[inline:01]I met my friend John O’Sullivan yesterday, together with another colleague, Geoffrey Smith, an editorial writer and columnist of The (London) Times in the 1980s. We had not met for almost a decade but had barely started talking before we agreed about a feeling that the three of us share: anti-Americanism in Europe is far more widespread and deeper than ever before. Is the war in Iraq to blame for this? I am not so sure. At the root of the conflict, I think, is the cultural war for the soul of the West. By the “West” I mean America and Europe. I have never seen America and Europe as two opposing entities. To me America is more European than Europe, while Europe needs to find its American roots in order to become fully European again. I have even toyed with the idea of establishing a “Society for American Values in Europe” (SAVE) in order to save the European soul and the European values.
Since the last elections it has become common practice to call the two sides of the American political spectrum “red” (for conservatism) and “blue” (for liberalism). An electoral map of the US shows the blue states (the Western and Northeastern fringes) and the red states (the heartland). The latest issue of The American Enterprise, the quarterly magazine of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), depicts a (smiling) red coloured America versus an (angry looking) blue coloured Western Europe. The blue and the red have become the opposing colours in what is a cultural war for the heart and soul of Euro-American culture. Both groups claim to represent its true values.
The ideological struggle that has intensified within America between red and blue, has also caused European anti-Americanism to intensify. In an interview (with John O'Sullivan) in the AEI magazine Ana Palacio, the former conservative Spanish foreign minister, says that “Today’s Socialist government in Spain plays publicly on anti-Americanism to win votes.” We have seen the same phenomenon in Germany and in other countries. It would be wrong, however, to think that the Socialists are playing on nationalist feelings against a foreign country, as the term “anti-Americanism” might lead one to think. What they oppose and hate is the ethical conservatism and economic liberalism that they identify with the term “Americanism.” The term “Europeanism” is used to refer to ethical liberalism and welfare statism.
The quarrel is predominantly over ethics and economics, and to a far lesser extent about foreign policy, which is why I do not think that the war in Iraq has much to do with the growth of “anti-American” feelings today. Those feelings have been around for a long time. An upsurge of anti-Americanism just after 9/11 was toned down by the need to sympathise with the victims of that horrendous act. But on the part of many European politicians the condolences then were not entirely heartfelt. The war in Iraq is seen to justify the anti-American position, but that position targets all American conservatives, including even the fiercest opponents of the war.
The surge in anti-American feelings is caused by the realisation of the “blue” Europeans that the Westeuropean welfare states are on the brink of collapse. Secularisation, however, also plays an important role. In the Westeuropean welfare states the charities that used to be organised and run by the churches have been replaced by state programmes. When the state, taking care of its subordinates from cradle to grave, became the ultimate insurer against all kinds of misfortune and unhappiness, people no longer needed God. The state became their god. However, that god is dying. Woe to the people who have a dying god, for there is no hope for them. They compensate this lack of hope with feelings of hatred and envy for their “red” cousins who have avoided making the fatal “blue” mistakes.