[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Sunday, March 2, 2003


Once again, the buggy prof is grateful to John, a former honors student at UCSB who has studied, worked, and lived in Europe for years and is a gifted linguist to boot. A graduate of one of the best law schools in the US, John practices law now, but retains a vigorous interest in European politics and US-European relations.

John's Comments First

Thanks for your reponse to my inquiry. I'd seen some discussion of these points in various sources, but the statistics were presented in summary without any clear explanation of their derivation, leaving the reader to parse through the possibilities. I think that the issue of Old Euope's economic prospects-- which as you point out is what we're really talking about here-- is essential to understanding what is driving anti-Americanism there. The widening gap in the economic growth potential of the US as compared to Europe's biggest economies is far more troubling to Europe than what America does as the sole superpower at the end of the Cold War.

In the case of Germany, for example, Schroeder tapped into a huge reservoir of emotional insecurity when he began bashing America in the last election. Germans are often reluctant to express their national pride, but when they do, they usually will point to the country's wealth following a half century of rapid economic growth from the ruins of war and the social welfare system that developed as a reflection of Germans' belief in their inexhaustible capacity to flourish. Substantive reform of that system is emotionally charged not only because it is viewed as reneging on a social compact Germans have come to rely on; it also represents in Germans' minds a turning away from a belief in their capacity to flourish. Germans have long believed that they were inexorably on the path to a utopia of high living standards and economic security for all. The widening gap between the US and Germany after almost a half century of national pride being tied up in closing it appears to rub Germans' noses in the awful truth that their system is broken. The country's anemic growth and high structural unemployment are particularly German problems; they aren't problems plauging all advanced economies because America doesn't have them. If change must come it's preferred that it come slowly, but the rate of American growth over the last ten years puts even more pressure on the timing and magnitude of reform because decline is relative.

I can't help but wonder if part of what's driving Germany's reluctance to back a US led war or to participate in any Iraq action regardless of a UN resolution is mainly a means to reserve the right to say no if they are ever asked to share the expenses of fighting it (as was done during Desert Storm).



On the whole, these are valid views that you set out here. More generally,

1) Envy and resentment are part of ordinary daily life --- worse to be sure in some societies than others, and operating in international relations among countries . . . again, with the envy and resentment more acute, say, in France about its decline in power and influence, two centuries old now (and in culture, almost a century), than in Britain. As a general thing, envy of success in the US is far more blunted than in the EU (with variations there: more pronounced historically and in the present in the Latin countries and Germany and Austria --- all plagued in the past by extreme class conflicts and extremist ideololgies like fascism, Nazism, and communism --- than in Scandinavia, Holland, or Britain).

2) For about sixty years now, sociologists and political scientists have carried out surveys to tap such envy and resentment . . . usually using more neutral terms like "relative deprivation" and shifting "reference groups". The former concept refers to the gap between what people expect and think they're entitled to and what they perceive they actually enjoy: in income, wealth, status, and political power and participation (the ordinary valued things that political sociology studies). What we've found repeatedly in such studies is that the gap actually tends to increase as people's status and income and education improve over time, as opposed to sheer misery as the base-point. Very poor, miserable people don't tend in autocratic societies historically to rebel or carry out revolutions, something Mao understood when he found that it would take decades of indoctrinating the Chinese peasants into a revolutionary condition, especially in isolated communities led by the Communists when they were forced into the interior of China in the late 1920s and then, thanks to the Long March as Chiang's forces pursued them, into the north of Manchuria.

