Saturday, June 07, 2008

Anti-Americanism as Buffonery

Anti-Americanism is a form of mental illness, a manifestation of a personality disorder, and a fashion-statement all in one. What a bargain. If only there were some real money in it the world would be filthy rich. The problem is that the illness makes it nearly impossible to cope in the world. Anti-Americanism is a serious mental disorder and personality disorder that flourishes in weak people. Most of them start life with serious mental and personality disorders, and like the fool who starts out smoking crack "occasionally" and ends up a full-blown addict, so it is with the anti-American who finds his attitude has taken over whatever original mind and personality he might once have possessed, leaving him a shouting, maniacal, fucked-up lunatic. I got curious and looked into a bit of Buffon, and then turned to a review of Jean-Francois Revel, Anti-Americanism.

I've written a number of times here on Buffon, and more often on the origins of anti-Americanism. Here's a bit from wikipedia. I cut out most of it because it's so silly it wasn't worth looking at. I use these posts as resources for further writing, and this piece below is in line with that project. I keep what I hope will be of use. Hope it's of interest to you, too, dear reader, and also the final product, whenever that comes about.

The degeneracy thesis

The Comte de Buffon, a leading French naturalist, developed the "degeneracy thesis" in the mid-eighteenth century. It held that the American landmasses were inferior to Europe and in decline due to atmospheric conditions.

In the mid- to late-eighteenth century, a theory emerged among European intellectuals that the New World landmasses were inherently inferior to Europe. The so-called "degeneracy thesis" held that climatic extremes, humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically weakened both men and animals.[27] Two authors, James W. Ceaser and Philippe Roger, have interpreted this theory as a "a kind of prehistory of anti-Americanism." [4][28] Purported evidence for the idea included the smallness of American fauna, dogs that ceased to bark, and venomous plants;[29] one theory put forth was that the New World had emerged from the Biblical flood later than the Old World.[30] Native Americans were also held to be feeble, small, and without ardor.[31]

The theory originated with Comte de Buffon, a leading French naturalist, in his Histoire Naturelle (1766). [31] The French writer Voltaire joined Buffon and others in making the argument. [29] Dutchman Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia became its leading proponent.[4] While Buffon focused on the American biological environment, de Pauw attacked people native to the continent.[30] In 1768, he described America as "degenerate or monstrous" colonies and argued that, "the weakest European could crush them with ease."[32]

The theory was extended to argue that the natural environment of the United States would prevent it from ever producing true culture. Paraphrasing de Pauw, the French Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal wrote, "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science."[33] The theory was debated and rejected by early American thinkers such as Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson; Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), provided a detailed rebuttal of de Buffon.[4] Hamilton also vigorously rebuked the idea in Federalist No. 11 (1787).[31] The living examples of Jefferson and Franklin—vigorous geniuses and clearly not degenerate—helped refute the thesis.[30]

Research into the degeneracy idea dates to at least 1944 and the work of Italian historian Antonello Gerbi.[30] One critic, citing Raynal's ideas, suggests that it was specifically extended to the English colonies that would become the United States.[34]

Roger suggests that the idea of degeneracy posited a symbolic, as well as a scientific America, that would evolve beyond the original thesis. He argues that Buffon's ideas formed the root of a "stratification of negative discourses" that has recurred throughout the two countries' relationship (and has been matched by persistent anti-Gallic sentiment in the United States).[28]

Politics and ideology

The young United States also faced criticism on political and ideological grounds. Ceaser argues that the Romantic strain of European thought and literature, hostile to the Enlightenment view of reason and obsessed with history and national character, disdained the rationalistic American project. The German poet Nikolaus Lenau commented: "With the expression Bodenlosigkeit (absence of ground), I think I am able to indicate the general character of all American institutions; what we call Fatherland is here only a property insurance scheme." Ceaser argues in his essay that such comments often repurposed the language of degeneracy, and the prejudice came to focus solely on the United States and not Canada and Mexico. [4]

