- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003


By Jean-Francois Revel

Encounter Books, $25.95, 184 pages


It is always refreshing to read Jean-Francois Revel. Refreshing in the sense that he lifts the spirits by affirming what most Americans believe, and in such an articulate fashion that we can only applaud the plain truths he tells us. In his latest book, “Anti-Americanism,” he explores the neurosis that affects the elites of Western Europe, and in particular that of his native country, France.

Writing about American hyperpower (a word coined in France) in a book addressed to Europeans, Mr. Revel states that “it was [the Europeans] who brought about the two apocalypses of the World Wars and invented the two most absurd and criminal political regimes ever inflicted upon the human race. If Western Europe in 1945 and Eastern Europe in 1990 were ruined, whose fault was it? American unilateralism is the consequence — not the cause — of the other nations’ diminished powers.”

Mr. Revel is not a blind advocate of everything American. He criticizes our use of capital punishment and our presumed liberal gun laws, but in matters of foreign policy he is resolutely with us. He devotes one chapter to the links between anti-globalism and anti-Americanism. The anti-globalists, he maintains, are in fact anti-capitalist globalists. Their “activists” have managed to trash a number of cities, from Seattle to Genoa, in which the World Trade Organization held its meetings.

Only in Washington, where the police acted with remarkable common sense, was there no significant disruption. Street protests are, of course, legitimate in every democracy, but when the president of France, Jacques Chirac, pleads for “normal and permanent dialogue” with a violent mob and pays tribute to its “global social consciousness,” this seems to Mr. Revel to be going too far.

Particularly exasperating is the fact that the demonstrators have no real program or plan. They say they oppose rich nations exploiting poor nations, but they are oblivious to the fact that the WTO was set up precisely to counter inequalities. Between 1948 and 1998, worldwide production grew by a factor of six and the volume of exports by a factor of 17, mostly because of American entrepreneurship and the embrace of capitalism by an ever-increasing number of countries.

This gigantic expansion of trade has benefited everyone involved. Capitalism, then, has raised the living standards of a good part of the world, a fact so obvious that even China now acknowledges its efficacy. The author calls the youthful advocates of the anti-globalist movement “superannuated ideologues, revenants from a past of ruin and bloodshed … America is the object of their loathing because, for a half-century or more, she has been the most prosperous and creative capitalist society on earth. Ultimately it is liberal democracy — or quite simply liberty itself — that they are eager to destroy, even though they are among its foremost beneficiaries.”

Globalism for many means not only the spread of multi-national corporations but the rise of a multi-national culture based on American institutions. McDonald’s, to some, strikes at traditional French eating habits and social life. Yet a Swedish writer strolling down the streets of Stockholm noted not only Coca-Cola and hamburgers but also sushi, shish kebab, Tex-Mex food, Peking duck, and Thai soup. Sweden, he felt, was not threatened by these foreign invasions but rather enriched.

The analogy holds for more serious matters. An artist in his atelier will be a better French artist if he knows what is going on in New York than if he is kept ignorant by government restrictions. Such a statement seems almost a truism, but there is a strong feeling in French cultural circles that French art, literature, cinema, and even language must be sheltered by government action from foreign (i.e. American) dominance, despite history’s lesson that development comes through interaction.

The real danger for European culture, the author writes, is that anti-American and anti-globalist phobias might prevail. If they do, in 20 years the European states could well regress to the level of the undeveloped countries in a world dominated by the United States and China. The anti-Americanists will have then made Europe even more dependent on the United States than it is today.

The author delights in quoting the more absurd statements of the anti-American elite, such as the following from Giancarlo Pajetta, an important Italian communist: “I have finally understood what pluralism is; it’s when lots of people share my point of view.” Mr. Revel’s witty and pointed sarcasm, plus quotations like this one, give the book a devastating humor and make it a pleasure to read.

The American reader may well ask, if France can give us a writer such as Mr. Revel (and his book was a bestseller in France), why does it create so many soi-disant intellectuals with no peripheral vision? Just the fact that Mr. Revel exists beside them and continues to write may give us hope that all is not yet quite lost.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.

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