"Anti-Americanism in Europe after 9/11. Remapping the U.S. in the European (Social) Imaginary" by Marius Jucan
Marius Jucan is Professor and Programs Director with the American Studies Department at the Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj, Romania. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including America azi. Studii de americanistica [America Today: Studies] (2010), Mastile libertatii. America in scrisorile lui Thomas Jefferson [The Masks of Freedom: America in Thomas Jefferson’s Letters] (2008), and The Complex Innocence: A Phenomenological/Hermeneutical Approach to Henry James’s Tales (2001). He also published numerous essays, studies and articles on American/European/Romanian (post)modern literature and politics. Email:
It is no longer a secret that in many parts of the world a bitter resentment undermines the prestige of America. The image of the US has generally undergone dramatic transformations, dwindling steadily from the majestic height of being the “beacon” of modern nations. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Eastern European revolutions and the collapse of the USSR, unprecedented relations between the West and the East of Europe reshaped the meaning of the European community, affecting the notion of the “Western world”. Before long, the implementing of the enlargement of the European Union reached a stage when the recognition of the role of the US in shaping the post-Cold War Europe had become ambiguous for some, unquestionable for others in the EU. As an aftermath of the European enlargement, Atlanticism has gradually fell into insignificance.
The solitary power of America has subverted in part, or probably wholly the seduction of American democracy. The popularity of anti-American resentments in the world disconcerted Americans especially after 9/11, which would probably speak in favor of the so–called American innocence which Henry James, master of the “transatlantic” psyche, depicted in his modernist fiction. Looking backwards, from the past transatlantic world to the present one, one can surmise that the growing discrepancies tearing apart the traditional Western world would be far less dangerous without the entanglement of anti-Americanism. When, more than a century ago, Tocqueville described America as living under the rule of public opinion, he implied that the welding of opinions in the American democracy occurred due to the equality of the majority, the actual authors of “a host of ready-made opinions”, which were not only currently faring among people, relieving the individual from the burden of thinking for himself, but also hosting religion into the realm of public opinion (Tocqueville, 2000, 409). After 1840, The French author was more and more anxious and skeptical regarding the American political stage. He feared more than ever about the future of democratic institutions (Craiutu, Jennings, 2009, 29). Were his sentiments and opinions no longer matching the author’s previous, enthusiastic perceptions of America? Was it because American public opinion became too conformist or on the contrary, too loose regarding the status of mores and barely hiding the anarchical tendencies of American antebellum life? Or simply because America mores started to change under the impact of opinions, no longer being enlightened by ideals?
In Europe, anti-American resentments have been traditionally more persuasive than then intellectual arguments supporting the American model. A long list of European intellectuals, thinkers, writers and artists disapproved rather than approved of American culture. Though the “American way of life” has been envied and mirrored at the same time in some ways, nowadays it randomly stirs the interest of Europeans, with the possible exception of would-be immigrants. The American avant-garde has descended from its mentor-like position, since cultural globalization succeeded in equalizing the world cultural landscape. Once regarded as a shield against an imminent ideological peril in Europe, American influence is now resented as a global menace to the national cultures of Europe. The once much appraised resilience of American business seems to have been overrun by Asian competitors. The quality of American life declined after the prosperous 90’s and the consequences of culture wars resulted in deeply entrenched arguments bestowing on euro-Atlantic relations a severe continental drift.
The new European anti-Americanism came to the fore after the Iraq war (Operation Iraqi Freedom). An unflinching component of the Western world during the Cold War period, Europe, currently as the European Union, aspires to become a competitor of the United States, decrying the will to power by the American neo-conservative leadership and a perceived erosion of American democracy. The “Western” world known as such since 1945 has ceased to exist. More than ever, the rising anti-Americanism in Europe has transformed the traditional cultural differences arching over the Atlantic into political issues, themes of difference and confrontation dwelling not only in the discourse of the elites, but in the opinion of the masses as well (Habermas, Derrida, 2005, 3-13). After the invasion of Iraq, the American world was portrayed as trapped into an inevitable “decline”. At the same time, anti-Americanism seen either as opinion or as an ideology, “has a truly global reach” (Ceaser, 2004, 45). Contradictions between the status of democracy and the burden of imperial power as well as the economic contraction caused by the irresponsible greed of the banking system has become not only a topic of an ardent economic debate, according to American economists, but also a reason for rethinking liberalism (Krugman, 2009, 265-273). Separatist tendencies among the Europeans have grown creating more obvious bringing to fruition antagonistic political decisions, especially between France and the US. Atlanticism is less and less invoked as a mark of cohesion, but it is rather denounced as only a shadow of its former self, merely a forced unity. One effect of the policies of the European Union enlargement and the escalation of war against terrorism, is that anti-Americanism has experienced an unprecedented radicalization, reaching the size of a mass phenomenon (Chiozza, 2009, 11-20).
