What they hated was the specific American version of such institutions, its purported soulless, narrowly capitalist, anti-intellectual, mob-ruled, and culturally inferior society.
Even in France there were sympathizers with America who thought along the same lines as Mill. In 1865, several liberal French intellectuals met to celebrate the Union victory, the triumph of American democracy, and the abolition of slavery. Their leader was Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a legal scholar. Opposed to their own dictator, Napoleon III, they wanted to establish a French republican government modeled on America’s constitution. They toasted the two countries’ historic ties and mutual love of liberty which made them like “two sisters.” At one point in the evening, Leboulaye remarked that it would be wonderful if France’s people gave the United States a great memorial to independence to show their dedication to the cause of liberty. This began the movement which 21 years later, when France had indeed established a republic, which presented the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor in 1886.JUDY NEED NOTE
These were legitimate sentiments and an important part of the historic French view of the United States as well. But they never silenced the alternative and powerful anti-American attitudes of some very vocal sectors. Indeed, even as the Statue of Liberty was being presented, there were grumblings in Paris of American ingratitude for all France had done for it. Increasingly, as America began to outproduce Europe in the making of so many manufactured products, it came to represent not so much liberty but its restriction and hollowness in the archetypal modern capitalist commercial society.
What could be more significant in this regard than the context of the first French use of the word “Americanization,” in Le Journal on January 16, 1867, proclaiming how a recent French fair, the Universal Exhibition, constituted “The latest blow in what amounts to the Americanization of France–Industry outdoing Art, steam threshing machines in place of paintings.” The peculiar but powerful idea that the growth of technology as such would jeopardize culture derived in large part from the European conception that this is what had happened in the United States.
One after the other, France’s most celebrated nineteenth-century writers brought their pens down on the head of America. Honore´ de Balzac portrayed the United States as excessively materialistic, greedy, and insensitive. Stendhal said America’s democracy was merely the appeasement of shopkeepers. In 1873, the great poet Charles Baudelaire was complaining that humanity was almost hopelessly Americanized because of the triumph of the “physical” over the “moral” element in life.
In his preface to a translation of Edgar Alan Poe’s More Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1875, Baudelaire concluded that nothing could be more grotesque than the fact that “Americanmania has virtually become a socially acceptable fad.” He described the United States, in a phrase echoed by many contemporaries, as gaslight barbarism, the alliance of technology with primitiveness. Baudelaire thought the real ruler of America was far more cruel and inflexible than any monarch: the tyranny of public opinion.
One uniquely French argument for America’s march toward world domination was as part of an Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking alignment with the world’s most powerful country, Great Britain. True, the colonists had made common cause with France to win their independence, but they had then revived their loyalty toward England. Many echoed Talleyrand’s complaint: “I have not found a single Englishman who did not feel at home among Americans and not a single Frenchman who did not feel a stranger.” To some extent French antagonism of America was displaced from its historic rivalry toward Britain, which the United States gradually replaced in French thinking as the leading English-speaking power and alternative society.
Certainly, reactions against America in Britain were much milder than in France. True, in the House of Commons, a resolution was introduced in 1900 denouncing the demoralizing effect of American plays on the London stage, but it did not pass. Teachers briefly protested the alleged rise of Americanisms in the English language yet, contrary to what later happened in France, this did not become a national obsession.
At about this time negative assessments from the new socialist left began to appear, like one by a British journalist in the 1890s, that America had disappointed British progressives because of its machine politics ruled by party bosses and the growing gap between rich and poor. There was, of course, a strong basis for a critique of American society based on its very real ills of that era, one of the most corrupt in the country’s history as robber barons held sway and corporations bought and looted governments. Indeed, Europeans learned about such matters mainly from the books of American authors who skewered the corruption and injustice of that period. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel were widely read in England during those years.
It is surprising, though, how small a part the problems that most concerned Americans played in mainstream anti-Americanism. In part, this was because the American critics focused on the decline of what previously had been considered a better, more democratic society while the anti-Americans saw the country as innately rather than temporarily in disrepute. Instead, most of the criticisms continued to be those of the past, more conservative and anti-democratic in nature.
For example, again and again, especially among British writers, America is deemed to be a badly organized society because people there do not know their place. For example, James Bryce, a historian, member of parliament, Liberal Party leader, and frequent visitor to America whose three-volume work on the country, American Commonwealth, was published in 1889 believed that America’s problem was a excess of democracy. Among the evils of democracy were a “commonness of mind and tone, want of dignity and prevalent in and about conduct of public affairs, insensibility to nobler aspects and finer responsibilities of national life; apathy among luxurious classes and fastidious minds because they are no more important than ordinary voters, and because they’re disgusted by vulgarities of public life; lack of knowledge, tact and judgment in legislature.”
As was often true, America might well deserve criticism but anti-Americans’ claims had little to do with the actual problems the country faced. Two of Bryce’s most positive remarks—that Americans were law-abiding and there was little conflict between privileged and underprivileged—were also wrong. Equally, Bryce thought that the upper classes and best minds did not deign to intervene in public life because they were disgusted by the vulgarities of a system dominated by the masses. Rather than “magnifying his office and making it honorable,” the national leader panders to the people instead of adhering to an aristocratic sense of duty to higher principles. The real problem was quite different: politicians were ignoring the people’s interests and catering to those of corporations which enriched them.
In a remarkable passage, Bryce charged that ordinary people were too uppity for their own good, suffering because they tried to defend their interests rather than accept the rule of a proper elite. If only the average American was “less educated, less shrewd, less actively interested in public affairs, less independent in spirit [he] might be disposed, like the masses in Europe, to look up to the classes which have hitherto done the work.”
