Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

In defense of the Stars and Stripes: a review of Anti-Americanism by Jean-Francois Revel, French-English translation by Diarmid Cammell (John Parker, 4/04/04, Asia Times)
Jean-Francois Revel is a distinguished French writer who has, for nearly all his working life, chosen the rockiest path any intellectual can choose: the path of true non-conformity (as distinct from the ersatz, self-described non-conformists one finds on any university campus in the Western world). Specifically, Revel has chosen to confront directly - not only in this volume, but in several earlier books that touched on the issue - the entrenched anti-Americanism of an entire generation of European intellectuals, particularly French ones. Like his countryman Emile Zola (whose explosive article "J'accuse" attacked French society's handling of the Alfred Dreyfus affair), he has dared to defend an unpopular scapegoat and, in so doing, has probably done more to earn the gratitude of Americans than any Frenchman since General Lafayette, who came to the aid of the American revolutionary cause.

The reason that Revel's attitude toward the US is so strikingly different from most of his compatriots is not difficult to find: indeed, one finds it on the very first page of this book, when the author reveals that he lived and traveled frequently in the US between 1970 and 1990. During this time, he had conversations with "a wide range of Americans - politicians, journalists, businessmen, students and university professors, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives, liberals and radicals, and people I met in passing from every walk of life". This simple action - talking to actual Americans and asking them what they think, as opposed to blindly regurgitating European conventional wisdom about what Americans think - was obviously the critical step in separating Revel from the smug, chauvinistic sheep who predominate in his intellectual class. It was a step that the vast majority of this class, then and now, have been unwilling to take: they simply cherish their prejudice against Americans too greatly to face the possibility that real, live examples might not conform to it.

In Monsieur Revel's case, these conversations led to his first book, Without Marx or Jesus, published in 1970. Thirty-four years ago, Revel was "astonished by evidence that everything Europeans were saying about the US was false"; sadly, this situation has not changed in the slightest in the intervening time. Indeed, if anything, the conventional wisdom about the United States is even more wrong today than it was then. Without Marx or Jesus made two main points: first, that major social/political developments taking place in the US in the late 1960s, such as the Vietnam War protests, the American Free Speech movement, and the sexual revolution, constituted a new type of revolution, distinct from the working-class uprising predicted by the Marxist theories then in fashion. Second, Revel predicted that the great revolution of the 20th century would turn out to be the "liberal revolution" - ie, the spread of multiparty democracy and market economics - rather than the "socialist revolution". The latter point may appear to be almost conventional wisdom today, but it was a bold assertion in 1970. Most of the book consisted of a point-by-point rebuttal of the reflexive anti-Americanism of the day, and correctly identified its main psychological wellspring: envious resentment due to Europe's loss of leadership status in Western civilization during the postwar era.

In this first book, Revel also described the definitive proof of the irrational origins of anti-American arguments: "reproaching the United States for some shortcoming, and then for its opposite ... a convincing sign that we are in the presence not of rational analysis, but of obsession". In the 1960s, the best example of this behavior was European attitudes toward US involvement in Vietnam. A startling number of French commentators developed a sudden amnesia about their country's own involvement in Indochina, and the fact that France, while embroiled in its ugly war with the Viet Minh, "frequently pleaded for and sometimes obtained American help". Thus the same French political class that begged president Dwight Eisenhower to send B-29s to save the Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu was only too quick to label the United States a "neo-imperialist", or worse, for subsequently intervening in the unholy mess that the preceding decades of French colonial misrule had largely created.

In Anti-Americanism, which is basically a sequel to Without Marx or Jesus, a more contemporary example of the same phenomenon is given: the nearly simultaneous criticism of the US for "arrogant unilateralism" and "isolationism". As Revel dryly observes, "the same spiteful bad temper inspired both indictments, though of course they were diametrically opposed".

Mr. Parker credits Mr. Revel with a tad too much prescience. In fact, the most remarkable thing about the two books is that the anti-Americanism is relatively unaltered over the thirty years, but Mr. Revel is radically changed.

This is the case because his original argument--in Without Marx or Jesus--about the new American revolution turned out to be so spectacularly wrong. He wrote:
If we draw up a list of all the things that ail mankind today, we will have formulated a program for the revolution that mankind needs: the abolition of war and of imperialist relations by abolishing both states and the notion of national sovereignty; the elimination of the possibility of internal dictatorship (a concomitant condition of the abolition of war); world-wide economic and educational equality; birth control on a planetary scale; complete ideological, cultural, and moral freedom, in order to assure both individual happiness through independence and plurality of choice, and in order to make use of the totality of human creative resources.