It's here that "shifting reference groups" enters. It helps to explain the paradox of rising relative deprivation as things improve in people's lives. For what people expect they should have and are entitled to depends on what they think others have (rightly or wrongly), the "others" for very poor and miserable peasants, say, being what they see a prosperous peasant might have. For poor industrial workers in the early stages of the industrial revolution, the reference group migh be skilled craftsmen. Eventually, as unions were organized (and almost everywhere on the Continent of Europe they had to fight, often violently, to get legal rights to organize as opposed to Britain and the US), workers were educated to think in terms of paid vacations, retirement pensions (private or public), health care, unemployment insurance, shorter work weeks and so on . . . all things that almost all of us think desirable. Expectations were raised; relative deprivation increased. Socialists added to this, the proper reference group being the owners of production and the very prosperous. Ultimately, of course, the combination of positive government policies, union organization, and economic growth enormously improved the conditions of workers in all the industrial countries --- though only through violence, counter-revolution, revolution, warfare, and extremist ideological clashes everywhere in Latin Europe, Central and Eastern Europe (including Germany), and in France and Belgium . . . as opposed to the Scandinavians, Britain, and Holland (and Switzerland, outside the EU).

The key point to remember here --- which we'll now apply --- is that envy and resentment (or relative deprivation) will likely grow in much of West Europe vis-a-vis the US in all spheres of influence, especially among the left . . . just as they will continue to find vocal expression in West European life in the form of increasingly utopian demands for radical environmental regulations, opposition to globalizing forces, hostility to major changes in European economies to make them more competitive, and for some sort of fantasized leap out of power politics thanks to West Europe's moral lead to others.

3. Enter now the intellectual left in the advanced industrial societies.

Most of this left are upwardly mobile people, who have benefited from the rapid expansion of universities in Europe (and North America). They come from modest or lower middle class backgrounds. As they have come through sheer numbers to dominate education, universities, the civil services, the media and journalism, frustration has surged. Why? Bluntly put, they have encountered entrenched elitism almost everywhere . . . based on family background, family connections, elite schooling and universities (more obvious in Britain and France than elsewhere), and limited opportunities in these huge bureaucratized professions for advancing by finding another career, starting a business, or moving to another region and finding a different job. The chance to start a business, by the way, is virtually non-existent in Germany and Scandinavia, more easily but not compared to the US in Italy and Britain, with France in between: to put it precisely, as a US-UK survey team found three years ago, 1 out of 11 Americans creates a new business each year, 1 out of 25-30 Britons or Italians, and at the other extreme 1 out of 50 Germans, Finns, and Japanese . . . with the other EU countries between the Italians and the Germans. And if you fail in a business, your chances in the EU or Japan even to get a credit card in the future, never mind new financing for a mortgage or new business endeavor, are nil.

Moving around isn't much of an option either, given the centralized nature of government, administration, and business and the media and educational systems in Europe. In any case, mobility is further handicapped by suspicions and mistrust across family and regional lines: if you move from Paris to Bordeaux, it may take years to form new friendships (if ever). Ditto if you move from stagnant East Germany, or North Germany, to South Germany.

In Bordeaux back when I ran the Education Abroad Program for UC at Bordeaux university in the mid-1970s, Nancy and I were having dinner with some lively young French professors, and their talk suddenly shifted to the "Portuguese". Nancy and I immediately thought of the Portuguese guest-workers --- Portugal wouldn't join the EU until 1986 --- who, working for low wages, were employed in the Bordeaux area doing menial jobs; on Friday evenings, if you went to the local long-distance bus depot, you'd see them pile into the buses for the lengthy trip back to Portugal for the weekend. The conversation went on. It made no sense to us, so we stopped and asked what was what. The problem? The French profs and their spouses or friends weren't talking about Portuguese workers in 1975, rather French citizens who had moved to the Bordeaux area from Portugal after the Lisbon earthquake in the mid-18th century! Two hundred and twenty five years later, they were still Portuguese to the rest of the Bordeaux population. Suspicions of outsiders, the problems of making easy new friendships, the barriers to mobility --- upward or geographic --- are nicely illustrated by this example. It's by no means unique to Bordeaux or France.

4. So, to get back to the upward mobile university graduates --- always assuming they can even find jobs to start a career these days (not a robust assumption for two decades now, what with the scarcity of jobs for young people in any professional field, including the sciences and engineering save in certain computer-related areas) --- they soon encounter the realities of a more structured, rigid social system of hierarchies and authority in all the bureaucracies around them: public or private, it doesn't matter. They can't drop out and create new businesses as rivals; can't start private schools; can't move to a distant region and start anew; can't even get a job of the sort they'd like (or any decent job). That creates frustrations, resentments, envy . . . much of this, I add, justified.

