Anti-Americanism and the American World Order

  • Published

Anti-Americanism and the American World Order by Giacomo Chiozza. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, 256 pp.

Anti-Americanism and the American World Order is developed from the author’s 2004 PhD dissertation at Duke University. In the first half, now–Vanderbilt University professor Giacomo Chiozza articulates anti-Americanism from a quantitative methodology; that is the most interesting portion of the book. Among many variations and case studies in the second and third parts, we observe the dynamics and patterns of anti-American sentiment in places such as Africa, Eastern Europe, East and Southern Asia, Middle East, and Latin America (p. 65). Chapter 7, on anti-Americanism after 2002, studies the George W. Bush years and public opinion in various countries during and after the US intervention in Iraq.

The author identifies two opposing attitudes to explain anti-Americanism: either “anti-Americanism as a syndrome” (p. 41) or a lesser-known theory adopted by the author and labeled as “dimensions of America,” which leads to the “soft power thesis” (p. 48). In my view, this dimension, used thorough in this book, remains questionable for understanding such a complex phenomenon as anti-Americanism. Even if the author quotes a notable expert like Joseph Nye, I doubt his postulate that “if culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow” (Nye, as quoted by Chiozza, p. 48). Moreover, I can almost see an attitude similar to colonialism when I read a simplistic passage like “In [Nye’s] perspective, information about the United States would shatter the walls of ignorance and prejudice and give U.S. soft power a chance to exert its influence” (p. 112). Are we talking here about avoiding anti-Americanism among nations abroad to intensify US global influence?

A few more points need questioning, for instance, when the author argues (citing data and percentages) that respondents to surveys in Canada and Western Europe “liked” various products of “American popular culture,” that is, movies, music, and television (p. 56). However, one should not conclude that some nations do not like Americans just because they are not consuming US popular culture, acting, or doing business in the same way Americans do. And in many cases, the dominance of the mass culture has to be explained through the US control of distribution systems that make American mass culture available almost everywhere, bringing us into the field of political economy, as scholars like Thomas Guback and Manjunath Pendakur explained elsewhere.

In my view, Anti-Americanism and the American World Order will be useful for students doing graduate research related to this ideology, but also in public opinion and international relations. The question of anti-Americanism as an ideology (or not) is raised and it is fundamental, even if Chiozza argues that this phenomena is seen as “too lose” to be defined as an ideology (p. 136).

Nevertheless, Professor Chiozza gathers an impressive amount of data and statistics related to the anti-American sentiments around the world, mainly compiled by the US Department of State’s Office of Research (p. 162). I have never seen so many numbers and figures related to the anti-American sentiment in a single book on this topic, and I have read many, in English and French.

But on the other hand, I disagree with the author on his comprehension of anti-Americanism, which for instance seems to include other governments’ disapproval of US policies at certain moments. Sometimes, nations may oppose the United States or have diverging views with US officials without being anti-American. Even the best friends in the world can somewhat disagree. Understanding anti-Americanism nowadays is much more than just having “to identify the features and characteristics of the societies that admire America or reject America” (p. 3). We need more nuance between these two attitudes. Even statistics and public opinion surveys about the United States during the 1980s in various countries cannot have predictable consequences or too many interpretations over the long term (p. 16). Elsewhere, the author argues that in recent years, “waves of anti-Americanism came and went without leaving any major footprint in the survey data, as if anti-Americanism resembled a ‘bubble,’ a momentary manifestation of opposition that occasionally emerged and rapidly burst” (p. 162). I believe the core group which seems to constantly oppose the United States does form the basic anti-American portion of a given country’s public opinion.

Studying anti-Americanism is an important dimension in many disciplines, from public opinion to American studies; however, it is important to define it as an obsessive reasoning that automatically leads to a US responsibility for just about every issue and conflict in the world, as some authors like Jean-François Revel had explained, seeing the United States as a “monster scapegoat” for many nations’ errors (see the Revel quote, p. 42). Otherwise, anti-Americanism would only include those who are, according to US officials, “against us.” In this first book, Giacomo Chiozza acknowledges (but also rejects) Revel’s interpretation (p. 42); but three other hypotheses are preferred (p. 112). All in all, Anti-Americanism and the American World Order can be an interesting read, even if we do not adopt the author’s theoretical approach; despite my disagreements with the author’s viewpoint and conclusions, this thought-provoking book is almost too rich in data and ideas to be dismissed.

Yves Laberge, PhD
Faculté de Philosophie, University of Ottawa, Canada

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."