Why the French Fuss
To the Editor:
Walter Russell Mead ("Why Do They Hate Us?" March/April 2003) revisits what has lately become a sore point in transatlantic relations -- French anti-Americanism. The two intellectuals whose works he reviews -- Jean-François Revel and Philippe Roger -- have tried to divine the cause of what might best be described as a malaise. But, as Mead himself recognizes, what passes for French anti-Americanism seems more like a collection of misguided ideas with no relation to fact than anything else.
It is difficult to believe that Charles Maurras -- a royalist journalist of the early twentieth century and a Vichyite imprisoned after World War II -- carries any intellectual weight today. His loathsome antisemitic ideas about America never troubled with anything resembling fact.
Mead's comment that "the rise of the United States established a new superpower league in world politics in which France can never compete" is 100 percent correct. But what other nation can effectively compete? His contention that English displaced the French language in science is badly mistaken. German was the language of science for much of the twentieth century. Since 1870, the Germans have thrice soundly whipped the French militarily. So why not French anti-Germanism?
If anything, the French would like to regain their past glory on the continent. In today's terms, that means speaking for Europe -- something the French have not managed to do. With the rise of the European Union, the issue of independence and national identity has yet to be fully addressed.
Europe was physically destroyed after World War II. The United States was not. So we saw much of Europe -- particularly the French and the Germans -- balking at going to war without having exhausted all peaceful alternatives. That's not really anti-Americanism, although it may be seen as such. It seems more like good sense.
New York, N.Y.