Anti-Americanism and Political Ideologies. A Comparative Analysis of Left- and Right-Wing Anti-Americanism in Western Europe

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

33 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Contents

Introduction: an ideological perspective on anti-Americanism

I) Beyond American foreign policy

II) Definitions and theoretical framework
1. Americanism and anti-Americanism
2. Political ideologies and America
3. Theoretical framework

III) Left and right-wing anti-Americanism
1. Values - what America is
a. Economy
b. Culture
2. Actions - what America does
a. Global hegemony
b. Foreign Policy

IV) Conclusion: A clash of ideas and globalization resentment


Introduction: an ideological perspective on anti-Americanism

During the Cold War, Europe was marked by the division between East and West at ideological, political, economic and social levels. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the affirmation of the United States as the sole military superpower in the world. One could argue that in Western Europe, protected as it was during the Cold War by the U.S. military deterrent, such a drastic shift in the global landscape in favor of the United States would have been welcomed and celebrated as a success. One could also argue that the deep ideological division of the Cold War, namely Western capitalism against Soviet communism, would have led to an enduring appreciation among the Western European population of American efforts to undermine the Soviet threat. While these views can be considered to be factual to a certain extent, research has shown that anti-American sentiments are widespread and intense among Western European populations and political movements.

The sense of solidarity after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 seems to have been limited in duration. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave rise to public outcry and unprecedented mass demonstrations throughout Western Europe. Recent events, such as the fallout from the actions of NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden and the subsequent revelations about American intelligence gathering around the world, have led to major condemnation among the press, the general public and political players across the entire political spectrum. Other topics, such as the continued support for Israel by the United States, have divided European sentiment and generated criticism as well as praise for the American involvement.

It is a popular belief that the prevalence of anti-Americanism is simply a consequence of U.S. foreign policy. Although this seems to be an important factor, it has been shown that such reactions have only a temporary effect in Western Europe. They do not affect the underlying, deep-seated factors of anti-Americanism, such as economic and cultural phenomena, in any fundamental way (Beyer, Liebe 2013: 101). The division among political ideologies does not appear to be clear cut. While socialists throughout Western Europe may denounce U.S.-style capitalism and the health care system in the U.S., they generally praise President Obama’s foreign policy, such as his willingness to recognize a Palestinian State in May 2011. By contrast, right-wing politicians in Europe may approve of American support for Israel while criticizing U.S. involvement in Ukraine following the crisis in 2014. Given the transformation of the ideological balance of power since the end of the Cold War, it seems to be even more relevant to address the differences in left-wing and right-wing anti-Americanism. Recent research has shown that ideologies are a determining factor in the consolidation of anti-American standpoints (Johnston 2006: 71).

The purpose of this study is to compare right-wing anti-Americanism to left-wing antiAmericanism. The research questions are therefore as follows: What are the differences and similarities between right-wing and left-wing anti-Americanism in Western Europe? What are the origins of these phenomena? What is their relevance in modern-day Western Europe? The aim is to focus more on analyzing the ideological aspects of anti-Americanism than the actual anti-American voices throughout Western Europe.

Western Europe has been chosen as a limiting factor in the analysis due to its close cultural ties to the United States and for being a close ally for much of its history. By minimizing the cultural, historical and religious differences, the ideological elements of anti-Americanism should be clearest in this context.

In order to perform a clear and precise analysis of such a broad subject, it is necessary to rely on an effective theoretical framework. In the theory section of this study, the focus is on defining key concepts such as anti-Americanism, Americanism and ideological factors representing the left- and right-wing division. A framework is established that distinguishes between American values (what America is) and American actions (what America does) based on previous research and theoretical analysis. This serves as a strong basis for the analytical section, which makes a comparison between left- and right-wing anti-Americanism in Western Europe based on previous research and historical and recent developments.

The following section offers a more general view of anti-Americanism and academic research in this field.

I) Beyond American foreign policy

The study of anti-Americanism has proven to be difficult. Since the exact definition is problematic, so is a clear operationalization. Anti-Americanism comes in a multitude of forms and has various roots, ranging from recent periodical trends to deep and enduring historical tendencies. Although previous research has addressed ideological dimensions, these analyses have primarily been carried out on a descriptive level and to illustrate certain political phenomena.

