In the wake of September 11, a classic European disdain for American sentiment became apparent. Even American intellectuals, like Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal, issued pronouncements that reflected a profoundly European sensibility, one embedded in notions of tradition and memory. Yet within the contemporary European critiques of America there frequently lurks a distinct affection. Note the ambivalence of many commentators (not, to be sure, just Europeans) in Granta 77: What We Think of America. This paradoxical embrace and withdrawal is hardly new and, in a sense, arises from the essential unknowability of America remarked upon by both John Gray and Hans Magnus Enzensberger in Granta. Many assessments of America from de Tocqueville on are laced with a dialectic of love and hate. Yet not all Europeans are or were ambivalent. Sigmund Freud’s apparent anti-Americanism puzzled Max Eastman. Why, Eastman once asked him, do you hate America? Freud responded that he did not hate America but, rather, regretted it. The withering assessments of the American culture industry penned by Theodor Adorno were not counter-balanced by a passion for America. Adorno in exile was estranged from the culture of his adopted home. He perceived the political culture of America to be the embodiment of commodity fetishism. To a certain extent, so did the German sociologist Werner Sombart. Yet his classic and wrongly neglected Why is There no Socialism in the United States?, reverberates with a simultaneous suspicion of and admiration for the United States. The image of the anarchist Alexander Berkman kissing the American flag, having been tortured by vigilantes during an IWW struggle in San Diego, captures this ambivalence.
Ths article was originally published as Ashbolt, A, Love and hate in European eyes: Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman on America, The Australasian Journal of American Studies, 22(1), 2003, 1-14.