The dangers of liberalism and equality were also seen as spreading to religion. Some insisted America was a godless country, while many Catholics thought the United States was dangerously Protestant, which amounted to the same thing. Those on the left or cultural romantics considered the United States to be saturated with a narrow Puritanism. But when a liberal reform movement—emphasizing education and social reform–arose in the American Catholic church late in the nineteenth century, it was denounced by French Catholic traditionalists as the heresy of “Americanism,” a dangerous infection of democratic ideas that would be condemned by Pope Leo XIII in 1897. As in other areas, America was condemned as a dangerous hotbed of excessive democracy and disrespect for tradition. One conservative leader, Abbé Henry Delassus, wrote a book entitled Americanism and the Anti-Christian Conspiracy which posited the existence of an alliance of Jews, Masons, and Americans to destroy Christianity.
Mixing all the traditional themes, the Paris Review warned that Americanism was:
“Not only an attack of heresy; it is an invasion of barbarism. It is…the assault of a new power against Christian society.…It is money against honor, bold brutality against delicateness…machinery against philosophy….The purchase of all, the theft of all, joyous rapine supplanting justice and the demands of duty….Religious Americanism is only one of the assaults of pan-Americanism.”
One of the most bizarre anti-American affairs, which showed some Europeans’ readiness to believe anything bad about America, was the Diana Vaughn affair. A Frenchman named Leo Taxil claimed that the imaginary Vaughn was born among Native Americans and at a secret ceremony in Charleston, South Carolina, was personally commissioned by Satan to destroy Christianity. She was sponsored by the Masonic order and even went to Mars at times to consort with devils. But after arriving in France, she supposedly changed sides and began exposing Satanists on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Taxil wrote a dozen long books on the subject—including a fictitious “autobiography” of Vaughn, focusing on an American-based conspiracy to seize control of the world. Finally, in 1897, he promised that Vaughn would make a public appearance but instead, before a crowd of 300 people, Taxil admitted he had made up the whole story. Many conservative European Catholics continued to believe, however, that the Devil was in league with America.
If anti-American intellectuals of the day did not accept the notion that the devil was literally backing America, they still thought that the threat from the United States amounted to just about the same thing. Such people evinced a growing sense of fighting a losing battle against a tidal wave of globalizing American evil. This is not to deny the admiration of America by some or the adoption of its cultural and technological products by many more. Yet it was precisely a readiness to import American technology or signs that Europeans were copying its ways that set off the anti-American alarm bells.
That is also why anti-Americanism usually came from conservatives, leftists, and cultural aesthetes rather than from liberals, who were more likely to think American institutions were invitingly democratic and American innovations socially useful. As a result, much anti-Americanism combined both aesthetic and intellectual, leftist and conservative critiques. The left would gradually come to view the United States as capitalism in its purest, most distasteful form which would seduce others and prevent the creation of a socialist utopia. To conservatives, American capitalism was equally objectionable since it rejected the notion of an elite based on breeding, which conservatives favored, or refined taste, which aesthetes advocated.
For example, John Ruskin, a popular British aesthete, who refused an invitation to visit the United States because it had no castles, was nonetheless able to condemn that country in 1863 for its “lust of wealth, and trust in it; vulgar faith in magnitude and multitude, instead of nobleness; …perpetual self-contemplation [resulting] in passionate vanity; [and] total ignorance of the finer and higher arts.” For the French aesthete Philippe B.J. Buchez, writing in 1885, America was the materialist threat to human destiny, merely “A nation of ignorant shopkeepers and narrow-minded industrialists whose entire vast continent contains not one single work of art or scientific work that they made.”
The British poet and aesthete Matthew Arnold complained that America’s better treatment of the poor was less important than the fact that it degraded the aristocracy of those who could distinguish “that which is elevated and beautiful.” Arnold’s friend, Lepel Henry Griffin put the same idea more crudely. In his 1884 book, sarcastically entitled, The Great Republic, he dubbed the United States, “The country of disillusion and disappointment.” In the entire civilized world, only Russia could compete with it in sordidness, meanness, and ugliness. Griffin explained that America was far worse than British-ruled India because it had a government in which “the educated, the cultured, the honest, and even the wealthy, weigh as nothing in the balance against the scum of Europe which the Atlantic has washed up on the shores of the New World.”
Similar views were expressed by the right-wing German philosopher Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West and a precursor of fascism, who saw the United States as a major cause of that decline. Not only did its people think only of “economic advantages” but lesser races had seized control from Anglo-Saxons and dragged the country to ruin.
Aside from any political or cultural ideology, America often reduced otherwise intelligent people to a state of sputtering indignation because it was simply different from their familiar world. After his visit to America in 1909, Sigmund Freud, a cultural conservative despite the revolutionary nature of his ideas, succumbed to a severe case of Americaphobia. He even blamed his chronic intestinal trouble on its cooking though he suffered from this ailment before his trip. On hearing an American ask another to repeat something he had said, Freud remarked in contempt, “These people cannot even understand each other.” His biographer, Ernest Jones, said Freud found it hard to adapt himself to “free and easy manners of the New World. He was a good European with a sense of dignity and a respect for learning which at that time was less prominent in America.” After his trip he told Jones, “America is a mistake; a gigantic mistake….”
No matter what the ideology, interest group, or psychological cause of anti-Americanism, that idea’s presence often told more about its perpetrators than about the United States itself. This was especially so in regard to one powerful personal issue that was rarely addressed directly. Everyone in Europe had the option of emigrating to America and anyone who thought about that alternative—or perhaps about America at all—had to deal, consciously or subconsciously, with the question of whether or not they should do so.