The majority of the works presented in this study has been conducted by political scientists. Academic research on anti-Americanism as a whole is usually undertaken from a political science perspective, emphasizing its mechanisms in fields such as international studies, sociology and history. A wealth of new research has been made available in the last few years, usually dealing with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 or the changing world order following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A problem faced by any academic study of anti-Americanism in any context is its actual definition and the identification of what can be considered to be anti-American. One reason for this problem is presented by Katzenstein and Keohane (2007: 22), who argue that opinions measured in data collections are not indicative of bias, making it difficult to associate it with consistent anti-Americanism. An important aspect reflected in many studies is to distinguish between anti-Americanism and criticism of U.S. foreign policy (Beyer and Liebe 2013: 91). The political scientists Alvin Rubinstein and Donald Smith (1988: 35) offer a rather broad definition of anti-Americanism as “any hostile action or expression that becomes part and parcel of an undifferentiated attack on the foreign policy, society, culture and values of the United States”. Since this definition was formulated in a study about anti-Americanism in the Third World, its use in this study is somewhat awkward. Much of the research used in this study analyzes psychological aspects of anti-Americanism. Katzenstein and Keohane (2007: 12) define it as “a psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general”. They emphasize the role of attitudes, bias and prejudices, i.e. the more cognitive aspects (2007: 6). Beyer and Liebe (2013: 91) consider anti-Americanism to be “a psychological tendency to devalue actors and phenomena perceived as ‘American’”. They regard it as a “scapegoating impulse” and “projection”, two terms established by Hollander (1992) and Diner (1996), respectively. These characteristics of simplified thinking allow an individual to distinguish more easily between good and bad, and right and wrong, while externalizing the blame for perceived problems onto an external force such as “America” (Beyer and Liebe 2013: 96). Hollander (1992) views anti-Americanism as "an unfocused and largely irrational, often visceral aversion toward the United States, its government, domestic institutions, foreign policies, prevailing values, culture, and people." This again reflects the subjective and self-serving character of anti-Americanism as it is defined in academic research.

These broad definitions lead to a highly diverse set of anti-American tendencies. This raises the question as to what the extent and how intense the phenomenon actually is. One obvious hub of anti-Americanism is the Muslim world, where both the extent and intensity of anti-American tendencies are substantial. However, the historical, cultural and religious reasons for this are not addressed in this study since the ideological dimension is expected to be rather insignificant. Recent data collections have shown that a considerable number of Western Europeans have negative opinions not only about the United States, but also Americans in general, In 2008, for example, this included up to almost two-thirds of the French population following the invasion of Iraq and two-thirds of the German population (Beyer and Liebe 2013: 94). More globally, a 2013 poll by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research and Gallup International showed that the United States was considered the biggest threat to peace in the world (WIN/Gallup International 2013). Another recent poll by the Pew Research Center (2012) showed that although anti-Americanism had fallen in Europe compared to the period following the Iraq invasion, there was still a value gap between Europeans and Americans in a variety of fundamental political and cultural issues, such as unilateral military interventions and religiosity. Compared to this recent poll, data collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s indicate a significantly lower level of anti-Americanism throughout Western Europe, showing it to be a minority view (Smith and Wertman 1992: 189). It is important to point out that these figures express public opinion only, and are not an accurate reflection of the views of, for example, the political elite. Indeed, Andrei Markovits (2005: 1-2) argues that anti-Americanism among the general public is considered to be a “badge of honor” and “one of the very few prejudices in contemporary Europe which correlate positively with education and social status: the higher the education, the greater the prejudice”.

