Not so long ago, newspapers in the United States reported, with some cautious amusement, the results of a survey indicating that at least three million reasonably innocent Americans claim to have been abducted at one time or another by extraterrestrial beings. For most, the experience was disagreeable, if not frightening, but of course a few reported finding it a stimulating change of daily pace. The claimants did not seem to think they had been abducted because they were Americans, but it did not take much asking around to discover that no Canadians or Mexicans had reported being selected for celestial kidnapping, and the same was true of Europeans, Japanese, and other Latin Americans. Only in China, and only very recently, has there been a comparable phenomenon. One can hardly doubt that this minor shift in Alien attention is connected to China's expectation of soon becoming No. 2 in the planetary hierarchy of important and powerful states. The well-informed Aliens know who is worth abducting, but their motives, alas, both for capture and for release, remain obscure. Tourists are often like that for tourees. In any event, the American state has so far been no help at all.
It is useful to bear this odd little anecdote in mind as one reads the essays collected by Andrew Ross and Kristin Ross (no relation) in Anti-Americanism, the splendid cover of which features a ravenous man-eating shark, its skin composed of the globe photographed from a stratospheric Alien perspective. The contributors, in various ways, raise the question of whether, like the ETs, "anti-Americanism" in fact exists, and, if so, what kind of "thing" it really is. Naturally, there is no consensus. Most of the volume is given over to essays by specialists on Latin America, Europe, and the Near and Far East. India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and, perhaps inevitably, poor Africa are not covered. Some contributionsóespecially those by Mary Louise Pratt, Greg Grandin, Timothy Mitchell, Kristin Ross, and Rebecca Karlóare outstanding. Grandin and Mitchell in particular provide detailed accounts of the villainies of Washington's foreign-policy makers and the depredations of "transnational" (actually, American) corporate capitalism in Latin America and the Near East. They seem to show perfectly good reasons why "anti-Americanism" is, or at least deserves to be, rife in these regions. So far, so clear. But then the complications set in.
Mitchell, whose essay "American Power and Anti-Americanism in the Middle East" is truly superb, turns the tables on his American readers' bien-pensant expectations in two suave ways. First, he argues convincingly thatóto put it jokinglyó"Shock and Awe" is actually a misspelling of "Shucks! and Ow!" Washington's foreign policy, Mitchell maintains, has all along been based on weakness rather than strength, and this accounts for its incoherence and frequent failures. (Unsavory regimes at one point backed by the United States, like that of Saddam Hussein, become entrenched and refuse to be pushover clients; the US-friendly monarchy in Iran is overthrown by a popular mullah-led revolution; and the Palestinians bravely refuse to accept the domination of Israel, which has Washington's almost unconditional support.) Second, Mitchell tells us that in the popular media and in the literature of the Near East, Americans are largely absent. Most of the time, they are simply not on people's minds. I think this is something quite generally true, though the phenomenon by no means exists only with respect to the United States and the Near East. The Irish are said to have a centuries-old hatred for the English, but in my experience they have plenty of weightier matters to worry about. Some may work in England, marry into English families, or establish Irish pubs in London, but they do so with other nationalities and in other countries as well. No big deal. Irish media and literature are quite normally narcissistic. This picture is all the more interesting in that the Irish are a restless people and travel "abroad" to an extraordinary extent, whereas well over half the population of the United States has never held a passport.
Kristin Ross, Karl, and, to a degree, Pratt show the reader something of no less importance. In both the France of the '80s and the China of the '90s and today, "anti-Americanism" has proved a useful trope-card to play, not on the international stage but in domestic politics. The ex-gauchiste turned neoconservative "New (Sound-Bite) Philosophers" of France (Bernard-Henri Lévy, André Glucksmann, et al.) have deployed it vigorously in the right-wing press and television to vilify left-wing intellectual critics of neoliberalism, covert imperialism, and hypocritical, opportunist "human rights" military interventions in Africa and the Near East, by French governments as well as by the Americans and the English. The intended effect was to paint the intellectual opposition as Stalinist fossils, retrograde chauvinists, and so on. In similar fashion, a powerful wing of the Chinese technocratic intellectual class has used the same rhetorical card to castigate "New Left" rivals for "out-of-date" criticism of the rapidly steepening class hierarchy in China, for sentimental "Third Worldism," crypto-Maoism, and so forth. From the opposite angle, it is striking that in Pratt's essay, "Back Yard with Views," the single most powerful evocation of emotional Mexican hostility to Yankee corporate greedóon the part of a Mexican businessman-fixerócomes not from an interview or a newspaper but from a novel: Carlos Fuentes's famous La Muerte de Artemio Cruz, now over forty years old.
In what is perhaps the most underappreciated study of comparative nationalism, Banal Nationalism (1995), Michael Billig goes into hilarious detail on the way nationalistic sentiments, in our time at least, have had their profoundest effects through what he terms "banality"óthe incessant stream of repetitive, every-day-every-hour, nearly subliminal signals sent to the citizen-consumer reinforcing the idea that she or he is in the end a national, and should be very glad and proud of this wonderful nationality. If one wished to see modern world history as an endless soap opera, in every country the one character centrally cast in each interminable episode would be one's own nation. Newspapers everywhere are invariably divided between national news, on the one hand, and international and local news on the other. Television exhibits exactly the same morphology. A tyro visitor to the United States, absorbing the American mass media, will feel the terrifying force of every-minute "banal nationalism," but for most nationals the cultural-political air will seem almost windless. There is nothing peculiarly American about this.