Add in the strong traditions on the left anyway in Europe --- back to the resistances and problems of industrial capitalism, class conflicts, Marxist and other socialisms, and the counter-resistances to these in reactionary conservatism and fascisms (all this more attenuated, again, in Scandinavia, Holland, Switzerland, and Britain) --- and these frustrations and resentments and envy of success find easy expression in anti-capitalism, more and more demands for radical reforms (even as socialist parties for the last 30-40 years have moved to the center), demands too for new political parties on the left (or far right), such as ultra-greens or at times radical right populism (itself generally feeding on anti-immigrant backlashes, not least anti-Muslim ones), and more and more utopian assertions of what a better society would be. And given the dominance of these groups in the media --- state TV and radio --- and much of the private journalistic world, the schools, the universities, and the civil service agencies of all sorts, these resentments, utopian aspirations, and anti-capitalist hostilities have influence. Lots of it.

We've really no equivalent here save for the pc-tenured radicals in our universities.

5. How this translates into anti-Americanism --- resentments and envy of American power and influence, not to mention hostility to American life and values and capitalism as they understand them (even as these upwardly mobile, frustrated, or unemployed educated people love American cinema, music, food, TV, and literature) --- is easy to understand. America, it's said, is what underpins all the detested hierarchies and blocked bureaucracies (public and private) in Europe and elsewhere. And the successes of American capitalism -- including surveys that show not only that Americans are far more prosperous but also more contented with their lives and jobs than Europeans -- have to be fraudulent and based on exploitation and chicaneries, just as left-wing socialist thought has always assumed about capitalism. The more successful the US, the more detested it is . . . especially by comparison with the far more slow-growing, blocked European societies (with Ireland, Holland, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden doing much better here in shifting to new knowledge-based industries, but hurt by the lack of entrepreneurial dynamism and resistant left-wing parties and unions).

6. Enter what John has been talking about in his comment: German anger generated by blows to their self-esteem --- invested in the belief they are more intelligent, better educated, more cultivated than Americans, something that would show up in Germany soon overtaking the US in living standards and financial and economic power --- that have been daily administered for years now that not only is Germany not going to surpass the US, it will be lucky not to fall out of the ranks of the advanced industrial countries unless it undertakes extensive, painful institutional and policy changes in their economic and political lives. To an extent, that's true all over the EU, though blunted in some countries by the rise of a new populist conservatism that has broken with many of the taboos and pieties of politically correct left-wing thought. (A backlash was seen in Denmark recently, where a populist-conservative coalition has ruled for 16 months now, when some witch-hunting self-appointed tribunal of scientists reproached Bjorn Lomborg --- the statistician who wrote an impressive book, The Skeptical Environmentalist (which has an optimistic ring to it offensive to ultra-green environmentalists, whose programs and goals have to flourish on generating gloom about contemporary industrial society) --- for not being "scientific" . . . which is to say not adhering to the rigid consensus of the ultra-green camp, now being challenged in Denmark where Lomborg, to the ultras' horror, has an official appointment linked to the Danish government: See Lomborg Rebuked

More generally, it has been a staple of self-esteem all over West Europe for decades now --- on the left and right, in the upwardly mobile and angry left-wing media and educational types, among politicians, and in the traditional upper middle classes --- that West Europe is superior in its mode of life and quality of culture, reflected in intellectual superiority and a more humane capitalism (arrived at after two world wars, revolutions, counter-revolutions, extremist ideological warfare, and 60 million dead for well over a century), with the EU destined to return to greater wealth, prosperity, and power and influence as a result. And it has been no less a blow to find out that, if anything, the opposite has occurred, the gap in scientific creativity, technological innovation, cultural impact, military power, diplomatic influence --- not to mention dynamic economic advance --- growing greater since the end of the cold war . . . not the opposite. With little chance that any of this will be reversed soon, if ever.