The development of anti-Americanism over time comprises a significant share of research on the issue. Beyer and Liebe (2013: 92) present a succinct, useful history of European anti- Americanism. By the end of the eighteenth century, the “New World” represented a utopia for many Europeans as well as a target for aristocratic, anti-democratic and elitist resentment, which criticized the “mass-society”, “superficiality” and “materialism” of America. After the First World War and with the rise of Marxist movements throughout Europe, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist sentiment grew stronger and ultimately morphed into anti-Americanism. During the 1920s, especially in Germany, the rapid modernization that brought about cultural and political changes was perceived as “Americanization”. This led to increasing “Überfremdungsangst” (fear of foreign infiltration). Racist, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic connotations were merged and recast as anti-Americanism. The United States was seen by many as “an instrument of Jewish capital employed to enslave the world”. After the Second World War, Western Europe witnessed a rise in left-wing anti-Americanism, which manifested itself as student movements influenced by communists declaring the United States to be an imperialist and fascist state. In more recent years, the 2003 invasion of Iraq led to a sudden and intense shift in public opinion regarding America. Pro-American sympathies declined from 62 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in France in June 2003, from 78 to 45 percent in Germany and from 50 to 38 percent in Spain (Berman 2004). As a whole, a study of the international reaction to the U.S.-led military intervention highlights an important aspect of anti-Americanism: its usefulness and simplicity. Anti-American actors in Europe have been able to use the salience of the issue and prevailing anti-American tendencies to mobilize public support. At the same time, U.S. politicians in favor of the military actions condemn opposition as anti-American in an effort to silence the debate (O’Connor 2004: 77-78). As Krastev (2004: 11) points out: “The power of anti-Americanism lies in its very emptiness”. Its ease of use and almost universal applicability make it a useful tool for opportunistic political agendas.

In his study titled “The Anti-American Century?” Ivan Krastev argues that Americanism has increased in the world since 2002. It has become a political argument and an “all-purpose ideology” (2004: 6). Although the data seems to support such an assertion, it is questionable whether the nature of anti-Americanism has changed, or whether certain forms of it have simply become more pronounced. Indeed, historical studies indicate that anti-American sentiment throughout the world is a tidal phenomenon as old as America itself (Stivachtis 2007: 14).

In contrast, Markovits (2005: 3) argues that widespread anti-Americanism during the Bush Administration let to an “unprecedented congruence between elites and masses in terms of their common antipathy towards the United States”. This phenomenon makes it even more important to study the ideological aspects of anti-Americanist positions. While public opinion is a source of tidal and ephemeral disdain for America, elites share a more ideological and fundamental sense of anti-Americanism.

The presented literature has shown that anti-Americanism is an extremely broad and diverse concept. The next section seeks to simplify it by reducing it to observable factors in an ideological context while providing clear and consistent definitions of the essential concepts.

II) Definitions and theoretical framework

To analyze anti-Americanism, it is necessary to first establish what can actually be labeled as anti-Americanism. As such, a definition of Americanism and its adjective American must be provided, thereby enabling a set of core values to be presented that define America. This will then allow values and positions to be identified in political ideologies that contradict the American position on the matter.

1. Americanism and anti-Americanism

As this study focuses on ideologies, it is necessary to adopt a deconstructed definition of what should be regarded as anti-Americanism. Given the methods of analysis used in this study, anti-Americanism must be defined in terms of ideological features in opposition to what America represents, as well as the degree of compatibility. Anti-Americanism will therefore be defined as a set of irreconcilable differences between a given ideology and the perceived American opposition to it. In this context, “American” can also describe factors that - though not necessarily adopted by Americans themselves in actions or values - are perceived by a significantly large group of individuals as representative of America or Americans. Furthermore, this definition of anti-Americanism does not necessarily lead to violent, constant or intense opposition provided that the ideological discrepancies are sufficiently distinct.

Having defined anti-Americanism as a concept, it is now necessary to ascertain the determinants of the American model. First of all, it should be stated that the word “America” is used a synonym for the United States throughout this study. The adjective “American” describes what America represents, and the act of promoting, perpetuating and embracing American characteristics is labeled as “Americanism”.

The widespread use of anti-Americanism as a concept is an oddity in itself, since there exists no analogous term for any other country in the world. In public discourse, “Americanization” is often used a synonym for globalization (Ceaser 2003: 5). In a broader sense, “America” as a concept finds its origins in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, proclaiming that “all men are created equal” and have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The “American Dream” originates from these words (Kamp 2009). It claims that anyone who works hard can achieve anything in the “land of opportunity”, regardless of their level in society.