The can be no denying that the Mayflower symbolism has continued to send its strong appeal to new generations of immigrants, and that American civil citizenship and American democracy are even today an alternative for many people. But one may also clearly see that an “enchantment” with America lost its spell and it is seldom that Europeans look up to America as a miracle. In trying to understand the relatively rapid attrition of the Americanism in Europe after the end of the Cold War, it would be worthwhile to look for causes that have triggered these transformations of perceptions about America in the European social imaginary, in particular any new political, media and aesthetic contexts shaping postmodern Europe. A treasured destination for many Europeans in difficult times, America has enfolded a singular utopian sense which did not wholly fade away in spite of the rhetoric of anti-Americanism. However, recent anti-Americanism voiced in Europe, as for instance in Jean Baudrillard’s America, impairs the utopian condition of America, or at least it attempts to unmask its enfeebled content covered under a majestic façade. Portrayed as an “achieved condition”, “a utopia sheltered from history” (Baudrillard, 1988, 75-80), America appears as a dream of the void which acknowledges in Baudrillard’s ironic approach the fatal exception of America, its original lack of “likeness” to Europe, the long-time tested cradle of reason and human creativity. At the same time, one should not lose from sight the steady building of a utopian dimension of Europe after the ending of the Cold War, either in the bold politics of enlargement or in the professed teachings of economic behavior in times of crisis. European utopianism has been restored for the moment, supported by the will of the members of the EU to not repeat the tragedies of the past. Nevertheless, for euro-skeptics the threat of the past, (not specifically of the communist one) would not allow a European utopia to soar too close to the sun located high, overhead in those utopian skies.
By saying that the evolution of today’s world anti-Americanism has its historical origin in Europe, I mean to mark its dissimilar framework as compared with the one in Latin America, the Arab world, or Russia. Even if history of anti-Americanism deals everywhere with various degrees and nuances of the same dislike, the dislike of America’s modernity, it is local factors which enwrap and/or let loose the inflammable kernel of conflicts in almost each region of the world, and not simply the image of the Statue of Liberty. Reactions against Americanism and Americanization matured differently in time and intensity according to local cultural backgrounds. In fact, never treated as a simple matter of unsuitability between two cultures, anti-Americanism hides a burning issue of civilization. Anti-Americanism should be looked upon as a Western dispute over the mission and the characteristic of the civilization of the future, a heated controversy turning global. It is probably useful to recall that theories of civilizations were born in Europe after the Enlightenment and they enhanced the superiority or “exceptionalism” of some European nations, even before America had ascended to world power. The example of Francois Guizot, under the influence of who Tocqueville envisioned democracy as the providential civilization of the future is eloquent in this sense. It is rather easy to demonstrate the persistence of the civilizational differences grounded in European identity. But when such differences were brought up as a standing motivation for most of Europe’s states to refrain from hearing the sirens of the new American militarism, the Iraq war of 2003, the refusal is symptomatic from a civilizational point of view, pointing to different cultural and political foundations of Europe as the authentic embodiment of the Western world.