Banal nationalism has plenty going for it, precisely because it is banal. It quietly encourages citizens to obey the law and to treat one another better than they might otherwise be inclined to. The halting improvement in the position of racial minorities, women, and gays and lesbians in the United States over the past three decades is inextricably tied to the fact that they are American minorities, women, and gays and lesbians. But banal nationalism is also very useful to political, military, corporate, technocratic, and intellectual elites, especially those in power, and above all if other forms of legitimation are scanty. (This is why ads for giant American corporations are so anonymous and so relentlessly nationalist.) Billig is careful to point out that there are times when banal nationalism can become inflamed, especially when the beloved country is widely thought to be under threat; but the inflammation is difficult to sustain for long, except during an actual war. Thus middle-aged Germans go happily on tours of ci-devant Leningrad, Japan is the strongest ally of the United States in the Far East, and Turkey's entry into the European Union has Greece's endorsement. In a backhand way, this tendency is demonstrated by Ana Maria Dopico's valuable essay on Cuba in Anti-Americanism, "The 3:10 to Yuma." Recognizing that Washington is, at least fitfully, a real enemy of Cuba, Dopico nonetheless shows that almost half a century of incessant anti-American propaganda by the island's government has exhausted its credibility with the young, for whom the United States appears as a fantasyland of pleasure and excitement, to which they would not at all mind being abducted, even if not for good.
It is therefore tempting to think further about the -ism that, attached to anti-American, creates a term which seems to rhyme ideologically with communism, "Islamism," liberalism, and so forth. These -isms all imply something sustained and constant, to which certain people are profoundly committed and for which they deserve to be punished or rewarded. Can these individuals readily be identified? The essays in Anti-Americanism give plenty of reason to think that they are "intellectuals," in the broadest, coarsest sense of the word: academics, columnists, editors, spin doctors, admen, speechwriters, novelists, propagandists, preachers, and leaders of social movementsóand, to a lesser degree, the consumers of their work. Such people make their living and their careers from their skill with words, and usually they leave paper trails behind. They regard themselves as the articulators of values and ideological positions, and therefore have an interest in maintaining at least the appearance of consistency and commitment, no matter whether they are defenders of regimes and policies, or opponents. Naturally, their closest enemies are people of the same sort. If this is so, it is clearer why in China and France it is intellectuals rather than politicians who wield the club of "anti-Americanism" and why their targets are rival intellectuals. Furthermore, it is obvious that the term in itself is really a boo word, damning the "enemy" for disingenuousness in using "America" as an axis of domestic evil in order to conceal either retrograde political positions or a kind of desperate nihilism.
The final section of Anti-Americanism offers the reader three essays concerned directly with the United States, the most central of which, "The Domestic Front," coming from Andrew Ross, is very much a text written under the murky neon light of 9/11. After a lengthy but lucid discussion of leftist politics in the United States since the '40s, and of the effective use of the "anti-Americanism" card by right-wing publicists since the late '60s, Ross goes on to argue that there is nonetheless an element of truth to their accusation. Too many leftists, especially of the "New" variety, became so entranced with "foreign" [sic] thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Mao, Uncle Ho, and Che Guevara, and so enamored of revolutionary struggles in the Third Worldópartly as a result of the Vietnam War and a revulsion at Washington's imperialist policiesóthat they lost touch with America's homegrown radical traditions, as well as with their own real constituencies inside the country, thus leaving patriotism as the first refuge of right-wing scoundrels. One can see the force of this argument, though it points the way toward the absurd position of the New York Times, which often writes about the victims of the attacks on the Twin Towers as if they had all been US citizens. Nonetheless, what is most striking about this line of reasoning, to this reader at least, is that it is addressed exclusively to American intellectuals and opinion makers, and not at all to what the comrades once loved to call the "broad masses of the people."
Here, there is a plausible bridge to Herman Lebovics's engaging study, Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age. The author states at the very start that his book concerns "the struggles in the last third-century of the millennium about what is the true heritage, so the right future, for France. In these years left and right held perhaps the most fundamental debate since the Dreyfus affair on the contents of the French patrimoine." Lebovics argues that this "debate" was precipitated by the collapse of the French Empire in the one and a half decades after Vo Nguyen Giap's stunning victory at Dien Bien Phu, and subsequently exacerbated by a huge influx of Muslim and black-skinned aliens from the former colonies, and the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
With a shrewd eye on his American readers, Lebovics opens the first chapter with a brief account of the famous demolition of a new McDonald's in 1999, in the remote little French town of Millau, in the Auvergne. Leading the charge was a small-scale farmer with the rather "un-French" name of José Bové, who went on to become, for a while, a hero of the transcontinental antiglobalization movement, and was painted as a "typically French anti-American" by the US mass media.