The nature of American democracy was also questioned. The sentiment was that the country lacked "[a] monarch, aristocracy, strong traditions, official religion, or rigid class system," according to Rubin, and its democracy was attacked by some Europeans in the early nineteenth century as degraded, a travesty, and a failure.[35] The French Revolution, which was loathed by many European conservatives, also implicated the United States and the idea of creating a constitution on abstract and universal principles.[4] That the country was intended to be a bastion of liberty was also seen as fraudulent given that it had been established with slavery.[36] ("How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" asked Samuel Johnson in 1775.[37] He famously stated that, "I am willing to love all mankind, except an American."[35])

With the rise of American industry in the late nineteenth century, intellectual anti-American discourse entered a new form. Mass production, the Taylor system, and the speed of American life and work became a major threat to some intellectuals' view of European life and tradition.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "The breathless haste with which they (the Americans) work - the distinctive vice of the new world - is already beginning ferociously to infect old Europe and is spreading a spiritual emptiness over the continent."

It has been argued that this thesis transformed into a Heideggerian critique of technologism. Heidegger wrote in 1935: "Europe lies today in a great pincer, squeezed between Russia on the one side and America on the other. From a metaphysical point of view, Russia and America are the same, with the same dreary technological frenzy and the same unrestricted organization of the average man." Oswald Spengler had made similar claims in 1931's Man and Technics and his 1934 bestseller The Hour of Decision. In 1921, the Spaniard Luis Araquistáin wrote a book called El Peligro Yanqui ("The Yankee Peril"), in which he condemned American nationalism, mechanization, anti-socialism ("socialism is a social heresy there") and architecture, finding particular fault with the country's skyscrapers, which he felt diminished individuality and increased anonymity. He called the United States "a colossal child: all appetite..."[38]

As European immigration to the United States continued and the country's economic potential became more obvious, anti-American stances grew a much more explicit geopolitical dimension. A new strand of anti-American sentiment started to appear as America entered the competition for influence in the Pacific, and anti-Americanism was widespread among the Central Powers after the U.S. entered the First World War. Furthermore, many of the anti-American ideological threads spread to other areas, such as Japan and Latin America, where Continental philosophy was popular and growing American power was increasingly viewed as a threat. In political terms, even among the allies of the United States, Britain and France, there was resentment at the end of the war as they found themselves massively in debt to the United States. These sentiments became even more widespread during the interbellum and Great Depression and sometimes tended toward the anti-Semitic: the belief that America was ruled by a Jewish conspiracy was common in countries ruled by fascists before and during World War II.

French author Jean-François Revel wrote that "For skeptics of democratic capitalism, the United States is, quite simply, the enemy. For many years, and still today, a principal function of anti-Americanism has been to discredit the nation that stands as the supreme alternative to socialism. More recently, Islamists, anti-modern Greens, and others have taken to pillorying the U.S. for the same reason."[26]The belief that America was ruled by a Jewish conspiracy or that Israel was an American puppet state has also motivated anti-American hatred in some circles during the last third of the 20th century.

In early 2002, the #1 best seller in France was L'Effroyable imposture, which claimed that 9/11 was a conspiracy orchestrated by the U.S. government[50]. It broke the French record for first-month book sales.[51] In Europe in 2002, vandalism of American companies was reported in Venice, Athens, Berlin, Zürich, Tbilisi, and Moscow.[52]

French anti-americanism predates the founding of the United States with the belief that it was a barbaric land and all who went there also degenerated.[54] A particularly strong source of anti-americanism has been the European Extreme-Right. This has been very visible in the French National Front, for example.[55]

In a fit of better judgment I deleted my concluding comments. Feel free below to make any coherent points you care to.


CGW said...

You get that when you RULE THE WORLD.

Dag said...

America rules the world, true, but not in anything like an absolutist fashion that one sees in past rule of great nations and people. Therein is the trouble and the solution.