After Tocqueville’s historic and in many ways prophetic account of democratic America, Max Weber, Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt or Jean Baudrillard reiterated the civilizational novelty or exception of America, either in admiration or in repudiation. During the Cold War, though criticizing the quality of democracy, Hannah Arendt kept however confident in the American model of democratic institutions, believing that they still preserved the freedom of the right of association and of civil disobedience (Arendt, 1972, 100-101). But later on, at the zenith of conservative thinking, Samuel Huntington denounced the increasing lack of trust in American institutions. He resumed controversies over the possible end of American civilization, rekindling anxiety in regard to the waning of the “creedal passion” (Huntington, 1981, 197-205). As is known, after the end of the 19th century, when the US reached the status of a regional power, two of the constantly reiterated arguments held by European intellectuals against the rise of the New World were the “cultural inferiority” of the Americans (from the lack of manners to cultural significance) and American expansionism, carried through mercantile interests and religiosity of American life. It is ironic to notice that after a century, Samuel Huntington deplored almost the same decay of the “image” of Americanism caused by the dissemination of multiculturalism, similar to West European authors (Oswald Spengler) who bewailed the future of European culture at the beginning of the last century due to the anti-cultural development of bureaucracy and technology. Weber’s steel cage of capitalism and Huntington’s cultural fault-lined relief of the political world are two outstanding images of the entrapment of Western civilization. The dissimilarity between them lies in the communicational support of the powerful images created by Weber at the beginning of the last century, as compared with Huntington, at the end of the same century. The contrast also lies in the intellectual public vs. mass audience. In the first example, the theory about the religious fundamentals of capitalism is dedicated to an academic milieu or to cultural hermeneutics. In the second one, the American political analyst addresses the idea of Western civilization and its safeguarding, while commenting on the novelty of the world after the death of ideologies, especially of Marxism.
Pervasiveness of image in post-modernity is evident due to the prevalence of at least four factors which attest in everyday experience the omnipresence of image and imagery in mass culture. Communication has definitely turned dependent on the use of images and on their perception. In the age of consumption, images are efficient agents of political and economic marketing, as well as constituents in the (re) construction of national identities, enhancing the cultural recognition of various ethnic, religious, civil society groups. Unprecedented expansion of visual technology has allowed the redefining of the role and meaning of the personal and/or collective memory, spanning from family anniversaries to public ceremonies, recording and sharing representations of human time and space. Image consumption is no longer optional, it is has become a cultural habit, ever since the media has started shaping our environment. It has imposed itself as an inexhaustible source of authentic perceptions of individuals, events, communities, refashioning mass culture, revolutionizing high culture. After having described the relation linking technology and mass media in the famous maxim “the medium is the message”, McLuhan spelled out that ”in all media the user is the content, and the effects come before the invention”(McLuhan, Zingrone, 1977, 263-266). For Guy Debord a sophisticated process of alienation and separateness between life and its representation takes place in the so called “society of the spectacle” which produces a new relation of domination of individuals by political regimes (Debord, 2002, 1-17). Following Debord’s remarks, but stressing the “spectacle” component, Douglas Kellner wrote about “infotainment” as a radical move in the quality of information, marking a new category of consumers. (Kellner, 2002, 12). It is beyond doubt and at the same time control, that innovations in the field of communication technologies recomposed the human cultural environment, transforming the concept of “public” or “audience” into “mass”, bearing a huge impact on public opinion, and consequently on the imaginary.
The study of the imaginary is a useful trans-disciplinary instrument to acknowledge anti-Americanism in Europe. Actually, anti-Americanism began to be widely influential once the dilemmas of the American democracy, respectively the traditional tactics of interventionism and/or isolationism of the so called “imperial” democracy as opposed to a higher sense of responsibility came under focus. In the same vein of thought, especially in Europe, where the project of the European enlargement has not been fully completed, and where the quality of the democratic regime is often put under question, the notion of the imaginary may enlighten us on the hidden aspirations and frustrations of communities/individuals, in their relation with the state, relations of the governed with the governing, respect for human dignity in the relative or total absence of democratic traditions, etc. Europeanization of Eastern European has turned in this sense into a complex set of applicative strategies originating in a philosophy of integration which has been carried through at variable speeds according to unique national cultural foundations. Checking standardization has therefore become an important aspect of the very process of Europeanization, which enhanced different levels of power in the EU, especially when confronted with national(ist) legacies. European federalism faces national dilemmas as European state borders do not coincide with cultural frontiers. On the other hand Europeanization as well as Americanization or Sino-fication put into bold relief strategies of power which identify civilizational antagonisms, eventually (re)fueled by religion or economic discrepancies. The study of the imaginary could peruse therefore the interaction of different cultural layers forming the motivation of human action, from religious beliefs to political options, thereby acknowledging readiness for conflict and its legitimization.