But the author quickly proceeds to surprise the reader by noting that Bové is highly educated and fluent in English, owing to a childhood spent inóguess where?óBerkeley, where his parents were then working as laboratory researchers. The real struggle in Millau was not actually about McDonald's but rather part of a titanic, long-drawn fight against the French state, in the person of defense minister Michel Debré, who wanted to evict the Bay Area boy and his neighbors to make way for a huge military base, needed now that colonial landscapes were no longer available for this purpose. What makes the chapter so fascinating is the description of the way in which, encouraged by Bové's bluff charisma, a picturesque rainbow coalition came to join the struggle: natives of Nouvelle Calédonie, Occitanian regionalists, hippies, ex-Maoist students, professors, First Americans, Japanese farmers fresh from their long, ultimately unsuccessful fight against the grotesque juggernaut of the Narita airport, and many more.
There follows a scarcely less fascinating chapter on André Malraux's comical term as de Gaulle's minister of culture and the bureaucratic legacy he left behind. Readers will probably remember Malraux's imperious projects to revive pride in Paris's "classical culture" and to impose this on the benighted and restless provinces through the creation of pompous Maisons de la Culture throughout the land. What they are less likely to know is that this new ministry was overwhelmingly manned by capable colonial bureaucrats now out of jobs, who diligently pursued their old mission civilisatrice in the Midi, Brittany, and elsewhere. Furthermore, a large number of them were part of a "Corsican mafia"óat the very moment when in Corsica itself hostility toward Parisian contempt was leading to periodically spectacular armed struggle.
Lebovics's final three chapters, if less eye-catching, are no less instructive. The 1970s saw the rise of popular regionalist movements opposed to Parisian centralismómovements that had their counterparts at the same time in Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, and elsewhere. Speakers of languages such as Occitanian, Corsican, and Breton, systematically suppressed since the 1870s in the name of a unitary and republican France, demanded autonomy and the right to their own place in the public sphere. Lebovics has great fun describing the alarm this caused the conservative government of the time and its weird attempt to hire and manipulate colony-deprived professional anthropologists to combat "guerrilla ethnology."
François Mitterrand's ascension to the presidency in 1981, his abandonment of Debré's military-base plan, and the passage of a new law on regional autonomy by the Socialist Party majority in the National Assembly took much of the wind out of the sails of these movements. But the president's Machiavellian introduction of a voting system based on proportional representationódesigned to split the Rightóbrought thirty neofascist followers of Jean-Marie Le Pen into the assembly, just as popular anxiety over "uncontrolled immigration" from the South was mounting rapidly. Gérard Noiriel's brilliant Le creuset français (which, surprisingly, Lebovics does not mention, and which took nearly a decade to be translated into English as The French Melting Pot) showed that, proportional to population, France had absorbed more immigrants than the United States had done between the 1870s and the Great War, and even more successfully. Alas, Noiriel's book had little impact on the general public, and intellectual readers were inclined to deduce from itóagainst the author's express intentóthat the solution to the immigrant problem was still more of "unitary republican France," imposed from above. Furthermore, by the time of the book's publication in 1988, a new generation of French-born, French-educated children of immigrant Maghrebis and Africans was coming of age, and they were less and less prepared to accept discrimination and joblessness on the basis of an outdated compulsory "unitarism."
In his last chapter, Lebovics studies the "edifice complexes" of Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, who struggled to monumentalize their "legacies" by destroying decaying museums of the imperial past and building flashy, expensive new ones, intended to commemorate eternal France's new special role as protector and cultural sponsor of the Third World.
Good as Bringing the Empire Back Home is, the reader can't fail to notice one large and striking absence in it. Lebovics tells us next to nothing about what Breton activists think or say (in their own words) about their aspirations and their vision of France. The same largely goes for the ex-Maoist students and hippies in the Auvergne, and the violent Corsican resistance, never mind the alienated young male beurs, the little girls who modestly insist on wearing their fetching jilbabs to school, or the various communities of migrants from French Africa and the French Caribbean. One might have expected at least a mention of the brilliant film La Haine, whose characters speak largely in the street argot of the children of immigrants, a lively patois even harder to understand for middle-class Parisians than Jamaican English is for white, educated Londoners. One could miss the extraordinary renewal of a fairly exhausted French literary tradition by writers with even more exotic names than José Bové's. On the other hand, Lebovics's pages are full of famous intellectualsóBourdieu, Lévi-Strauss, Godelier, Malraux, Baudrillard, Derrida, Braudel, Foucault, Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and allówhile we hear almost nothing from the "broad masses of the people." Perhaps we should not be surprised, since the author tells us he is concerned with a "debate" about France's patrimoine and its future. "Debates" of this kind are for intellectuals, after all, and in France this still means that they are registered as debates in Paris. The "abductees" of postcoloniality, like those of the discriminating Aliens, are there in the capital, and can even be polled and censused. But they don't debate; they merely live, work, or find no jobs. To adapt the words of my compatriot Samuel Beckett: "They can't go on. They'll go on."
Benedict Anderson is currently at work on a book about "early globalization," the avant-garde, and anticolonialism, forthcoming from Verso in 2005.