EVERY VISITOR and report from Europe tells one that anti-Americanism is surging there. The Europeans to whom I have talked are emphatic: The neutralism that is growing is rooted in anti-Americanism. Americans today are faced by a kind of European isolationism. Where there was once an "America First" movement here, there is now a "Europe First" movement over there.
The anti-Americanism in Europe is feeding an anti-Europeanism in America. There is a growing impatience in America over what is felt to be Europe's refusal to pull its weight. The Western allies are playing a dangerous game with each other. If I concentrate here on the anti-Americanism, it is not because I am unaware of the anti-Europeanism. It is because the anti-Americanism is the taproot of the trouble.
Anti-Americanism abroad is never only political. It is never only a fear of American policy that breeds it. There are ample grounds for Europeans to fear American policy now. But this does not explain why there are such widespread anti-American demonstrations today, from Scotland in the far northwest of Europe to Greece in the far southeast. What ought to be a political debate has become a popular rising.
The European leaders are inevitably responding to it. An anti-American slogan is easily translated into a convenient catchphrase for anxious politicians who are seeking votes. Whatever the spark that may ignite anti-American feeling -- a justifiable European uncertainty now over American defense policy -- the fire then always feeds on an underlying cultural protest. It is this which is hard to confront.
Anti-Americanism finds its fuel, always and everywhere, in a resistance to Americanization. Old countries as well as new are aware that they are being Americanized. The high culture as well as pop culture feels the impact of America. Day by day, American ideas, American movies, American literature, American music, American dress, American drinks press on them.
Even American spelling -- the lingua franca is American English. Even American food -- unbelievable as that may seem. The hamburger is chic in London. McDonald's arches began to sprout in the French countryside just as Americans were learning from Julia Child the art of French cooking. The world grows more uniform, and the uniform is American.
The frustration now in shouting "Yankee Go Home!" is that the Yankee is inside the shouter. All of this is understood. But there is a paradox. If the world is becoming more and more American, it is because it gobbles up what is American. People adopt what is American because they enjoy it. So why is this welcome Americanization so often the fuel of anti-American outbursts?
The obvious answer is that the Americanization is resented even as it is welcomed. There is something in that. But not much. Europeans are aware that they are becoming American, and for the most part are content that it is so. If we are to understand the eruptions of anti-Americanism, we must look at the times when there is little anti-Americanism, and certainly not enough to take tens of thousands onto the streets.
Anti-Americanism was not a serious force in Europe in the 1940s and the 1950s. There were pockets of it -- there always are -- but it was not general. This clearly had much to do with American leadership during the war, and the masterfulness of its foreign policy in the years that immediately followed. But there was something else, at least as important, and it is this that is often overlooked.
America was then confident in itself, and Europeans were therefore confident in it. Anti-Americanism in Europe increases or diminishes in exact ratio of the degree of confidence that Americans have in themselves. If Americans are confident of their destiny, Europeans accept that destiny. If Americans clearly like being American, Europeans do not mind becoming American.
One is speaking, again, of more than politics. It is the attitude of Americans to their own society and culture that matters. If they believe that their land is truly "the last, best hope," then Europeans will on the whole hope in it with them. If they know where they are going, then Europeans will go along with them. But if Americans lose their faith in themselves, then why should Europeans have faith in them?
It has often been pointed out -- not least by Europeans -- that Americans are too self- critical. This self-criticism is part of their genius. They are never satisfied with what they have made. Every day there are "NEW! IMPROVED! CORNFLAKES." Every day there is a "NEW! IMPROVED! CLAIROL" -- or Geritol, or Robitussin. So why should there not be, every year, a new, improved society?
But when the self-criticism is allowed to drive deep into the culture, to the exclusion of any celebration of the country and its achievements, then a malaise does indeed grow in the land and so travels overseas. Jimmy Carter may have spoken inappropriately of the national malaise: The function of a leader is not to diagnose in public but to heal and restore. Yet he had his finger on a truth.
The confidence of America in the 1940s and the 1950s was not only political. It was social, cultural and even intellectual. It was the time when the American intellectuals "returned home": literally in some cases -- the expatriates coming back -- but also inwardly here.
Since the 1960s, that has been lost. There is a lack of any broad sense of America in the culture. Robert Benchley collected some books only for their titles -- "Talks on Manure," "The Culture and Ailments of the Sweet Potato" -- and one sometimes feels that American literature now is like that. The high culture and pop culture are riddled with self-criticism and a lack of national self-confidence.
But in the end one has to turn -- as one always must in a democracy -- from the culture to its politicians. One cannot talk of the 1940s and the 1950s without speaking of the 1930s that prepared them; and in that perspective one thinks of policies that nourished the idea that Americans should care for each other. The privileged should care for the unprivileged; the well-off should care for the poor ...
Is there any other way of uniting a democratic nation than by making its people care for each other? And if one turns its people outward to each other, one then turns them outward to the world to care well for it, the world then notices, and in turn cares for America. Charity begins at home -- indeed it must -- but if the government is uncharitable -- then what? How can a people know themselves if they do not care for each other?
If one were a European in Europe now, one would have little idea of what America is, of where it is going in the end, and so why it should be followed. The politicians who are now governing America seem to proclaim that America is a place for people on the make, and it is the inevitable result that its policies will be distrusted overseas as those simply of a nation going it alone.
I am in no way excusing America's allies; that is simply not my subject here. But as we contemplate the achievements of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the occasion of his centenary, at the same time as we contemplate the first year of the presidency of Ronald Reagan, can anyone deny that by the end of his first year Roosevelt had given America a vision of itself which Reagan has not managed?
And in giving it a vision of itself, as a people who cared, that Roosevelt gave the world a vision of America, for which it then cared?