This was a major decision. To stay in Europe implied one was happier, too thoroughly wedded to that way of life, too fearful, or too well-off to benefit from such a dramatic change. Having a negative view of that potential destination was an easy way to solve the problem and justify one’s choice. Looking down at America allowed one to rationalize that decision as being based on a preference for precious traditions and lofty culture rather than, say, fear, self-interest, or a smug satisfaction with the status quo.
Rejecting America as a destination for oneself was, in effect, a decision to decide that it was inferior. The temptation had been virtuously resisted in the name of fatherland, pride, and spirituality, as well as a hundred other superior features. In contrast, the lure could be denounced as a work of the devil, the siren call of purely material wealth entailing a loss of individuality or, say, intellectual and cultural stature.
For example, the British historian Thomas Carlyle talked a brother out of emigrating to escape his poor and unhappy life by saying, “That is a miserable fate for any one, at best. Never dream of it. Could you banish yourself from all that is interesting to your mind, forget the history, the glorious institutions, the noble principles of old Scotland that you might eat a better dinner, perhaps?”
Similarly, the French novelist Stendhal had the hero of one novel ask himself the question: To go or not to go? He takes a long walk and concludes the answer must be “No” because, “I would be bored in America, among men perfectly just and reasonable, maybe, but coarse, but only thinking about the dollars.…The American morality seems to me of an appalling vulgarity, and reading the works of their distinguished men, I only have one desire: never to meet them in this world. This model country seems to me the triumph of silly and egoist mediocrity.”
And what would be the issue that would most obsess writers, intellectuals, and the others who wrote down their opinions and shaped public opinion about this choice? That in America they would be unimportant, not only because they were on unfamiliar ground but also because their “class” as a whole was less appreciated there. As a result, they romanticized how elevated was their fate at home. Since most of these opinion-makers were either aristocrats (or aspired to that status), artists, or intellectuals, they fixated on the low status of these groups as America’s true sin.
Later, as the United States became a cultural superpower and could bestow great rewards to artists, creative figures, and writers, many did emigrate, often fleeing persecution. Some of them achieved their greatest success there. All the more reason, then, for those who stayed behind—or who quickly returned because they did not like America or failed there—to justify themselves by making even angrier critiques.
One of the first such people was the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, who spent some miserable years in the American Midwest during the 1880s working as a farmhand, store clerk, railroad laborer, itinerant lecturer, and church secretary. After returning home, Hamsun turned his experiences into a lecture series and later into a book, The Cultural Life of Modern America, published in 1889, a scathing account of a country with “too little culture and not enough intelligence.”
In particular, like Stendhal, he disliked American pride,. “American patriotism never tries to avoid a flare-up, and it is fearless about the consequences of its hot-headed impetuosity.” The alleged eagerness of Americans for conflict, contrasting to the supposedly more pacific European nature, was a constant theme of anti-Americans down to the present day, and made more ironic in this case given Hamsun’s later support for fascism. Similarly, like many other European anti-Americans, Hamsun concluded that the country was characterized by a “despotism of freedom…all the more intolerable because it is exercised by a self-righteous, unintelligent people.”
Another theme gathering impetus starting in the 1880s, though its roots went back a century, was that the United States was a society which had surrendered to technology and become its slave. This futuristic United States was a Frankenstein’s monster of wild, inferior, and anti-human ways that might escape to ravage the countryside. Typically, the German philosopher Richard Muller-Freienfels wrote of America in his 1927 work, The Mysteries of the Soul, that a “chief characteristic of Americanism is the technicalization or mechanization of life. In Europe it is a servant–at least in theory–but in America it is the almost undisputed despot of life.”
Anti-Americanism, however, was not an inevitable response even for the most fervent aesthetes, including the question of industrialization and mechanization. Oscar Wilde, who made a long lecture tour of America in 1882, emerged with a reasonably balanced view despite a sometimes hostile reception in the United States. When Wilde urged the locals to love beauty and art, American newspapers had a field day making fun of his languid poses and costume of velvet jacket, knee breeches, and black silk stockings. Given his views, Wilde could have been most critical of America and indifferent to its success in raising the common people’s living standards. Instead, he was a reasonably fair observer, telling his British lecture audiences in 1883, “The first thing that struck me on landing in America was that if the Americans are not the most well-dressed people in the world, they are the most comfortably dressed.” They might not wear the latest fashions, he recounted, but had decent garments, unlike England where so many people were clad in rags.
Wilde also perceptively noted America’s eagerness to fix its problems and improve the quality of life. In England, he explained, an innovator was regarded as a crazy man who often ends in disappointment and poverty. In America an inventor was honored, helped, and rewarded with wealth. Foreseeing new approaches to art, Wilde even found American machinery beautiful, an ideal combination of strength and beauty, describing one water-works as “the most beautifully rhythmic thing I have ever seen.”
Of course, Wilde was famous for his cutting wit and he did not disappoint his listeners. Back home, his most famous joke was that the American knowledge of art, especially in the west, was so limited that a wealthy miner turned art patron successfully sued a railroad company for damages when his plaster cast of the Venus de Milo arrived without arms.
While humorous, Wilde’s critique also give still another vision of the European fear of what an industrialized-defined society would do to culture. Everyone in America, he explained, was always running, hurrying to catch a train, “a state of things which is not favorable to poetry or romance.” One can only imagine, he added, how the story of Romeo and Juliet would have lost all its charm if they had been racing to jump on trains all the time. He found America to be “the noisiest country that ever existed.” One awoke to the sounds of steam whistles, not nightingales. Since, “all Art depends upon exquisite and delicate sensibility…such continual turmoil must ultimately be destructive of the musical faculty.” Of course, the United States would come to excel in the production of popular music, though some European critics would agree that the results only proved that their musical faculty had indeed been destroyed.