Definitions of the imaginary as a relevant part of the study of phenomenology, literature, psychology, political science and politics are to be found in the works of Jean Paul Sartre, Gaston Bachelard, Maurice Blanchot, Roman Ingarden, Jacques Lacan, Cornelius Castoriadis. Possibly, the widest meaning of the notion of the imaginary is that of being a “bank of images” (Mucchielli, 2002, 180). Some authors are still reluctant to use the concept of the imaginary (Hoffmann, 2005, 589). The imaginary began to be frequently used after Benedict Anderson launched his theory of the “imagined communities”, although he explicitly referred to “imagination” and not the “imaginary”. Anderson’s imagined communities have opened nevertheless the road to the further exploring of the imaginary, in that it granted imagination and phantasy an extra-aesthetic role, respectively for “political factors” (Appadurai, 2002, 53-54).
It was Charles Taylor who brought necessary explanations as for the differences between imagination and the social imaginary, writing about the latter that it is “a structure” more complex and much larger than intellectual schemes people, project when they think about social reality. The social imaginary contains a meaning of “normal” expectations, it is actually the common sense for understanding what is necessary to make common practices function. The social imaginary expands itself “well beyond the immediate background understanding which makes sense of our particular practices” (Taylor a, 2007, 171-173). Taylor thinks that the social imaginary is the “imagination of society by society”, and that, being “pre-reflective” the imaginary is incorporated in paradigmatic stories, images and ideologies; the author confesses that he was struck to see “how certain imaginaries are correlative to certain clusters of practices (Taylor b, 2007, 29-30). Therefore, Taylor thinks that the 9/11 tragedy could be better comprehended as “a clash of imaginaries” (Taylor, b, 2007, 40).
I consider that the social imaginary is a key notion to redefine anti-Americanism in present-day Europe, beyond cultural stereotypes and clichés, accounting at the same time for cultural de-territorialization, spatial-temporal compression, relativization and subjectivization of values in postmodernity. The evident presence of anti-Americanism triggers the appearance of generic or particular representations (in various forms) of the dislike if not of the hatred of America. From this very point, one should make the relevant difference between justified criticism of American policies and/or realities and anti-Americanism, as an ongoing public practice of condemning the US for its own sake. Anti-Americanism develops a sort of degraded moral judgment within its stereotypical expression, attempting to bring to its side the public taste, or to produce the evidence of a “totality” of voices defaming Americanism. The pre-reflective elements of anti-Americanism ascertain the rapid dissemination of the cliché packed as a form of a common historic “experience” through which it might ask for cultural, political or ideological explanations, delays, or even attempts to cancels them forever. The fortitude of the cliché resides, as one knows, in its simplistic interpretive logic of reality, which entraps common opinions in its search for accessible truths. In this article, I intend to deal with the relation between the imaginary and anti-Americanism in Europe, wishing to point out the vehemence of a resentment anchored in cultural difference, displaying nonetheless a strikingly ideological potentiality.
The attempt to define anti-Americanism is daunting due to the quantity of information available. But, at the same time, defining anti-Americanism boils down to a rather simple operation. The most understanding is that anti-Americanism is a prejudgment, a cultural and/or political stereotype, a distorting mirror of the anxiety of individuals and/or communities against American hegemony. In this regard, one can see that usually anti-Americanism is usually perceived as a reaction against manifest Americanism, merging intentionally the idea of an American “nationalism” with that of an American “universalism”. The same non-American civilization may experience contradictory instances of passing from admiration for America to one of a profound dislike. In the case of France, though, a general anti-Americanism has prevailed at least in the elite circles. Although there have been interesting intervals of fraternization with the US as for instance during the American Revolution, in the 1830’s, after the Great War and WWII, and in 2001. In other instances these unpredictable, irrational traits of anti-Americanism appeared to be unavoidable. Foreseeing into a future with complete autonomy of the EU (including the military), will the memory of anti-Americanism continue to persist once the Western world has traveled into a multi-polar world where one could assume that other international players, more powerful than the US might take the lead? Will anti-Americanism be studied only as an inventory of strategies dealing with other forms of exceptionalism? Or will it simply disappear?