Here, incidentally, is a good graphic depiction of the huge gap in per capita income over the decades, which is taken directly from the European Commission, in a report on European productivity growth that appeared last May (2002): it can be found at EU & US Per Capita Income, 1970-2003 It's a .pdf file, .pdf programming used almost exclusively by government and international and academic publications, allowing for much better graphs and tables. Go to p. 7 of the document when it is loaded up. Naturally, 2002 and 2003 are projections, showing an ever greater gap (something borne out for 2002 when the US economy grew at 2.91% and the EU average was 0.5%).

7. There are, I quickly add --- as far as envy, resentment, frustration, or hostility are concerned regarding the US --- some exceptions in European politics. Mrs. Thatcher admired American life and capitalism as well as American dynamism, innovation, and openness, and she tried to introduce much of it into British life . . . in the end, as it happened, only half successfully during the 1980s, but with enough impact to antagonize not just the left but much of the patrician wing of the Conservative Party, itself rooted in traditional pre-democratic, pre-industrial suspicions of free markets and mass democracy. (The British Conservative Party's strength is its ideological flexibility: by the early 1900s, some of the leading Liberal Party politicians had moved to the Conservative ranks in a common defense against socialism and the moderate Labour Party, founded in 1900. Simultaneously, as Labour gathered electoral strength -- it formed minority governments in 1924 briefly and then 1929-1931, winning overall control of the House of Commons only in 1945! --- more and more of the middle classes shifted their vote to it. Nor was that all. For most of the 20th century, the Conservative Party dominated British politics, winning most of the elections, and to do so, it drew about 35% or so of the working class vote.)

On the Continent, in Italy, Prime Minister Berlusconi who has been in power for 20 months now is an admirer and friend of Bush; so is Prime Minister Anzar of Spain . . . two more conservative governmental leaders who, for all their pro-American, pro-Bush tendencies, have encountered huge resistance to any conservative agenda at home, never mind their support for the US over Iraq. And back in Britain, Tony Blair has antagonized much of Labour --- and disoriented the Conservatives --- by espousing Thatcherite policies in the guise of "Third Way" Clintonian rhetoric, and caused some havoc in Labour and left-wing circles by his close friendship with Bush and his courageous support, based on conviction, that Saddamite Iraq has to be destroyed and Iraq transformed and disarmed through war.

Right now, to repeat, these political enthusiasts of the US are big exceptions in West Europe. And they do not evoke big echoes inside their societies, something that future governments, even of a conservative stripe, will have to weigh carefully in their policies, both at home and abroad.

8. In no two West European countries have the psychological setbacks in esteem and aspirations been greater than Germany and France. We've talked enough about Germany. France too, for that matter . . . but a word or two as tag-on observations seems worth making.

For two centuries, remember, the aim of French elites of all sort has been to take revenge on the Anglo-Saxons (their term for the English-speaking countries, especially Britain and the US) and return France to the rank of the dominant power in Europe . . . a problem complicated by German unification in 1871 and three wars with them. And since 1940, the goal has been no less assertive, but reduced: to return France to the ranks of the great powers, by leveraging French power through the European Economic Community (AKA, the EU now) and by hog-tying Germany to a position of junior partner in that scheme. Since 1945 --- more precisely 1949, NATO's year of creation --- French governments have adhered to NATO and supported the US only when they thought their basic security was threatened by others. Otherwise, the main adversary remains American power and influence, to which has been added, since the 1950s --- with growing urgency over the last decade --- American cultural influence without parallel in history. A secondary and related goal is to stymie any US Trojan horse like the detested British in the EU.