Less charitable was the American-born émigré writer Henry James, who lived in London and identified with the European critique. A book based on his grand return visit to the United States was essentially the work of a hostile British traveler. Indeed, it is dreadfully unreadable largely because James wrote in a style seemingly intended to make him sound like an exceptionally jaded and effete British aristocrat.
When a kindly lady trying to help James, asking him what kind of people he would like to meet in America, he thought to reply, “Why, my dear madam, have you more than one kind?” For in what he called this “vast crude democracy of trade,” he insisted, only “the new, the simple, the cheap, the common, the commercial, the immediate, and, all too often, the ugly” could be found. Change and practicality were America’s worst sins. Unlike holy London, James’ new home, the cities contained only buildings without any history or value aside from the crassly commercial. Skyscrapers lack “the authority of permanence or…long duration” and were simply “the last word of economic ingenuity only till another word be written.”
For a moment, James does ask himself why New York’s inevitably dirty port area should offend him when he would find a similar scene in Naples or somewhere else in Europe to be picturesque. But soon he is off again on the perpetual American ugliness due to the “complete abolition of forms.”
In short, America was accused of being so terrible because it was simultaneously too homogeneous and yet too varied, too democratic and not democratic enough, too amoral and yet too puritanical. If the same yardsticks were applied to other countries, they might also be found wanting. Yet the anti-Americans never asked why squalor, for example, should be a sign of respectable age or local color in one place and of degradation in another.
Of course, America did lack the seasoning that Europe possessed. By definition, any new society will lack that quality. But America was able to use European achievements as its past while constructing its own future. In addition, as many European writers noted, the United States had the youthful qualities of vigor and adaptability. The Europeans had a different problem which examining the United States highlighted for them: whether they would be able to build a future different from that of America.
Many of the realities neglected by Europeans in general and anti-Americans in particular showed that this was the true issue. For example, the cultural apex and creativity of which Europeans boasted was largely monopolized in each country by a single capital city and by the upper classes alone. The greatness of opera, ballet, chamber music, or poetry was enjoyed by a tiny minority of society. It was all very well to say that Europe had a high culture and Americans had a low one, but how many Europeans actually had access to or preferred those exalted artistic heights?
In bragging about their lofty intellectual level and exalted tastes, anti-Americans were comparing the average American to the top ten percent of their own society, while ignoring the other ninety percent. Local mass culture was beneath notice in Europe. Only after being challenged by a popular culture exported from America to fill the vacuum would European intellectuals claim their own people were being deprived of the classics in exchange for imported junk.
In addition, the anti-American idea initiated in this period that its modernization was innately inimical to culture would be proven wrong. The United States would excel in new forms of creative endeavor (jazz, film, photography, dance and new literary schools) which took as their inspiration the industrialized modernism it pioneered. The United States would produce a high-quality culture of its own using new media and themes, based on a society which was ultimately not a roadblock but an occasion for originality.
Moreover, while American techniques of mass production could be said to debase culture they were also the greatest tools ever created for spreading its benefits. The common people came to be exposed to the finest artistic works—though only they could decide whether or not to like them—through a mass educational system, records, film, radio, television, and other innovations developed primarily in the United States.
To this kind of familiar condemnation of American society in terms of its internal functioning, however, in the late nineteenth century was added a growing fear about the United States becoming a, perhaps the main global power. As America’s growing economy combined with the insecurities or outright decline of their own states and empires, there were more patriotic reasons for Europeans to denounce the United States. It was the alleged American combination of allegedly being so “ethically primitive and technologically advanced” and growing, in the words of historian Simon Schama, that petrified them. In this vein, the United States seemed the power of the future, and its rise would seemingly come at the expense of Britain, Germany, France, and other European countries.
Such warnings had been issued by Frenchmen as far back as the 1790s but now they reached the level of obsession by the 1890s. Either the U.S. empire would be one of armed conquest or of economic and cultural domination –or both as increasingly seemed possible and later appeared to be obvious. In the words of one Frenchman backing the former theory, the United States “aspires to nothing less than having the entire humanity in its orbit. Today Mexico, tomorrow the world! Such is the real, only maxim of this imperialist and merchant republic.” Americans are only united, the author added, by “the ambition they have to extend their empire far beyond the present limits.”
This alarm bell was set off not only by growing American economic power but by four defeats of European states in their own imperialistic struggle around the turn of the century: Italy by Ethiopia in 1896, Spain by the United States in 1898, Britain by the South African Boers, and Russia by Japan in 1905. These were unsettling omens of, to paraphrase Spengler, the decline of most of the West. The French poet Paul Valéry called these events “symptoms” of a possibly fatal European illness and predicted that America would be the dying continent’s unwelcome heir. The U.S. victory over Spain in 1898, Valéry explained, was the moment he felt a loyalty to Europe as a whole, for which America was an alien rival.
Strangely, the man who most symbolized this new American world role and who seemed to embody many of the negative stereotypes about Americans, Theodore Roosevelt, was rather popular among his European colleagues for his intellectual scope although patronized for his typical American youthfulness and vigor. Yet the policies he represented were a different matter. When Roosevelt advocated that America speak softly and carry a big stick, originally an African saying, they exaggerated the size of the stick and could not possibly imagine any American capable of speaking softly.
