Friday, July 23, 2004

An American in Europe

Bruce Bawer, a patriotic ex-pat (he now lives in Norway), sees Europeans for what they are.

Culturally superior? Ha!
Yes, many Europeans were book lovers —- but which country’s literature most engaged them? Many of them revered education -— but to which country’s universities did they most wish to send their children? (Answer: the same country that performs the majority of the world’s scientific research and wins most of the Nobel Prizes.) Yes, American television was responsible for drivel like “The Ricki Lake Show” -— but Europeans, I learned, watched this stuff just as eagerly as Americans did (only to turn around, of course, and mock it as a reflection of American boorishness)....And yes, more Europeans were multilingual—but then, if each of the fifty states had its own language, Americans would be multilingual, too.
More sophisticated? Bah!
Living in Europe, I gradually came to appreciate American virtues I’d always taken for granted, or even disdained -- among them a lack of self-seriousness, a grasp of irony and self-deprecating humor, a friendly informality with strangers, an unashamed curiosity, an openness to new experience, an innate optimism, a willingness to think for oneself and speak one’s mind and question the accepted way of doing things. (One reason why Europeans view Americans as ignorant is that when we don’t know something, we’re more likely to admit it freely and ask questions.)...Americans, it seemed to me, were more likely to think for themselves and trust their own judgments, and less easily cowed by authorities or bossed around by “experts”; they believed in their own ability to make things better. No wonder so many smart, ambitious young Europeans look for inspiration to the United States, which has a dynamism their own countries lack, and which communicates the idea that life can be an adventure and that there’s important, exciting work to be done. Reagan-style “morning in America” clichés may make some of us wince, but they reflect something genuine and valuable in the American air. Europeans may or may not have more of a “sense of history” than Americans do...but America has something else that matters—a belief in the future.
Open minded? Fah!
Then came September 11. Briefly, Western European hostility toward the U.S. yielded to sincere, if shallow, solidarity (“We are all Americans”). But the enmity soon re-established itself (a fact confirmed for me daily on the websites of the many Western European newspapers I had begun reading online). With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it intensified. Yet the endlessly reiterated claim that George W. Bush “squandered” Western Europe’s post-9/11 sympathy is nonsense. The sympathy was a blip; the anti-Americanism is chronic....If Europe’s intellectual and political elite was briefly pro-America after 9/11, it was because America was suddenly a victim, and European intellectuals are accustomed to sympathizing reflexively with victims (or, more specifically, with perceived or self-proclaimed victims, such as Arafat). That support began to wane the moment it became clear that Americans had no intention of being victims.
At least one European intellectual has it right:
To [Jean-Francois] Revel, the tenacity of European anti-Americanism...suggests “that we are in the presence, not of rational analysis, but of obsession” -- an obsession driven, he adds, by a desire to maintain public hostility to Jeffersonian democracy. The European establishment, Revel notes, soft-pedals the fact that Europeans “invented the great criminal ideologies of the twentieth century”; it defangs Communism (at “the top French business school,” students think Stalin’s great error was to “prioritize capital goods over . . . consumer goods”); and it identifies the U.S., “contrary to every lesson of real history . . . as the singular threat to democracy.” Revel’s vigorous assault on all this foolishness might easily have been dismissed in France (or denied publication altogether) but for the fact that he’s a member of that revered symbol of French national culture, the Académie Française.