Saturday, April 08, 2006

From Admiration to Fear and Loathing: Anti-Americanism Left and Right

André Gide, writing from Algiers in his journal on May 27, 1943: “The Americans, in our old world, get themselves beloved by everyone and everywhere. Such ready generosity, so genial and sunny, so natural, that we happily agree to be at their service.” (My anglicized translation of this original: “Les Américains, sur notre vieux monde, se font aimer par tous et partout. De générosité si prompte, si cordiale et souriante, si naturelle, que l’on accepte joyeusement de se sentir leur obligé.” May 27, 1943, Algiers.)
Adrian Wooldridge, writing from Washington in his Lexington column in the April 1Economist: “The most striking thing about Americans to many outsiders is how nice they are. They have none of the aloofness of the British or the froideur of the French. On the contrary, they go out of their way to be warm and welcoming. This is the land of the smiley face and the ‘have a nice day’ greeting. Put simply, Americans like to be liked.” From Gide to Wooldridge already there’s an inversion: In Gide’s time, Americans abroad projected likability to such a point as to seduce the foreigners among whom they mingled. World War II was in full swing of course, anything resembling the shimmer of a savior, even and especially to the French, would have evoked buckets of gratefulness by the Sanctus. By the 1970s and 80s, the Me-Generation’s narcissism had retrenched Americans’ world view onto themselves. Americans were still likable. (I remember that quality being, along with those obsessively tended and fertilized lawns, one of the most remarkable thing about Kingsport, Tenn., when I first arrived in this country in 1979: the sheer tonnage of smiles on everybody’s faces, along with that effusive willingness to hug.) Read the rest...