TCS Daily


Why Do They Hate Us?

By Ilya Shapiro - March 23, 2004 12:00 AM

"Ninety-five percent of the population was against the war in Iraq," observed my professor at our usual lunch spot near the University of Buenos Aires Department of Social Science, "and I, of course, am among that ninety-five percent."

Of course. For a member of the Western intelligentsia to support the United States -- let alone George W. Bush -- on any element of foreign policy would be less likely than an Ivy League faculty deciding not to discriminate against conservative job applicants for the sake of "diversity."

Indeed, far beyond the opposition to the Iraqi liberation, our supposed allies and fellow members of what used to be called the Free World increasingly express sentiments not normally accepted in the polite company of the "community of nations." Americans are uncultured and heartless and only take time out of their navel-gazing to oppress some poor developing country in the name of a warped neo-imperialism. Time and again, when I visit former foreign haunts or correspond with friends and contacts -- people with whom I've shared many beers and soccer matches -- I am struck by the relatively uniform anti-Americanism that ebbs and flows but is always a constant background to any conversation (political or otherwise) we might have.

Why is this so? What possesses academics, journalists, and professionals on the one hand, and graffiti artists and working-class protestors on the other, to so vehemently and consistently rage against the only benign superpower in the history of man? Why do they hate us?

Part of it is clearly ideology. For ill or for tragic, the rest of the world inclines more toward socialism -- or "social democracy" as they prefer to call coerced redistribution along majoritarian lines -- than the average American. And an enlightened citizen of the 21st century cannot fathom why the richest country in the world does not provide free universal health care, let alone enshrine the inalienable right to food, shelter, and a living wage. (But ask the average Venezuelan what he thinks of the myriad rights and entitlements in the ever-expanding constitution of his "Bolivarian Republic.")

Part of it is resentment, not of the American way of life per se, but rather of the openness, ease of manner, optimism, and entrepreneurial spirit that have defined "Americanness" since de Tocqueville and continue even in this multicultural age. If the touchstone of the instant globalization is "thinking outside the box," it is Americans who both invented said box and repeatedly render it obsolete. (Whether one thinks of corporations or NGOs, higher education or organized religion.)

Granted, anti-Americanism is no monolithic force, and both its source and manifestation differ from country to country. The French sneer at Americans' lack of social refinement, the Germans at our refusal to unilaterally disarm and renounce our warmongering -- though neither complained when we were their bulwark against the Red Army. Canadians and Belgians tut-tut about our lack of politesse, our insistence (lacking of late) that immigrants actually integrate themselves into their chosen society -- as if their fractured polities and perpetual identity crises offer a shining example of civic bliss.

Koreans bristle at the lack of respect shown by the "occupying forces" at Panmunjon -- but we tolerate this immaturity in the face of the greater evil to the north (Kim Jong Il being the primary cheerleader John Kerry refers to when he talks of secret endorsements from foreign leaders). Argentines and Brazilians flex their muscles in the face of the incontrovertible onslaught of the Yankee dollar -- which, in its own Hayekian way, picks apart their economies' structural inefficiencies (based on sclerotic labor regulations and clientelist industrial strategies).

It is interesting to note the countries with healthier attitudes: the "New Europe" that still sees America as the beacon of freedom that saved it from the Soviets' deathly embrace; the small Central American republics which send so many of their citizens to our shores and which also stared down Communism in the 1980s; Australia and Britain, for cultural reasons; the list (not coincidentally) parallels the one read by President Bush at the State of the Union of those supporting our efforts in Iraq. Many of the people of these nations felt uneasy about our decision to go to war, but a majority backed us because of an appreciation for our values and a realization of the import of the fight by the forces of civilization against those of savagery.

Similarly, in domestic politics, is it any surprise that Americans not long removed from Russia, Cuba, and Cambodia so differ from overall Jewish, Hispanic, and Asian voting patterns? Once you have seen the belly of the beast, you want to get as far away from its mouth as possible.

In the end, anti-Americanism boils down to the timeless disgust with America's daring to export its idea of liberty to the four corners of the globe. Whether via gunboat diplomacy, realpolitik, humanitarian intervention, or the current blend of preemptive strikes and trade liberalization -- despite intermittent rollbacks at the behest of groaning industrial-age unions and its John Edwards demagogues -- it is anathema to the Old World mind (and its Rousseauean influence in the New World) that a nation would choose to pursue other than parochial mercantilist interests. This is why French companies violated the sanctions against post-Gulf War Iraq while the chattering class decried the Yankee drive to trade blood for oil. It is why Vladimir Putin is a supposedly faithful partner in the war against Islamic terrorism while selling nuclear reactors to Iran. And it is the reason that, unfortunately, Europeans consider the United States to be the second-most dangerous country in the world -- second only to the sole democracy in the Middle East.

To oversimplify the point, Europeans (like New Yorkers) are cynical, and cannot comprehend the "shining city upon a hill." They can't help it; their Enlightenment was essentially French and positivistic, rather than Scottish and natural law-oriented. Still, it is amusing to observe the simultaneous attacks on America from what roughly corresponds to the political left and right, for being an insufficient promoter of "social justice" while reveling too much in proletarian culture. Such is the paradox of this irrational anti-Americanism.

As for my Argentine professor, though we enjoyed discussing his latest research on nationalism and sports, you can imagine his reaction when I told him that I planned to work on the President's reelection campaign this fall.

Ilya Shapiro, who recently returned from carnival in Brazil, is currently clerking on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He recently wrote for TCS about immigration reform.


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