It is obviously Europe, and not America, that has effected this kind of revolution, with its combination of multicultarism and transnationalism. America has resisted these trends, fairly successfully.

Where Mr. Revel went wrong was in his understanding of who would likely emerge victorious from the social ferment he saw in America in the late 60s/early 70s. (As a general rule he seems to comprehend Europe pretty well in both books and America only slightly.) He wrote about the: "three nations in United States: a black nation; a Woodstock nation; and a Wallace nation." Obviously for the revolution he wanted it would have been necessary for the first two nations to prevail, but instead the third did. George Bush leads George Wallace's nation which is really just the traditional Jacksonian nation. What America was ripe for was actually the counter-revolution--and Ronald Reagan, the Republican landslide of 1994, and now George Bush have delivered.

Take a look at the core concerns of Revel's revolution--abolition of war; an end to the nation-state; birth control (?); and moral relativism--and you find America on the opposite side of every one over the past several decades. That counter-revolution did rather decisively ditch Marx, but it relies quite heavily on Jesus. Here's the funny thing though, when you read his book Anti-Americanism, you pretty much find him on the opposite side along with us. He's now rather forthrightly in favor of the war on terror, positively effusive about globalization, and unhesitant about defending our culture. He's come a long way.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Jean-Francois Revel (2 books reviewed)
Jean-Francois Revel Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Anti-Americanism (Encounter Books)
    -ESSAY: The anti-American obsession (Jean-Francois Revel , New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Europe's Anti-American Obsession (Jean-Francois Revel, The American Enterprise)
    -EXCERPT: Contradictions of the Anti-American Obsession (Jean-Francois Revel)
    -ESSAY: The Myths of Eurocommunism (Jean-Francois Revel, January 1978, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: DEMOCRACY: If You Can Keep It. (Jean-Francois Revel, Jan 24, 2000,National Review)
    -CARICATURE: Jean-Francois Revel (David Levine)
    -AFTERWARD: The American Revolution of Jean-Francois Revel from Without Marx or Jesus (Mary McCarthy)
    -BOOK SITE: The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life by Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard (Schocken Books)
    -ESSAY: The monk, the philosopher and the cynic: Philosopher Jean-Fran´┐Żois Revel and his son, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, set out to have a spiritual dialogue -- but the cosmic harmony was shattered when Christopher Hitchens showed up. (Chris Colin, 03/10/99, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Where Did Our Love Go?: France and 'Un-Americanism' (Stephen Sartarelli, 12/24/03, The Nation)
    -ARCHIVES: Jean-Francois Revel (Foreign Affairs)
    -ARCHIVES: Jean-Francois Revel (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism by Jean-Francois Revel (Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (David Pryce-Jones, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (Peter Hitchens, The American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (Patrick Gould, Townhall)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (John Vinocur, International Herald Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism (Albert Mohler, Crosswalk)
    -REVIEW: of The Monk and the Philosopher: Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard; translated by John Canti (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Monk and the Philosopher (Anthony Campbell)
    -REVIEW: of The Monk and the Philosopher (Leo D. Lefebure, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of How Democracies Perish by Jean-Francois Revel, with the assistance of Branko Lazitch, translated by William Byron (Conor Cruise O'Brien, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of How Democracies Perish (Fritz Stern, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of The Flight from Truth: The Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information, by Jean-Francois Revel (T.E. Wilder, Contra Mundum)
    -REVIEW: of Flight From The Truth (Andrew J. Pierre, Foreign Affairs)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY: The Falseness of Anti-Americanism (Fouad Ajami, The American Enterprise)
    -ESSAY: A WORTHY TRADITION?: Onward and Upward with the American Empire (Joseph R. Stromberg, June 5, 2000, Anti-War)


Have you read this review of the book?

"Therein lies another exquisite irony: the costs of anti-Americanism will be borne not by Americans, but by others. And their numbers are vast: Cubans, North Koreans, Zimbabweans, and countless others suffer and starve under their respective tyrannies because the democratic world's chattering classes, obsessed with denouncing the United States, can't be bothered with holding their criminal regimes to account. Meanwhile, in Iraq, fascist rabble, with no discernible political program save a pledge to kill more Americans, try desperately to extinguish the slightest hope of democracy, economic growth, and stability for that long-suffering land; but the world, instead of helping to beat back the wolves at the door, basks in anti-American schadenfreude. How countless are the political problems, cultural pathologies, and humanitarian disasters that fester unnoticed, all over the globe, as the anti-American cult, wallowing in ecstatic bigotry, desperately scrutinizes every utterance of the Bush administration for new critical fodder. "

- Mal

- Apr-09-2004, 13:27