Anti-Americanism from a French point of view…

Having spent time online with a number of Americans, I know that there are three kinds of writing about anti-Americanism: the kind mostly by Americans, which I have little time to listen to because it’s usually rather decontextualized and whiney; the kind which is simply foreigners justifying anti-Americanism, which is boring as hell; and, finally, the kind that’s usually (though not always) by non-Americans, which is often interesting because it’s often a criticism of blind anti-Americanism which nonetheless still manages not to completely embrace pro-Americanism, or which celebrates non-American culture as well.

As a Canadian, that being a person from a culture the center of which seems to me to be focused on a negation of Americanness (“We’re better than them! We’re nicer than them! We are NOT AMERICANS!” being what I think is the secret message of most Canadian writing about Canadianness…), I tend to have a slightly anti-American knee-jerk reaction. While I have really reined it in by spending time with quite intelligent Americans, most notably my friend John Wendel, I can always use a foreign perspective on things. And here is one: it’s a very interesting article in the latest New Criterion by a French philosopher/critic named Jean-Francois Revel, called The anti-American obsession.

The heart of his argument is stated right in the beginning:

Cultural diversity?has replaced cultural exceptionalism?in the French-inspired, Eur- opean rhetoric. But in actuality, the two terms cover the same kind of cultural protectionism. The idea that a culture can preserve its originality by barricading itself against foreign influences is an old illusion that has always produced the opposite of the desired result. Isolation breeds sterility. It is the free circulation of cultural products and talents that allows each society to perpetuate and renew itself.

From a very French perspective, he goes through the implications for art, science, language, and other aspects of culture. I don’t think I agree with quite everything he has to say. For example, I think he’s overlooking things when he notes that globalization generally brings about benefit… sure, Japanese art revivified art in France, but Japanese colonialism, and French colonialism, wreaked havoc all over the world at the same time that Japanese art was revivifying French visual art… he omits this, and though it’s well known I think it’s important to mention since there are also clear economic and political agendas and stakes in our own current globalization phenomena. Still, it’s a thought-provoking and thoughtful article that questions how American globalization is, and whether whatever degree that is might not necessarily be the irreparably bad thing that many people often simply assume it must be.

Revel’s the author of a book called How Democracies Perish, which I think I wouldn’t mind reading if I could get my hands on it.

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