Did the ancient Romans moon around the forum asking: Why do they hate us? 

Americans constantly ask the question.

Maverick French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel, author of the magisterial Without Marx or Jesus, has addressed the matter a new book, aptly entitled Anti-Americanism.

Revel has always been an original thinker, and he came to like America while living here in the 1970s. 

A marvelous review of Anti-Americanism, by John Parker, a freelance writer based in Vietnam, in the Asia Times online (posted on the indispensable Arts and Letters Daily), has made me want to read it (the book has already been translated into English).

‘[A]nti-Americanism has ascended from its former status as the preoccupation of a relative handful of Jurassic Marxists, professional victims, Third World whiners, and Islamo-fascist troglodytes to the level of a major new global religion,’ writes Parker.

‘Like any religion, it has its saints (which include the likes of Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh), its martyrs (the Rosenbergs, the Guantanamo Bay detainees and Saddam Hussein’s sons), its high priests (Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir), and its desperately over-eager wanna-bes (eg, Asia Times Online’s very own Pepe Escobar, whose viewpoint on any issue can be predicted with absolute accuracy by simply asking ‘what interpretation of this situation will put the United States in the worst light?’).

‘Curiously, however, while the religion has a hell (America), and a devil (George W Bush), it lacks both a heaven (the collectivist pipe dream having been found wanting) and a god (since the anti-Americans consider themselves as having evolved beyond the need for a deity — save their Islamist faction, which wants to impose its religion forcibly on everyone else). Still, the anti-American cult provides its legions of drooling adherents with the crucial element of any faith: the illusion of meaning in an otherwise meaningless existence. That priceless psychological salve, in this case, is the comforting delusion that, no matter how hypocritical, backward, bigoted, ignorant, corrupt or cowardly the cult’s followers might otherwise be, at least they are better than those awful Americans.’

Part of the reason they hate us, of course, is that America is one of history’s greatest experiments. Parker’s review (and Revel) quotes the Venezuelan writer Carlos Rangel: “For Latin Americans, it is an unbearable thought that a handful of Anglo-Saxons, arriving much later than the Spanish and in such a harsh climate that they barely survived the first few winters, would become the foremost power in the world. It would require an inconceivable effort of collective self-analysis [emphasis mine] for Latin Americans to face up to the fundamental causes of this disparity. This is why, though aware of the falsity of what they are saying, every Latin American politician and intellectual must repeat that all our troubles stem from North American imperialism.”

There was of course one recent moment when they loved us. But it didn’t last. ‘By 2004,’ writes Parker, ‘any remaining wisps of sympathy for the Americans who were forced to choose between jumping and burning alive in 2001 had long since dissipated, and the globe had returned to its former habit of treating the United States as the official whipping boy for all the world’s ills.’

Of course, it was that shining moment when America, bloodied, was liked by the Euros that was so golden to the foreign-policy-as-popularity-contest crowd. But then we fought back, and they didn’t like us anymore. Oh, drat.