Books

“Uncouth Nation”

In The Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley reviews Andrei Markovits’s book Uncouth Nation, about anti-Americanism among western European elites.

The Romanian-born Markovits, who writes for the democratic socialist journal Dissent, claims “a life-long affinity with the democratic left in Europe and the United States.”

Yardley quotes some telling passages from his book, including these:

“Ambivalence, antipathy, and resentment toward and about the United States have comprised an important component of European culture since the American Revolution at the latest, thus way before America became the world’s ‘Mr. Big’ — the proverbial eight-hundred-pound gorilla — and a credible rival to Europe’s main powers, particularly Britain and France . . . . While the politics, style, and discourse of the Bush administration — and of George W. Bush as a person — have undoubtedly exacerbated anti-American sentiment among Europeans and fostered a heretofore unmatched degree of unity between elite and mass opinion in Europe, they are not anti-Americanism’s cause. Indeed, a change to a center-left administration in Washington, led by a Democratic president, would not bring about its abatement, let alone disappearance.”

And:

“To this day, one encounters the widely held view in Europe that Americans are like children, implying they are immature, impressionable, without sound judgment, anchorless, lacking tradition or history. Moreover, to this day as well, there exists the fear that Europe’s masses — childlike in their own way — also succumb to America’s superficial veneer that woos innocents to do something worthless at best, at worst well-nigh deadly. Thus to this day, Europe’s elite discourse often depicts America not as proletarian, which at least to leftist Europeans has the connotation of authenticity, but rather as commodified, commercial, vulgar — values that exude inauthenticity, plasticity, and heteronomy. European elites’ image of America as ‘Las Vegas,’ ‘Disneyland,’ basically as ‘white trash’ — or what the British call ‘chav’ — has a distinguished pedigree: gaudy jewelry, expensive-but-tacky clothes, garish makeup, platinum blond hair, tattoos, vulgar demeanor, in short inauthentic and kitschy glitter best captured by the term ‘uncouth.’ “

In closing a generally favorable review, Yardley offers a useful reminder to sometimes overly-defensive anti-anti-Americans:

Heaven knows there are plenty of things about this country — not just what it does but what it is — that are fair game for criticism. But the phenomenon Markovits so tellingly describes has nothing to do with criticism. It’s just knee-jerk bloviating and deserves nobody’s attention or respect.

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