As for the rest of the EU, including the Germans, the French elites are inveterately convinced that all other Europeans are more or less their intellectual inferiors whom they can eventually wheedle into subordination --- which means the duped Schroeder Green-Socialist coalition, whose utopian fantasies and moralizing righteousness must caused ripples of raw sarcastic belly-laughs among the far more experienced, cagey French. The French scarcely hide their contempt here when dealing with small West European countries. As for the East Europeans, Chirac's recent Head Master's rebuke to them as "badly reared" peoples whose leaders don't know when to "shut up" did let the cat out of the bag, but it reflects, apparently, a widespread spread in France about the East Europeans. (The French regard the Italians as a buffoon people generally, and the Spaniards as alien Europeans. Scandinavians are thought to be more or less Eskimos, with no culture to speak of. The Swiss are ridiculed as slow-thinking, the Belgians too)

There is scarcely any chance the French elites --- with popular support all across the political spectrum --- will ever change. True, their grand strategy --- centuries old now --- will be adjusted in day-to-day policymaking, especially if they find their security threatened by a common adversary of the US. Otherwise, it will be a constant effort to reduce US influence everywhere, especially in Europe, and by whatever means: cajoling the Germans into cooperation, trying to bring in the Russians (a futile game, the Russians having far more to gain from a close partnership with the US), and if need be --- something bound to aggravate the crisis within the EU --- vetoing 10 new entrants from East Europe whose peoples and governments are strongly pro-American.

9. The French game is destined, as it has in the past, to backfire. There's too much German opposition inside Germany to breaking with the US, despite the Schroeder government's moralistic utopianism and public support. (For that matter, the French would like to delay breaking outright with the US until, as they aspire, they can bring the EU under their influence politically and diplomatically.) Worse, from the French view, there is too much opposition from other EU countries to any Franco-German domination of the EU. And, as surveys show, the French just aren't liked much anywhere in the rest of Europe, West or East. In 1998, only 17% of German polled had a favorable opinion of France; 18% preferred the US. In France, simultaneously, only 13% saw Germany in a favorable light, whereas 14% favored the US. These survey results, I add, go up and down and reflect the impact of both current events in and out of the EU, including of course US diplomacy.

In the meantime, the EU and NATO have been plunged into a crisis because of French and German efforts to stymie the US in the UN (the only place where they can influence Washington's policies) and to rally support from other EU members. Any effort to organize a coherent and effective common EU foreign and security policy has been sidetracked . . . maybe permanently. Come to that, the effort to create an effective EU Rapid Reaction Force exists only on paper, the force as far from operational readiness as it was when first talked about almost 4 years ago and officially approved in December 2000. NATO itself will have to deal with the problem that it operates by consensus. As the meeting two weeks ago of the alliance's military committee --- 17 of the 18 members belong to it, but not France --- there are ways to get around French intransigence, but not Germany's if the German government persists in its own righteous pursuit of legalistic dreams (a kind of utopian projection outward onto the diplomatic stage of what, to English speaking peoples, is a kind of manic compulsiveness about writing endless legal statutes, hundreds of pages long, regulating this or that trivial item . . . a style, thanks to somewhat similar French preoccupations, dominates the EU bureaucracy.)

German diplomacy --- which is hypocritical through and through (the Schroeder-Fisher Green-SPD coalition went to war outside the UN Security Council in 1999 over Kosovo, faced with a surefire Russian and Chinese veto, and even sent German troops into combat the first time since 1945) --- may change. There is strong opposition to the clod-hopping moralism of the government in the CDU and some of the national media --- unlike in France, nationalist across the spectrum --- and even inside the Social Democratic Party's leadership ranks. French diplomacy, by contrast, will remain steadfast in its pursuit of efforts to lasso and hogtie the US to multilateral institutions that give the French power and influence while they seek to use the rest of the EU to that end. It is a constant in French life, as is the strong current of anti-Americanism that has no equivalent in the US despite the recent flurry of French bashing in the media. Small wonder. France hardly figures at all in American life; the US has been an intrusive force, with often life-and-death decisions for France made in Washington during the cold war, for decades now . . . American culture at all levels, for good or bad, more and more pervading all areas of French life (as, with more insouciance, it does in the rest of the Europe).

Replies: 1 Comment

I work for a German company and truly respect my German colleagues. I still have hope for return to good Ami/German relations. As for France, they have done us a favor by making their anti americanism so plain. They will regret it.

Posted by Tallan @ 03/04/2003 10:30 PM PST