The existence of a variety of forms in the anti-American discourse demonstrates that anti-Americanism may borrow sophisticated and/or trivial expressions. The persuasion of anti-Americanism has reached a culminating point when it succeeded to unmask Americanism, or rather American idealism as a false hope, a betrayal of expectations in regard to democracy, or just the hypocrisy of a cynical power. Anti-Americanism stands as a core reaction to the shortcomings and errors of American policies, judged against the idealism of the promises of American democracy. In many cases, anti-Americanism has camouflaged itself within the anti-modern discourse, or under the disguise of political correctness, when the disillusions and discontents of globalization and modernization have proved to cost too costly for local politicians. Anti-Americanism was often employed as an ideological agent whose mission was to cement public consciousness, after first alerting it against the imminent peril of Americanization. But after assessing the gravity of the danger of Americanization it is not very clear whether anti-Americanism voices its protest against the US foreign policy makers, whether it conveys a blind denial of American civilization as a “way of life”, or both at the same time. This inconstancy within anti-Americanism may disarm those who think that a general mobilization against America has come and this will be the final curtain falling on the discontentment of living in postmodernity.
The example of 19th century British critic and poet Matthew Arnold prophesying the advent of the “anarchy” of American culture was followed by other famous European authors from Heidegger to Baudrillard. Recent anti-Americanism perfected itself as a mechanism of exclusion based on the “paradigmatic stories” of the Cold War. Openly accusing American exceptionalism, post-Cold War anti-Americanism embraces ideological premises in Europe as well as in Australia, Latin America or Russia. Cultural fundaments which undergird anti-Americanism in Europe, mainly the idea of national culture restrain the possibility of Europeans to see in Americanism or in the leadership of America a congruent relation with their own traditions (in the sense of Bourdieu’s habitus). It is therefore difficult, if not impossible to understand modern Western civilization as an equally balanced entity relying simultaneously on Europe and America. Rather, in Europe it has been more habitual to think of the “superiority” of one member upon the others. Readapting geopolitical concepts with a strong cultural resonance as in the case of Mitteleuropa in the Europe of the 90’s demonstrates not only that European tradition is creative in marking its autonomy after ideologies have vanished, but that the emergence of cultural, ethnic and religious common areas is different from the experience of American regionalism, and far from the idea of American federalism which Europeanism never applauded.
In a reversed chronological order, starting from the first decade of a new millennium to the beginning of the so-called “American century” anti-Americanism is held as “Europe’s lingua franca” (Markovits, 2007, 11). The new European anti-Americanism legitimizes the emergent independent political discourse of the European Union in the construction of Europeanism. Anti-Americanism is perceived as a ”political issue” in a world suffering from a “political deficit” (Krastev, 2007, 7-13). Krastev believes that anti-Americanism represents the prelude of an “anti-American” century, the century we have already inaugurated, since the widespread dislike of America cannot be imagined as a passing sentiment. If anti-Americanism consists for many analysts in a stereotypical construction, nourished by resentments hardened during the experiences of the recent or distant past, or by the present day economic situation, it may reach the unambiguous situation of a general “context” enjoying the value of a principle. Krastev agrees that the world of today cannot complain about the lack of democratic procedures, but of the absence of democratic policies, which might lead to the transforming of anti-Americanism into a main obstacle to implementing democracy, or may simply weaken it. A similar opinion is held by Hungarian economist Janos Matyas Kovacs who considers that anti-Americanism is professed in Hungary by nationalist or populist groups, whereas pro-Americanism is sustained by liberally minded circles (Kovacs, 2007, 33-34). Without drawing a close parallel to Hungary, one might say that in Romania post-Cold War anti-Americanism rests on the deeply embedded authoritarian traditions, though the post-Communist elites turned pro-American after 1989 in order to launder their past (Sellin, 2004, 117-120).
