Friday, December 23, 2005

Are the French anti-American?

There is no denying that anti-Americanism exists in France yet it is far more difficult to conclude that the French as a whole are anti-American. The very nature of this anti-Americanism is also hard to define.

This question has been dealt many times on this blog (see here for instance) but Joker-to-the-Thief tends to think that the answer is both yes and no, however non-committal this is. The only thing we have constantly supported is the theory that the main reason for the bickering between France and the US is not that they are different but that they are so much alike (see here).

Both nations believe that their values are not only unique but also universal and that they should be spread. This can be partly explained by their view on their founding revolutions which have become national mythical events
This idea happens to be pretty much what this week’s The Economist contends in their article “Spot the Difference”.
They also add a few more interesting elements in their analysis of the issue, showing that the reality is of course more complex than it appears.
  • First they say that anti-Americanism is basically an elite doctrine which is not shared by ordinary people. While more French people disapprove of George Bush's international policies 85% than most other Europeans (72% on average), 72% of the French have a favourable view of Americans, [surprisingly] more even than in Britain (62%) or Spain (47%).

Another good illustration is this:

During the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2004, politicians were frosty, but the people at large showed an outpouring of gratitude to American veterans.
And this has indeed the experience of American friends of mine who went to the celebrations of anniversary and felt warmly welcome and hailed there. Read also this article, No anti-Americans on my trip to Europe. One could also mention the success of many American products at a level that makes France seem more seduced by Americana than most other European countries.
  • Second, and more challenging is their idea that Anti-Americanism is used as a scapegoat by the political class for its own roubles. The French , and particularly the media, enjoy exposing American poverty, racism and ghetto life while failing to see their own as the recent events this year have shown (racism and poverty “revealed” by Katrina and the French riots). It helps them cope with their own sense that things are not going so well by sustaining the myth that things are even worse there. Unfortunately, this often prevents much needed self-examination.
  • Their last major point is that the French clash with America is not the result of antipathy but jealousy. This is also our theory of the rivalry of competing “universal values”. (after all both Republics share the ambition to spread their values abroad). In this respect, Dominique de Villepin [the Prime Minister] ’s words that France’s responsibility to bestow a conscience, a soul upon the Earth” and to enact “our universal and humanist dream” could be easily mistaken for Bush’s own rhetoric on America’s duty to spread freedom [except for the word "humanist" of course!]

Finally, the article provides another clue : anti-Americanism intensifies at times of French uncertainty and, well, this is definitely one of those moments today.

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