Sutton’s Response to “Provincializing the West”

Homer Sutton’s Response to Pascal Bruckner
Thank you, Pascal Bruckner, for your very interesting remarks concerning relations between the US and Europe on the eve of our presidential election. I thought that I’d share the latest polling results from France concerning our two presidential candidates before reacting to your remarks.
According to a recent poll (CSA, Oct. 1 and 2nd, 2008), 93% of the French would vote for Obama and 7% for McCain. No surprises here, but we won’t announce these figures too widely here in the US, for we don’t want to provide arguments for Freedom Fries proponents to vote against the candidate favored by the French! The French have massively favored Democratic candidates in the past: 87% would have voted for Kerry in 2004 and 59% for Gore in 2000.
At the same time, the poll showed that the French remain negative in their views of the US:  38% are “critical” of America, while 22% are “worried” and only 17% call their view of the US “benevolent”.  A scant 6% state that they “admire” the US. So, the French are hopeful for a victory of Obama even though their views of the US remain largely negative. I predict that a victory by Obama will change immediately the opinion of some of those in France who are “critical” or “worried” about the US.
Bruckner sees a strong divide between Americans and Europeans. The latter are very skeptical concerning the possibilities of improving mankind, while Americans “blend a tragic vision of humanity with the certainty of its improvement”. I believe that Americans are going to become somewhat less certain of our capacity to improve mankind. In particular, our very expensive attempt (with the outcome not yet evident) to implant democracy in Irak will lead us to be less optimistic concerning the perfectibility of mankind. We shall become more like the Europeans after the war in Irak.
Bruckner stated, “We hate America because it matters.” Don’t misunderstand his remark; he has constantly attacked anti-Americanism in France, notably in the special issue of the South Central Review edited by Professor Golsan (summer 2007), proclaiming that anti-Americanism  is a (quote)”fundamental structure of the mind and of politics in Europe, or at the very least in France”: “it is an autonomous view, produced by the intellectual caste over the centuries and. . . stands as one of the great narratives of modernity.” His analysis parallels that of Philippe Roger, whose The American Enemy (Chicago, 2005) demonstrates the long-established tradition of anti-Americanism in France, as well as that of Jean-François Revel in Anti-Americanism (Encounter, 2004).
Bruckner, in defending the US, has been at times extremely critical of Europe; while the US makes mistakes, which are eventually corrected, Europe makes no mistakes “because the European Union attempts nothing.” (La Tyrannie de la pénitence) He wrote in that article in the South Central Review,
“Europe, for now, is but a conjunction of shared inertia and immaturity, ranting and raving against the USA the better to conceal its own apathy.”
I would beg to disagree concerning Europe; the 15-nation agreement on October 12th concerning European reaction to the financial crisis is a stunning example of how the European nations can act in concert when required. Certainly the UK and Gordon Brown showed the way, but Henry Paulson changed strategies after the British and the Eurozone nations agreed to buy equity in banks rather than purchase toxic mortgage portfolios as Paulson’s first plan had proposed. Indeed, one could argue that the Eurozone agreement of this month represents a turning point for the E.U. and a major surprise, given the earlier disagreements between France and Germany concerning government intervention.
The popularity of President Sarkozy in France has risen dramatically as a result; after all, he seems to be the one who conquered German reticence and persuaded Angela Merkel to join in the agreement.  I think that Pascal Bruckner despairs perhaps too much of the European Union’s capacity for joint action among member countries.
Pascal Bruckner has been courageous in promoting views that are not always “Politically correct”; he was one of the few in France who called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but he has spared no criticism of George Bush’s mistakes following the invasion, of the crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, of the administration’s use of torture, or of Bush’s crusade to spread democracy by military force. He never hesitates to offer politically unpopular opinions.
Bruckner reminds us the irony of our economic situation; Russia and China, former and current Marxist states,  have engaged in the “most ruthless” form of capitalism, while the  US, the center of world capitalism, now has a nationalized banking system. Has our appetite for risk also been affected? A professor at the Yale School of Management commented recently in the NYTimes about American desire for risk and the recent financial crisis:
    “We may very well come out of this horrible situation with a better version of American capitalism- it’ll be a little tamer, it will be a little more regulated. But this country is built on an appetite for risk. We don’t want to be France.”
Yet one has to wonder if our appetite for risk is unlimited? Has not the huge loss of wealth on Wall St. brought us to wish that we were a bit more like France?
It will be interesting to see what results the world financial summit on November 15 will
In his editorial in Le Monde on October 15, “The Inevitable Metamorphosis”, Bruckner reminds us that Western democracies after the fall of Communism no longer had an enemy which inspired reform or maintained their focus. Without the counterweight of the Soviet bloc, capitalism became greedy, conformist, and arrogant.  The financial meltdown will not lead to an abandonment of the capitalist system, as some on the Left in France predict, or hope. For Bruckner, no alternative to capitalism is credible.  He states, “Let’s not write off Uncle Sam. .  . Whoever knows the US knows the American capacity for rebirth and common action. Democracies, because their energy comes from constant self-criticism, dispose of invisible and unsuspected resources.”  Bruckner has reaffirmed his confidence in America and Europe’s ability to right the wrongs in the capitalist system.
Pascal Bruckner has been a constant defender of democracy and of human rights,  has demonstrated unceasing faith in reason and intellect, and has been utterly courageous in defending points of view that differ from those of the majority.