While a military threat remained a future and hypothetical concern, American cultural and spiritual aggression was already seen as a clear and present danger. The United States, warned Edmund Mandat-Grancey, a French nobleman writing in 1891, was like a disease that would infect Europe. Even if Americans could live with their dreadful institutions they were the carriers of a cultural plague that would kill European civilization. Two years later, in Voyage to the Land of Dollars, Emile Barbier warned that the United States was invading Europe with its commodities–locomotives, coal, silk, fruit, cotton and even wine.
Yet much of this hysteria and antagonism took place before the United States was even active on the world scene. By the time it actually defeated Spain in 1898, easily capturing Cuba and the Philippines, the event simply confirmed the already formulated theory about the American threat. The war was nonetheless a pivotal event which European critics saw as the start of an American advance on their continent. To make matters worse, many observers in France and Germany feared the English-speaking nations, the United States and Britain, would combine forces to dominate the world.
In the words of Philippe Roger, the foremost historian of French anti-Americanism, “The idea was that the daughter of Europe—America—had turned against Europe and was now a potential enemy.” That year, 1898 was also the peak of conflict between liberal and conservative forces in France. One issue alone brought French people together: hatred of America. A visiting Cuban, who himself welcomed Spain’s defeat, remarked, “Weird spectacle indeed….Republican and anti-clerical France joins with the France of the manor houses (restored thanks to the rich American marriages [made by French aristocrats]) to shout down the United States and heap praise upon the Spanish monarchy!”
America’s second big action on the world stage was its intervention in World War One beginning in 1917 and this, too, provoked an anti-American reaction, even from the countries that it helped as an ally. Arriving in France, the U.S. forces thought they would be popular. General John Pershing marched his troops directly to the tomb of the Frenchman who had done so much to help America become independent and praised George Washington as the father of liberty. “Lafayette,” announced the American general proudly, “We are here!”
But the earlier bitterness and suspicion of the United States remained unvanquished in many French and some British hearts. Once victory was attained, warm feelings declined toward the Yanks despite their blood sacrifice on behalf of their European allies. There was much envy for a society so relatively wealthy and unscathed by war, secure enough, in a later British writer’s words, to have “ignored so many problems,” and “professed to believe itself immune from most human ills [and] to have conquered most human problems.” To those who had suffered so much, American “optimism seemed indecent.”
The conservative British magazine, The Spectator, which had looked on the United States as the world’s savior during the war, was complaining by 1921, “We are too proud to be helped by the daughter country.” And a year later it published an article under the title “Mother’s Eldest Daughter,” saying that the United States was wealthy, energetic, and powerful but quite immature. “Its resources were physical, like a youth’s, and like a youth it did not know what to do with them.”
In Britain, though, anti-Americanism remained more a matter of snobbishness and nasty journalistic remarks than of any political importance. Like a British comedic rhyme of the 1920s, making fun of imported American literature, “Our children need these refining books/About gangsters, bootleggers, thugs and crooks.” A 1936-1937 survey of British schoolchildren found they thought the United States was a place to get rich quickly and produced good athletes but that Americans were boastful, unable to speak English correctly, and made inferior products.. Nevertheless, British leaders could simply view America as a junior ally and protégé merely in need of proper tutoring. Still, old stereotypes endured.
But the two countries had too much in common culturally and politically for serious antagonism to develop. There were proportionately more pro-Americans in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. The relative good feeling in Britain was expressed by such well-known figures as H.G. Wells, the visionary writer, who was impressed not only by American cities and living standards but also thought the universities “far more alive to the thinking and knowledge-making function of universities than Great Britain.” He did not fear rising American power, concluding that “by sheer virtue of its size, its free traditions, and the…initiative in its people, the leadership of progress must ultimately rest [in American hands].”
The British politician most committed to close friendship with America was the greatest of his generation. Winston Churchill, himself half-American, undertook his four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples in 1932 to promote friendship and alliance between the two countries. Churchill foresaw that this partnership would one day literally save the world. He had to delay completion of the book in order to put his idea into practice as Britain’s prime minister during World War Two.
France was a totally different matter. Indeed, while the United States had saved France during the war, the reaction in many circles was not exactly one of gratitude. President Woodrow Wilson, like several of his well-meaning successors, thought his efforts to fight dictators and ensure peace would be appreciated. Instead, he was detested in France as being self-righteous and too soft on the defeated Germans. Wilson was seen as a wooly-minded idealist and a religious fanatic, stereotypes that would also be applied to other American leaders. When he failed to persuade Congress to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and America withdrew into isolationism, French critics added weakness to their indictment of him.
Two more developments particularly enraged the French: the U.S. attempt to be paid for its wartime loans and the dramatic postwar increase of American cultural exports to France. What followed was a high point in the long history of French anti-Americanism. Unnoticed in America, whose news from Paris was mostly about American writers living there, the 1920s in France was characterized by a remarkable degree of anti-Americanism.
In tremendously influential books published throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s—like Robert Aron and Arnaud Dandieu, The American Cancer; J.-L. Chastanet’s Uncle Shylock; and Charles Pomaret’s, America’s Conquest of Europe, and many other works–every American action was put in the worst possible light. The United States only entered the war in 1917 because it wanted to profit off European suffering as long as possible and then dominate that continent at the lowest possible cost. Chastanet predicted that the future belonged to American imperialism: “You will practice usury on a lot of nations and you will dominate them.”
These authors, as others in the past, all denounced American society as being hypnotized by technology and obsessed with money-making to the point where human spiritual life was destroyed. This was a country that wanted to impose its system on the whole world. Imperialism was at the core of its nature. They portrayed America as the main threat to Europe—and to France above all–a notion that took some awesome blindness in an era when Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin were among that continent’s rulers.
