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The Anti-American Century

Ivan Krastev
Alan McPherson


Ivan Krastev

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1When in 1941 in a Life magazine editorial its publisher Henry Luce coined the phrase “The American century” nobody knew how the world viewed America and its policies. The age of the opinion polls—this opium for the people—was not born yet. A son of a missionary and a visionary himself, Henry Luce urged the united States to forsake isolationism for a missionary’s role, acting as the world’s Good Samaritan and spreading democracy and freedom. And his call for creating the “first great American century” was heard. For more than half a century many people thought the US as the savior of the Western world. The world was fascinated with America’s democracy, technology and culture. The 20th century turned into the American century. But the American century is now over. In less than a decade, America has lost more moral self-confidence and credibility than most nations accumulate in their history. Anti-Americanism is becoming a defining feature of our time. It is a defining political issue in a world that is suffering not from a deficit of elections but from a deficit of politics. The hollowness of post-ideological and post-utopian politics, its subversive dullness, is transforming the nature of democratic regimes. And in this post-political world anti-Americanism is more and more the content of national politics.

2The global rise of anti-Americanism poses questions with far-reaching political and security consequences. Do we witness a transient phenomenon or something that goes much deeper and will not decline with the change of the George W. Bush administration or the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq? Are the sources of the global revolt against America to be found in the US’s policies, in the US’s values or in America’s hegemonic role in the world order?

3The six essays collected in this volume are organized more on the principle of jazz improvisation rather than on the principle of a classical symphony. The pieces are not disciplined by a common theoretical framework but at the same time they are in a constant dialogue with each other. The authors are coming from different academic disciplines—history, political science, economics, sociology, and philosophy. They voice different national experiences and intellectual traditions. They share neither the same politics, nor the same obsessions but at the same time they are united by a common intuition: we are living in the anti-American century.

4They argue that anti-Americanism has become a global reflex and a master framework with broad and flexible appeal, and that any serious attempt to analyze the phenomenon must encompass an understanding not only of its various sources in different corners of the world but also of the variety of purposes for which anti-Americanism is used as a political resource.

5What makes the volume distinctive in the growing “anti-Americanism cottage industry” is its ambition to challenge the thesis that the spread of democracy will lead to the decline of anti-Americanism and that the lack of democracy in certain parts of the world is to be blamed for the current wave of anti-Americanism. Alan McPherson, on the example of Latin America, convincingly argues that the spread of democracy contrary to the popular claim of official Washington will not lead to the decline of anti-Americanism but that the rise of anti-Americanism is a byproduct of the global democratic revolution. By comparing three generations of anti-Americanism in Latin America— 1920s, 1960s and 2000s—McPherson demonstrates that through the twentieth century, anti-Americanism has moved its strategic center from the marginal non-state actors in the early century, to elite state actors at mid-century and finally, to a new combination of old and new in more recent years: state actors who encompass the socially marginal. This new combination is more than ever threatening to the united States because, unlike the elites during the cold War, the socially marginal in the era of neo-liberalism no longer find that they have much in common with the united States, and they are more than ever ready and able to use the nation-state to break with Washington’s policies.

6in the case of South Korea, Youngshik Bong and Katharine moon reinforce the link between democratization of society and the rise of anti-Americanism. in their view the collective expressions of anti-American feelings in South Korea reflect much more tumulus new political dynamics in the country marked by the clash of generations than the weakening of geopolitical constraints imposed by the cold War. in the case of Southeast Asia, Farish Noor argues that the Islamists’ negative perception of the united States in turn has to be understood in the context of the wider background of a resurgent Asia that feels itself burdened by an overbearing partner who has simply thrown its weight around the region. Thanks in part to their role in exacerbating the economic inequalities and deficiencies in the developing world, successive American governments have helped to create the socio-cultural, political and economic circumstances that favor the rise of radical groupings in search of a change and a new socio-political order. America’s cavalier and mercenary approach in dealing with the “communist threat” in Southeast Asia from the 1960s to 1980s did achieve its military goals, but in the course of doing so also eliminated scores of other progressive, secular political trends that might have served as the foundations of a democratic civil society today. in the void that was created with the extermination of the leftist opposition came the Islamist conservatives, to whom the united States was initially oblivious, and of whom it was only recently wary.

7The missing anti-Americanism in central and eastern Europe is the center of the Janos Kovacs’s essay on “Little America.” Kovacs is convincing when he asserts that there is no such thing as a pro-American Sonderweg in the region. And contrary to the popular explanation of anti-Americanism as resentment against capitalism and globalization, Janos Kovacs demonstrates that central and Eastern Europe is receptive to American style capitalism and not particularly attracted by American foreign policy. Kovacs’s argument has a particular importance because the misreading of the East European experience in 1990s is at the center of Washington’s failure to predict the backlash towards uS hegemony in different parts of the world. Washington’s attempt to turn the rise of pro-American democracies in Eastern Europe into a universal paradigm to be applied globally was a fatal intellectual mistake. The link between democratization and pro-Americanism that captured the imagination of the American political elites in the view of Kovacs has two faults—it was not realistic with respect to the rest of the world but it was also not true for Central and eastern Europe.

8In his subtle analytical piece “A Plea for Distinctions: Disentangling Anti-Americanism from Anti-Semitism” the Oxford philosopher Brian Klug argues against the view that in the current world anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are inseparable. in his opinion the propensity, in certain quarters, to see Americans and Jews as the joint victims of global prejudices, is both misleading and politically dangerous at a time when the world is experiencing, on the political plane, the equivalent of global warming; and one of the most incandescent spots on the planet is the middle east, where both America and Israel, separately and (to an extent) together are involved in conflicts that are on the boil.

9The essays collected in this book are not pamphlets blaming America or anti-Americanism. They urge us to reject the easy generalization or the comfortable banalization of the politics of anti-Americanism. What this volume pleads for are complexity and context when we try to imagine how the anti-American century will look like.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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