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Anti-Americanism may range in intensity from mild distaste and aversion at one end of the spectrum, to intense hostility at the other. It is a phenomenon that can be found all over the world, not only in highly developed, complex Western societies but also in the most underdeveloped societies of the Third World; it is present in the remaining communist states as well as the post-communist states; and it can be found among the intellectual elite of various societies and among the masses of uneducated peasants.

Historically, anti-Americanism was a centerpiece in the vast propaganda campaigns of communist systems, especially in the former Soviet Union. These states sought to capitalize on spontaneous anti-Americanism, and they devoted substantial resources to stimulate it wherever possible.

Anti-Americanism was especially prevalent during the Cold War in the ideas of “moral equivalence” promoted by leftist parties in Western Europe which held that  there was little difference, morally speaking, between the United States and the Soviet Union. Even in this framework, leftists as a rule savaged the U.S. with far greater relish and specificity, while their critiques of the Soviet system were perfunctory.

One of the major types of anti-Americanism is the longstanding historical/theoretical version (currently intertwined with "postmodernism" and "multiculturalism"), rooted in the rejection of universalistic values and especially the rationalism associated with the Enlightenment. This form of anti-Americanism shades into a broad anti-Western disposition.

Another variation of anti-Americanism is a tributary of Marxism that views the United States as both the pillar of capitalism around the world and its most repugnant embodiment, and therefore as the oppressive force ensuring immiseration of the world’s poor and dispossessed.

There is also cultural anti-Americanism, which condemns American mass culture for its encroachments on the traditions of other nations.

A powerful scapegoating impulse, related to envy and resentment (particularly in countries that have been unsuccessful economically and in terms of international power) is central to anti-Americanism. Because of America's "lone remaining superpower" status, it has become a target upon which a wide range of grievances and resentments can be projected.

Another variation of anti-Americanism may be understood as a diffuse, ongoing protest against modernity's major components and unintended consequences. These include secularization, industrialization, urbanization, bureaucratization, mobility (both social and spatial), and the decline of community and social-cultural cohesion.

The recent outburst of violent Islamic anti-Americanism has added a new dimension to the phenomenon. In the jihadi worldview, the United States and all things American are identified not merely with social injustice, moral corruption, economic exploitation, or the abuse of power, but with sacrilege and transcendent Evil. The country is a “Great Satan” to be destroyed.

Domestic anti-Americanism has for a long time been as vigorous as its foreign varieties, although it is largely limited to the intelligentsia. The events of 9/11 gave hostile domestic critics a reason to vilify the United States for its numberless misdeeds, past and present. These detractors claimed that the attacks could be attributed to certain clearly identifiable "root causes" -- all of which had something to do with the folly or evil of American society and U.S. policies.

The RESOURCES column located on the right side of this page contains links to articles, essays, and books that explore such topics as:
  • the roots, premises, and worldviews of anti-Americanism;
  • the phenomenon of anti-Americanism as it is experienced and expressed by people living in the United States;
  • the causes and manifestations of anti-Americanism in various places outside the United States;
  • the anti-American worldviews of the religious left;
  • the prevalence of anti-Americanism among college and university professors (and, accordingly, in their academic curricula);
  • how anti-American attitudes and worldviews are transmitted to children in classrooms across the United States;
  • the messages conveyed by two of the most prominent and influential anti-Americans of recent times, the filmmaker Oliver Stone and the late historian Howard Zinn; and
  • refutations of the charge that the United States is a force of evil in the world, not only today but also in a historical sense.

Adapted from "The Politics of Envy," by Paul Hollander (November 2002).



* For recommended books on this topic, click here.

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