The peril of changing cultural anti-Americanism in an explosive mixture of nationalism and xenophobia in Europe is quite real (Romero, 2007, 12). It is worth remarking that if in criticizing American policies or political tendencies, one finds justified points of view, as regards the differences between Europe and the US, this way of looking critically is too often replaced by a disparaging manner of blaming America as the source of all wrongs. Tony Judt’s definitions regarding the expansion of anti-Americanism are convincing in this respect. Judt refers to anti-Americanism as to a “master-narrative of the century” (Judt, 2005, 11-33). Writing about the “banality” of anti-Americanism, Judt suggests not only Hannah Arendt’s formula about the banality of evil, but also the popular tendency to speak about the “evil” of modernity and modernization in dealing with anti-Americanism. The ambiguity of anti-American feelings sits in the love-hate story with America, in “the fear and seduction” of America, which, according to the author will continue to assert in the future the appeal of anti-Americanism.
Anti-Americanism has passed from “specific areas of disagreement to larger frames” (Kroes, 2006, 106) not only in Europe but also in the US, where culture wars have resulted into an unprecedented state of political and cultural division. The ongoing conflict between liberal and conservative America is perceived as a disheartening fracture of the once organic unity of the American creed. The anti-American use of “prejudiced rhetoric“, does not allow a person “to appreciate the promise America still holds for herself and for the world” (O’Connor, 2006, 22). Waiting for a deeper analysis of the way in which forms of anti-Americanism are replete and replenished, it would probably be necessary to regard anti-Americanism as embodying a plurality of voices. Instead of figuring out a single brand of anti-Americanism, it is certainly more adequate to review and inventory various types of anti-American experiences in an effort to acknowledge the peculiarities of each cultural area on which America or its soft power had a measurable contrastive influence. Claiming that Americanism and especially Americanization are the natural sources of anti-Americanism does not lighten the burden of classifying different outcomes of the anti-American reactions in many parts of the world, as well as in Western and Eastern Europe. Conjoining democracy and American exceptionalism after 9/11 became the central issue of anti-Americanism, especially after American hegemony had been tagged as a “civilization consciousness” different, if not overtly opposed to the one professed within the EU discourse (Crockatt, 2006, 123).
It undoubtedly evident that after September 2001, the US assumed an altered place in the social imaginary of Europeans. Were one to seek for a model applicable to this ongoing transformation, one could resort to what an American author called the “metaphor if the two worlds” (Lipsitz, 2002, xii). Used by Machiavelli, the metaphor of the two worlds describes a possible transition from corrupted times to new worlds/ territories. Once employed to herald the birth of the New World, the metaphor seems to consecrate the building of a new Europe, where the plague of war and of warring policies (culture wars) would not be known. Returning to Europe wherefrom it took its original flight, the metaphor of the two worlds weighs the price of hegemony and neo-conservative policies which have indentured the integrity of American democracy. But so did consumerism, the menace of totalitarianism, new mass media communication, and not only in America. The rebirth of virtue (and not of religion) in the “new worlds or territories” cannot occur however, against the historical past. One remembers that the “discovery” of America was parallel to a generally convened “absence of history” as regarding natives thought as living outside human civilization. The conquering of new lands, sealed within the belief of a civilizing mission, accelerated the expanse of “European” consciousness under a collection of European “imperial” nations. Born out of a modern religious crisis, America, bearing the promise of the new Canaan, fulfilled this role of as an alternative world until its transformation formed an exception to Europe, and moved into an exceptional otherness of Europe. The metaphor of the two worlds seizes on the dual representations of the world, a Middle Ages theme resumed in Machiavelli’s rewriting of a modern political relationship as a human one, and not a divine one, namely one that between a friend and a foe. Rivalry between the two worlds sustains the need of utopianism, the need to cherish the renewing of time through the rearranging of space/territories so as to achieve hopes of peace and prosperity, but also for a new art of power.