French anti-Americanism was a consensus, non-partisan affair. The left and right could agree on one thing: the United States was the land of a harsh and brutal “absolute capitalism.” Conservatives stressed its spiritual poverty and destruction of tradition; leftists claimed it was dominated by monopolies that exploited workers. Both saw it as a threat to the kind of France they preferred. Charles Maurras, the French right’s leading philosopher, painted America as a society shaped by the impersonal requirements of an uncaring market to the exclusion of all humane concerns. The left made the same argument by citing the repression of strikes, the weakness of the left, and the tendency of mechanization to destroy jobs.
Yet both sides were also reacting against the greatest threat of all. The 1920s was a period of great prosperity in the United States. Economic growth was accompanied by the spread internationally of such American innovations as jazz, films, and automobiles. The pilot-author Antoine de Saint-Exupery argued that the material productivity of American industrial society was not a significant benefit because it was cancelled out by the spiritual emptiness that accompanied it. This was a common characteristic that meant there was no difference between German Nazism, Soviet communism, and Americanism. Of these, however, Americanism was the most dangerous of all because France would find its version of the “industrial disease,” the “American cancer,” most attractive.
Similarly, the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in his lectures and writings during the 1920s, warned that the elite best qualified to lead and govern was being crushed by the masses. In thin sense, American society was a brutal one peopled by “a primitive people camouflaged behind the latest inventions.” There, “the masses crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.”
In some cases, however, anti-Americans were concluding that these faceless masses did indeed have a sinister and secret elite as its leader. Increasingly both French and German anti-Americanism in the 1920s closely linked their doctrine with antisemitism. Jews and Americans became twin symbols of blame for those who hated modern society and rapid change. Earlier contempt for the new immigrants to America, as expressed by Griffin, Spengler, and others, was generalized. But this hatred increasingly focused on the Jews as the authors of the problem, an idea echoed by such anti-American American expatriates as James, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. The negative stereotypes of Jews and Americans had developed in parallel. Both groups were said to be money-grubbing enemies of tradition who conspired to foist a new system on humanity to serve their own interests. The intertwining of these hatreds grew with fascism in the 1930s and 1940s.
In France during the 1920s, Maurras portrayed American Jews as blocking U.S. entry into World War I because they allegedly favored Germany. Later when he and like-minded people became favorable toward Nazi Germany, they developed conspiracy theories about anti-German American Jews pushing the United States into World War Two. There was a strong, albeit false, belief in France that Jews ran the U.S. financial system, and thus were to blame for France’s large debts to America and the U.S. economic threat to that country. The choice of the nickname, “Uncle Shylock” for the United States was not accidental. Robert Brasillach, a right-wing French intellectual who collaborated with the Nazis, explained that there were three reasons for Frenchmen to hate America: its dollars, hypocrisy, and control by international Jewry.
In novels, essays, films, plays, and travel books during the 1920s, America was also denounced by the French intellectual class as threatening to engulf the world with its malformed society. A 1924 play warned that the Americans had already infiltrated France . Parisians learned how mechanized American farming threatened the pastoral idyll of the French countryside. The surrealist, soon to be Communist, writer Louis Aragon quipped in 1925 a prophecy of a September 11 far in the future, “Let faraway America and its white buildings come crashing down.” The United States was portrayed as monotonous and provincial, a nightmare of identical boxlike houses, standardized products and narrow minds. While there were grains of truth in many such ideas, they were so exaggerated and stereotyped as to be rendered meaningless.
. It was America, far more than the Soviet Union—which supposedly respected and honored intellectuals–that frightened them as a model. Emmanuel Berl neatly coupled these themes in a sentence, “America is multiplying its territory, where the values of the West risk finding their grave.”
While 1927 was the year the American aviator Charles Lindbergh was toasted in Paris for his solo flight across the Atlantic, this wave of books and articles argued that America and Europe were growing apart culturally. In Who Will Be Master, Lucien Romier said, though no American held such ideas, “Europe and America no longer represent the same type of civilization.”
That, too, was the year that André Siegfried wrote his book, The United States Today, which presented the all-too-common thesis that the United States represented a bad society with the power to impose itself on others, long before it had any such influence, at least outside of the smallest Latin American states. “America can do anything,” he warned, to “strangle men and governments, help them in situations she chooses, watch over them and finally–the things she likes above all–judge them from the heights of moral superiority and impose her lessons on them.”
Siegfried explained that “the chief contrast between Europe and America is not so much one of geography as a fundamental difference between two epochs in the history of mankind.” The American model was based on an assembly line that reduced people to automatons, as slaves to machines. “We Westerners must each firmly denounce whatever is American in his house, his clothes, his soul.” Otherwise, technology would conquer all, becoming an end in itself, as had already happened in the United States.
In every way, America continued to be portrayed as inferior to Europe, even when these differences were largely imaginery. For example, American cities were said not to be like French cities. Régis Michaud, in the 1928 book What’s Needed to Understand the American Soul, explained that “neither art nor harmony preceded their birth. One can hardly believe that civilized beings have been able to pole up so many dreadful spectacles.” Anything attractive in American landscape was European.
The French woman, Siegfried explained, “doesn’t lose sight of [her] purpose, which is the preparation of pleasant meals.” In contrast, the American woman, described in earlier decades as too bossy and independent, continued to be denounced, as one French traveler summarized it earlier, for her “brutality…autonomy, egoism and excessive independence…practical intelligence, trivial materialism and a self-interested mind….She seems to us ignorant and pretentious, unable to follow a conversation, so cold she freezes us …mute, sour-tempered, prudish….Do they have domestic qualities? Even less. The American woman is laziness personified.”