Most but all earlier ruling people were bound by ethnicity, and if one weren't fortunate enough to be born right, there was little hope. Not no hope, though. Look at Joseph rising as a Jewish slave to advise the Pharaoh. Alexander was a Macedonian. Saint Paul was a Roman citizen. And so on. No empire was exclusive of talent. More recently, the British Empire in India had a Hindu bureaucracy working in the Moghul remnant empire, not simply because of the Muslim refusal to submit to dhimmis but because there is simply too much work to be done to leave it to the non-natives of the land. And it is in the interests of the Empire to absorb the natives so they can run their own nations independently, even if there is or might be seen to be economic exploitation. Ali Jinna was educated at Oxford, if I recall rightly. He went on to found Pakistan, with the blessings of the British, in spite of what we might read in the New York Times. And the American nation is even more distant from rule than the English, pushing the concept of imperialism into the realm of phantasy rather than practice. Only the genuinely hate-filled and the ignorant believe America is imperialistic. Of those there are many, if not most. That doesn't make reality of their hatreds. America is not colonialist nor is it imperialist. It's a trading nation, one extremely powerful because its culture is vibrant and open to trade at every social level. America rules the world because Americans rule themselves. And anyone on Earth can be an American. So what is the hatred about?

Answering that question has taken up my blogging time for the past month. I'm not quite done yet, though I have close to two hundred pages.

We rule the world only in that we do what we do so well that few are able to compete because they restrict themselves from competition. It was obvious 200 years ago that Europeans had a failed system. Look at iron production figures in the years of the 19th century and see America starting lowest on the chart and see it rise till by 1900 we were supreme. And in that we were the norm across the board. We are ever moreso now. It's the hated "system" that works so well that is hated. It's the freedom to trade on the open market as an individual unbound. It is freedom to be oneself alone as oneself that is so enraging to the primitives of the world, including the European "elite."

It's not exactly envy of our triumph that enrages the world as it is our abandonment of the slavery of the mind that compels them to suicidal frenzies. I have much to say on this topic, and that will take up my day again. I do hope to have something to post of more general interest later, for those who ear with me.

Anonymous said...

How do you survive in Canada with those opinions on Anti-Americanism?

Would you mind if I stick the first couple of lines into my quote section of my blog?

Thank you! And thanks for sticking up for America!

Dag said...

I have some extremely good friends in Canada, and around the world, my home at large since I moved from my mountain abode lo these many decades ago to explore the vastness of things. There are good people everywhere-- and some bad ones, of course. Many of the Canadians I speak with about America are simply deluded and social, not having any idea why they are "anti-American." It's what other people say about America, and they, being social, say the same thing to get along. In an odd way it makes them good citizens and likable people.

Some few are genuinely nuts. Those, I tend to get angry at, not simply because they offend me personally, but because they are harmful and sickening and polluting to the nation, whichever it is; and they can and do prey on the weak-minded who are sometimes used to kill innocents. Anti-Americanism isn't harmless. It's not something I think shouldn't be allowed, but it is something I don't sit by and accept without both verbal barrels going off in defense of the right.

My friends, being good people, put up with me if they disagree, and most often feel much the same as I do anyway about core things in life.

As I travel around the world I often encounter people in 'anti-American lands' who whisper to me they wish the English would return, or the French or ... well, no, I've never encountered anyone who wished for the return of the Belgians. The Italians, yes. The Dutch. And so on.

Most people are pretty much OK, given any chance at all. Even Canadians. Yes, even Belgians.

Long time gone, and I feel like it's time to go home soon. I miss the sight of the flag. You'd be surprised how deeply it affects me.

CGW said...

Come home, Dag. It beckons you.

Dag said...

I hope I live for a thousand years. There's so much to do.

reliable sources said...

Much of the ant-Americanism that Vancouverites have learned is from American professors who came up here to teach at Simon Fraser University.

Lots of the draft dodgers too have made careers in one sort of anti-American thing or another. Like Peter Prongos who teaches at Langara College; he was a draft dodger who became an organizer of Tools for Peace, a boat which went to Nicaragua to help them survive the Americans. Organizing a charity boat is not necessarily a bad thing but he was also involved in Connextions, that Latin American liberation newspaper if I remember correctly. So he eventually did an MA in Political Science and now he teaches at Langara and is reportedly -- I heard this from a mature student --hard on students who disagree with him. And you wonder why Canadians are so anti-American.