It is true that the project of the enlarged Europe has enthused millions of Europeans at the end of the Cold War, putting an end to European wars and divisions under the seal of democracy, except for the wars in the former Yugoslavia during the 90s. At the same time, one cannot deny that until this moment the EU has not claimed a providential promise as the symbolic fountain of its union, as in the case of the American creed, and it has not imposed a constitution as a necessary political frame, accommodating a new ethos for its new citizens. The European unity does not enjoy the fruits of its own statehood, and what ensues from this complicated network of international organisms is that bureaucratic standards easily replace affective links which might have united members within the same federal community. The reasons for European integration are perceived and valued differently by the members of the European community. Under these circumstances, anti-Americanism resentments are used as a substitute for European sentiments. March 15, 2003 was the day when philosophers Juergen Habermas, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty, along with political leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn greeted the birth of a united Europe as a new world, quickly distancing itself from the US, and naturally taking advantage of the widespread protests against the Iraq war. The enthusiastic opinions presented by the above mentioned notable West Europeans, as well as of other representatives of the EU were not shared by the intellectuals, writers and leaders of civil society in Eastern Europe, which signals the presence of a dissimilar social imaginary in the other part of Europe.
In a comparative analysis of the US and the UE, Stanley Hoffmann holds that the EU does not provide a social and cultural project which might tone down the historical discrepancies as well as the cultural frontiers between European states, in an attempt to gain the trust of European citizens in their own belonging to a renewed Europe (Hoffmann, 2003, 35-36). Hoffmann claims that the constituting of the enlarged Europe is but a new sequence of Europe’s rivalry with the US, which started at the end of the 19th century. The process of a relatively rapid enlargement in post Cold War Europe was not buttressed by the existent quality of democratic traditions, and thus disparities in economic and administrative, political matters appeared among different countries. Hoffmann thinks that the construction of nowadays Europe relies on three types of illusions which might eventually jeopardize a functional European integration. He points out that one of the weaknesses of Europe is that democratic regimes were installed in many since democratic regimes were installed in many Western Europe countries as a consequence of the end of WWII in order to foster the “enlargement” of the democratic world within Europe, so as to counterbalance the other part of Europe, which had been caught under the heel of communist regimes. The three illusions, mentioned by Hoffmann, namely the technological, the procedural and the progressive one may stand for long awaited opportunities which could melt down differences among members of the enlarged Europe, putting and end to tensions and divisions, to European hegemonic national tendencies. Yet, no matter how noble EU administrative projects may be in their pragmatic approach to the varied histories of European countries (as similar as chalk and cheese), these alchemical strivings may run out of steam precisely because of the diverse European national imaginaries.
For the time being, one can notice in the process of transforming of the US in the European social imaginary, there are three distinct directions. The first direction claims the immediate and inevitable decline of the US following the implosion of its prestigious power. American power will spiral down to a parochial role. Present-day anti-Americanism has already embraced the forecast of the American twilight which resounds in the assurance of many representatives of the EU leadership (Quinn, Cox, 2008, 102-108). Besides, an important number of American and European authors have already composed the threnos of America: Noam Chomsky, Immanuel Wallenstein, Jean Baudrillard, Emmanuel Todd, Jeremy Rifkin, among the most renowned. The replacing of the American dream with the European one is believed by many to herald the end of America not only as possible, but also necessary to salvage Western civilization.
A second direction sustains that cleavages between the US and the EU are not actually as dramatic as to further entertain an insurmountable crisis, and that in spite of evident disagreements, the two above mentioned entities should be still regarded as the two versions of the same Western modernity (Martinelli, 2007, pp. 7-16). A third direction is represented by a group of authors (Jean Francois Revel, Timothy Garton Ash, Alan Wolfe) who think that though America has considerably diminished its chances to be believed in defending the ideals of democracy, it still holds the capability of saving itself from the tentacles of its own imperial power.