Similarly, Octave Noel of Paris’s prestigious L’Ecole des Hautes Études explained in his book, The American Peril, the difference between good European chauvinism, derived from “an excess of patriotic sentiment, ” and bad American jingoism which arose from a “ferocious dictated by the appetites or aspirations of a people whose…efforts have been directed over the past century toward the endless increase of wealth and material goods, and the achievement of comfort.” In other words, Europeans genuinely loved their countries while Americans only supported their nation out of greed.
Americans prided themselves on their individualism, rejecting social controls to an extent almost unprecedented in the world. Yet French anti-Americanism insisted that the United States was a mass society that imposed an unacceptable standardization on each person. A century after Europeans first accused the United States of lacking any culture, French critics saw no reason to change this verdict. “North America, wrote one of them, “has inspired no painters, kindled no sculptors, brought forth no songs from its musicians, except for the monotone Negroes.” And whatever poets and writers it had produced could not wait to leave for Europe, to “turn from their native soil with bitterness.”
As a result of this outpouring of indoctrination, in 1931, sixty years after Baudelaire warned that Americanization was triumphing, Paul Morand concluded, “It is fashionable for the intelligentsia to detest America.” In that year, The American Cancer and Decadence of the French Nation (because it was being influenced by the United States) were published as anti-American, anti-industrialization books.
While there were Frenchmen who liked the United States, what they had to say only further inflamed the anti-Americans by seeming to show that the cultural and intellectual invasion was gaining momentum. Morand’s well-intentioned praise for America was like waving a red cape in front of an already enraged bull. Americans, he wrote, are:
“The strongest race in the world–the only one which has succeeded in organizing itself since [World War I]; the only one which is not living on a past reputation….A sporting instinct makes the pupils in any history class long to be Spaniards in the sixteenth century, Englishmen in the eighteenth, Frenchman in the days of [Napoleon]. And that same enthusiasm makes us now desire, momentarily at least, to be Americans. Who does not worship victory?…
To demand that Frenchmen protect themselves against American culture, Morand concluded, “is simply to refuse that preestablished order which is called the future. [I go to America] to apply to Europe such things as I saw there….”
But when Georges Duhamel saw this future, he shuddered and became one of France’s leading anti-American thinkers. Duhamel had been an army doctor during World War I who achieved success thereafter as a novelist, but he also wrote essays and travel literature. His Scenes of Future Life, published in 1930, came out just after the Wall Street crash, when stories about America’s failures were more credible than they had been at any time since the Civil War. The title of the book tells all, for, Duhamel fears, the “future life” of Europe would be lowered to the level of America. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, he warns his countrymen, it tolls for the civilized way of life.
Yet in this ferocious attack he presents no statistics, interviews with real people, quotes from actual Americans, or evidence of any kind. America is condemned because of its effect on his psyche. Facts, he seems to be saying, are for the kind of mass-produced, standardized minds produced by a decadent industrial civilization. Long live subjectivity! And yet, partly due to this approach, if the same book was reissued as a new volume penned by a French intellectual in reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks or the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003 it would only require a little updating for the specific fads and technologies being harpooned by the author.
After a preface emphasizing France’s vulnerability to the American disease, Duhamel’s story is told in the form of dialogues with his fictional interlocutor, the well-educated—for an American—Parker P. Pitkin. Pitkin is understandably baffled by Duhamel’s unrelenting view of America as the world’s most dangerous anti-utopia. For the author, America represented the machine versus art and vulgarity versus refinement. The United States was “a deviation” from Western civilization. Europe was the land of the spirit while America destroyed the spirit.
Duhamel called American dance music, the “triumph of barbaric silliness.” For him jazz, “Seems to have been dreamt up to arouse the reflexes of a sedentary mollusk.” The noise of the railway had killed music, he said, failing to understand—or determined not to appreciate how the rhythm of the American city would lead to George Gershwin’s miraculous melodies. His “American in Paris” would no doubt have to be for Duhamel the ultimate work of the devil.
He found the American people to be “miserable, care-worn creatures stupefied by drudgery.” Everything is identical, the result of mass production, a claim he makes even regarding the legs of American women, which he describes as being beautiful but only because they looked “as if they had come off an assembly line.” The country’s bureaucracy was worse than that of Soviet Russia. His horror is limitless. America is the “belly of the monster” and “the abyss of perfect falseness.”
Filmmaking, an area where France would soon excel, was to Duhamel a characteristically American “pastime of illiterates…a spectacle which demands no effort, which assumes no continuity in ideas, raises no questions, and deals seriously with no problems.” He predicted that a steady diet of films would destroy the American people’s intellect in a half-century and so subvert the French as to make them unable to govern themselves.
In every aspect of its existence, America embodied the effacement, the destruction of the individual. Its civilization was an even greater threat than any foreign military invasion, he warns. People reject what is imposed on them by a tyrant or by foreign domination, but they might eagerly accept the rule of a different kind of dictatorship, “a false civilization.” He fears it might already be too late as American civilization was already ruling the world. But he bids the citizens of France to arms, to form their battalions and rise to the defense of their 100 kinds of cheese; 50 types of plum; and beloved cafés against the ruthless standardization represented by American technology. He called on each fellow citizen to “denounce the American items which he finds in his house, in his wardrobe, and in his soul.”