Concepts such as consumerism and materialism, which were historically perceived as part of modernization, are often associated with America and Americans (Ceaser 2003: 9-13). The religious aspects of America are a more complex matter. In the seventeenth century, many immigrants came to the New World fleeing religious persecution in Europe. This rejection of religious oppression was institutionalized in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, making it the first country to separate religious institutions from those of the state. Protestantism is the largest denomination in America, accounting for about half of today’s population (Central Intelligence Agency 2004). The Protestant work ethic is a concept coined by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (2004), which claims that American capitalism and Protestantism have common historical roots. Despite a strong secular tradition, Americans today are among the most religious in the Western world and, despite the prevalence of Protestantism, are represented by many different denominations. The American Dream contains elements of individualism common in American values, which focus on the moral worth of the individual, and meritocracy, where individual merit is regarded as the most important aspect of individual progress. Special value is given to personal freedoms. It can even be argued that negative liberties (meaning the absence of constraints) are favored over positive liberties (the presence of possibilities) in the United States Constitution (Currie 1986: 886).

Historical shifts can be observed when it comes to foreign policy. America was known to be an isolationist state throughout the nineteenth century, in the sense that it did not enter into any entangling alliances and therefore kept the United States out of major conflicts. This mindset can be seen in America’s reluctance to join both the First and Second World War. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the United States was repeatedly involved in military interventions in Korea, Vietnam and Grenada among others. In 2011, there were just short of 80,000 U.S. troops in Europe, over 40,000 in East Asia and the Pacific regions, and over 8,000 in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia (Iraq and Afghanistan excluded). The total number of U.S. active-duty military personnel abroad is estimated at approximately 300,000 in 148 countries (U.S. Department of Defense 2011). These numbers are often used by critics of United States foreign policy. It is important to specify that fewer than 10 U.S. military personnel are actually deployed in over a third of those countries. In Switzerland for example, 21 U.S. active- duty military troops were deployed in 2011. With this global military presence in mind, it is clear that the U.S. has extensive diplomatic and economic power that it uses to defend and enforce American interests.

It is now necessary to establish a more ideological definition of what America represents. Given the range of different ideological dimensions represented by the U.S. government and its population over the centuries, this definition needs to be as straightforward as possible. Economically speaking, America represents a liberal ideology, limiting government intervention in the markets. Liberalism as a worldview, however, has several important differences when compared to the American model. First of all, the ideals of self-determination and freedom of the individual as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution can become problematic when confronted with realpolitik. Economic liberalism can be undermined by protectionist policies and foreign engagements, especially military interventions (Nohlen and Schultze 2010: 548). The term is all the more problematic when applied to modern American politics, where “liberals” (usually Democrats) are opposed to “conservatives” (usually Republicans) thus making up the left-right divide in U.S. public discourse. This designation does not correspond to the academic definitions of liberalism as a whole and will therefore be avoided in this study. Neo-liberalism seems to be a more accurate description of American ideology, as it emphasizes liberal principles with regard to the government’s role in the economy and private ownership while at the same time supporting government involvement to protect and strengthen the markets through law, order and foreign intervention. Since the 1990s, neo-liberalism has become a primary target for the political left and critics of globalization (Nohlen and Schultze 2010: 649).

From a social and cultural viewpoint, defining “America” is more problematic. Throughout history, America has been a symbol and personification of modernity. In recent years, however, severe criticism from social-liberal movements has been leveled at American conservatism regarding religious and social issues such as abortion and the rights of homosexuals. Throughout this study, it is therefore necessary to specify the historical context when discussing ideology from a social point of view. In modern times, the United States is seen by Western Europeans in particular as a symbol of more socially conservative positions, which is a feature of the political right. The following section explores the compatibility between political ideologies and America and exposes discrepancies when dealing with specific issues.


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Anti-Americanism and Political Ideologies. A Comparative Analysis of Left- and Right-Wing Anti-Americanism in Western Europe
University of Zurich  (Political Science)
International Relations
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Anti-Americanism, political ideologies, Western Europe, socialism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, Marxism
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Reto Friedli (Author), 2015, Anti-Americanism and Political Ideologies. A Comparative Analysis of Left- and Right-Wing Anti-Americanism in Western Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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