Three cultural motifs support in my view the aforementioned directions of the transforming of America, as an icon of modernity. The first motif is contained within what the classic historians called translatio imperii, a repetitive sequence in the European history of civilizations, portraying that beyond the fatal rise and fall of great powers there was a line on continuity in the mastering of imperial power. Continuity in this regard was obviously expressed due to an analogy between time and space, actually a spatial image of time, apprehended as the sense of change in the rotations of the wheel of power (Le Goff, 1988, 165). In Huntington’s interpretation of the post-Cold War clash of civilizations the 18th century concept of civilization vs. barbarity is completed by the presence of the so-called “fault-lines” around which civilizational conflicts go ablaze once political and ideological hierarchies become outmoded. The alarm signal sounded for the US, when the civilizational consciousness intensified itself outside the US, in Europe, in the Arab world or in China, while the American creed was being diluted due to multicultural policies, as conservatives believe, or on the contrary by the insufficiency of reforms, as liberals sustain.
Transition of power might occur because of the weakening American identity, no longer founding itself on the American creed, or on the relations between institutions and ideals, but rather mediated through creedal passion. Fukuyama’s analysis of Europe’s reaction against American exceptionalism shows that the possibility of the “transition” of American power in the postmodern era lies in disagreements with former allies (Fukuyama, 2006, 100-102). The incompatibility between the virtues of democratic republicanism and neoconservative partisanship on one hand and on the other the responsibilities of a global player questions the credibility of the American system. As an important player in globalization, though not being in its origin, the US finds itself in a complex situation due to various inner and world aspects, such as cultural diversity and its recognition, economic contraction, war against terrorism, redefinition of democracy under the influence of consumerism and mass communication.
The second motif is that of the aestheticization of life which embraces all aspects of the Euro-Atlantic world since the end of the 19th century. Aestheticization of the Western world was dealt with critically by authors as various as Susan Sontag, Daniel Bell, Cristopher Lasch, Allan Bloom who underlined that the aesthetic modernist/postmodernist model unties the organic bindings of the American creed. In this sense, it is important to underscore that the superposing between the aesthetic and the political inaugurated in the Enlightenment and traversing the entire Romantic Western culture has imprinted relevant traces in the social imaginary of the Westerners, in the recognition and assertion of the national as the main dimension of the modern European state in comparison with American federalism. The natural sublime of America was the dominant perception of the New World perceived by Crevecoeur, a “haven” of the world in which the aesthetic and the political novelty of America melted into an expression of indomitable novelty and power. The aesthetic was employed in the American modernism as an agent of a cosmopolitan vision outdistancing itself from the ethnic one, in asking the emancipation from nativism or in the Black Renaissance. Aestheticization in postwar American culture seen as a “toolbox” or “toolkit” is regarded as a possibility allowing the individual to participate in the very process of initiating himself/herself. A particular interest should be given in this respect to Americanization as self-Americanization, as defined by Winfried Fluck (Fluck, 2006, 227.)
The third motif is the resurgence of religion in postmodern society, a trait of the specificity of American civilization blatantly different from the European one. If one considers religion as the depositary of a traditional habitus which transcends material benefices, one has to rediscover the paradoxical role of religion in American society, once masterly described by Tocqueville, namely that of a moderator of democracy. Without resuming Tocquevillian demonstration about the “necessity” of religion in democracy, it is worthwhile underlining that the awakening of religion brings into debate the authenticity of life, identity of the individual and the role of communities, hedonism and responsibility. The resurgence of religion should be given a role apart in the actual predicament of the American managerial democracy, pointing to the strengthening of civil society, and in upholding people’s participation in the political decision making ( Katznelson, 2010, 414). In a culture of immediate gratification, a culture which shaped religion and not vice versa, as Alan Wolfe writes, religion continues to express a different relation between the power of the faith and the politics (Wolfe, 2006, 198-199).
It is difficult to reach a conclusion, without weighing its risks. The risk of exaggerating the impact of anti-Americanism lies in overlooking its two century tradition, which speaks of the “habit” of condemning America while living according to many of its modern technological and cultural artifacts. On the other hand, downsizing the intensity of anti-Americanism and arrogantly treading on a popular resentment would mean to renounce any objective assessment of the perception of Americanism abroad. Anti-Americanism resists prediction. Anti-Americanism shows its history in renewed narratives. In an era of adaptations (Hutcheon, 2006, 15-33), anti-Americanism continues to act as the safety valve of the real America, so that the anti-American discourse can but refashion the discourse of Americanness. In what proper manner and to whose benefices, one will have to wait for tomorrow.
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