It is hard to overstate either the ludicrous caricature of America in Duhamel’s writing or the influence that these kinds of arguments had on French society and, to a lesser extent, on other Europeans. Many of these ideas sank into the psychological bedrock, shaping attitudes at future times of international tension or apparently advancing Americanization. Like his fellow anti-Americans, Duhamel loves France, traditional France as he sees it, and fears modern society as likely to destroy all its good features. America is the epitome of this destructive alternative, and so he hates and must discredit it. The resulting passion carries away any possibility for even a balanced critical approach which points out the real shortcomings of America though also the forces which limit or can be used to remedy them.
What is especially noteworthy is how anti-Americanism was, in Duhamel as elsewhere, so easily able to embrace totally contradictory complaints about the United States without any of its proponents—or even opponents—noticing.
For example, Duhamel ridicules Americans for counting calories and worrying about whether their food was healthy, a barbaric introduction of science into the mysteries of cuisine. Yet his successors would later complain that unhealthy American food was being forced on them. He condemned the movie theatre as the “temple of the images that move,” yet it was in France that the cinema would be most deified. And American films decried for defiling it.
He and others spoke passionately in defense of an old culture they portrayed as permanent and naturally superior, yet his successors would condemn America with a post-modernism that portrayed all cultures as artificial and ridiculed the United States for adhering to allegedly oppressive standards of high culture. And while Duhamel did not concern himself with foreign policy, his compatriots made fun of American ideas of morality and democracy in diplomacy, defending the obvious primacy of realpolitik and raison d’éat—even the very words are French—in any proper nation’s conduct of its affairs. Yet their successors would condemn America as being self-seeking and insufficiently moralistic in its international involvements.
Of course, in claiming that their views were accurate, the anti-American critics could always cite American writers who said similar things, though on which side of the Atlantic the ideas originated was not always clear. Henry Miller, for example, reflected French-style anti-Americanism just as James earlier had imitated the British version. Miller’s account of his travels through the United States in 1940 and 1941, after his long residence in Paris, repeated the three favorite themes of the French anti-Americans: American arrogance, absence of culture, and ruthless conformity.
According to Miller, “We are not peaceful souls; we are smug, timid, queasy and quaky.” America was “a fruit which rotted before it had a chance to ripen,” the most monotonous country in the world, lacking any honest publishers, artistic film company, decent theatre, music other than that created by African-Americans, museums with anything but junk, or more than a “handful” of writers with any creativity. Anyone with talent is “doomed to have it crushed one way or another,” bribed into being a hack or ignored until starved into submission. Living in a country of such “spiritual gorillas” would tempt anyone to commit suicide.
Miller, like Henry James before him, was an American whose hostility to his native country had become that of a defector rather than a domestic critic, though Miller later chose to return to living in the United States. Beginning with a rejection of real faults, he had simply, though sincerely, adopted the foreign anti-American perspective on America as a means for asserting his own superiority. The effect of his writing in both reflecting and shaping French and other European views of America can only be understood if he is quoted at length:
”We are a vulgar, pushing mob whose passions are easily mobilized by demagogues, newspaper men, religious quacks, agitators and such like. To this a society of free peoples is blasphemous. What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this insane activity represents progress and enlightenment?
“It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress – but a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects….The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.”
Yet at the same time, as Duhamel had warned, Europe was evolving in ways paralleling or pursuing the path pioneered by America. Some Europeans idolized American music and film while being introduced to the dubious pleasures of American-invented advertising. Aristocracies declined and democracy developed, bringing to Europe institutions which had once been American novelties. ??Modern factories, too, came to Europe as did large corporations. In general, then, Europe ignored the warnings of the anti-Americans while the masses even embraced a degree of Americanization, at least in the way critics had defined it.
In distinction to the conservatives, pro-Americans embraced or at least did not fear change. They had confidence in their societies’ ability to pick and choose what it wanted. Unlike romantics and leftists, pro-Americans also, out of self-interest or realism, wanted to limit change, seeking improvement rather than utopia. That is why the political locus of those favorable to the United States was among moderate socialists, liberals, and moderate conservatives. They also included average people who wanted to improve their living standards. In contrast, intellectuals in general were the class enemy of America as a model because it challenged the ideas of tradition or revolution. for which they saw themselves as guardians. It also represented a society which lowered their status and pushed aside the things
Thus, while America had a tremendous influence because many in Europe waned this outcome, the negative associations with the United States and institutionalize hostility to it also remained. And this was most true in France where all the anti-American forces were present and relatively strong. Outside of Communist Russia and Nazi Germany during the 1930s, France had by far the most anti-American intelligentsia in Europe, but this tradition also continued in other countries. Obviously, criticisms of America could be valid but many leading European intellectuals held views based on the most puerile stereotypes, the same ones which had been circulating since the American revolution.
By the late 1930s and well into the 1940s, though, outspoken anti-Americanism became increasingly, if temporarily, restricted to pro-Communist and pro-fascist circles. These were the movements that sought to remake the world in their own, not an American, image. Liberals and moderate conservatives increasingly looked to the United States as a necessary ally in their struggles to save themselves, first from Nazi Germany and then from the Communist USSR.
But the problem of Americanization and anti-Americanism would not go away. For while French and other European cultures survived quite nicely the depression of the 1930s, the Nazi era, the war and occupation, and even the Communist challenge, the anti-Americans’ worst nightmare did seem to come true. The United States became more powerful and influential, saving Europe in another world war and a cold war while finding even more ways to spread its culture. For a time, the non-Communist varieties of anti-American would recede, though French and other European intellectual life was deeply influenced by Soviet propaganda and Marxist or semi-Marxist thinking. Yet all the old anti-American concepts further developed during this period would remain very much alive, waiting to revive on numerous occasions thereafter.