The rumors in circulation over the last two centuries bear some truth: Americans determinedly perceive the world through a combination of ignorance and fantasy. This is no fault of theirs, really; the Old World has rarely furnished a sufficient reason for the American people to care about its existence, except in those rare instances in which one or more great powers decide to stray from their borders. In fact, the original aspiration of the Pilgrims and subsequent immigrants to live undisturbed by the repressive tremors of Eurasia succeeded spectacularly: The upheavals and repressions of the Old World, with its nine-tenths of the global population, have for centuries been kept at bay by two great oceans and a widening split in civilizational sensibilities that has far outpaced any advancement in intercontinental travel or weaponry. The societies of North and South America have, in isolation from the Old World, developed into a sprawling community of one billion people who collectively wield one-third of the global GDP.
Yet even if the Americans have historically had less reason to care for the geographies of its neighbors than, for instance, the French or Belgians, they remain inextricably conscious of their civilizational origin. Any American middle-schooler can trace the civilizational heritage of America to England and Western Europe, and then to the Greco-Romans, whose Mediterranean axis originated in the Mesopotamian cradle of civilization.
Americans, no matter their ancestral origins in lands apart from Western Europe, will associate this nation most readily and instinctively with England and its neighboring cultures. For anyone whose formative years were spent in this country, such a subliminal attachment is inevitable; it is written and integrated into every cultural fiber and instinct within America, assimilating even the remotest foreign imports with unmatched ease and efficacy. That the United States was born of a Western foundation is, to the rest of the world, as obvious a fact as it had been a century ago, and as it will be a century hence.
Familiarity engenders affection, naturally, and though English-Americans constitute less than 10 percent of the American population, the United Kingdom is perceived favorably by 68 percent of Americans, according to YouGov research in 2020; in fact, only their fellow English-speaking nations rank higher. The same poll illustrates the extent to which America is enamored with Western Europe: Italy was seen positively by 68 percent; Switzerland by 67 percent; Sweden by 63 percent; the Netherlands by 62 percent; and nearly the entire remainder of Western Europe also polled above 50 percent. By contrast, the only country in the Americas which polled above 50 percent was Jamaica, itself among the Anglosphere, whilst the only country in Asia to surpass 50 percent was Japan. Of course, name recognition is of some importance: at 39 percent, Luxembourg expectedly polled the lowest within Western Europe.
Americans, having preserved over centuries their famous disinterest in the world, register the greatest familiarity with those nations of Western Europe whose cultures most closely resemble their own. A trifecta of cultural similitude, twentieth-century wartime engagements and nineteenth-century immigrant ancestries have swollen Americans’ stubborn affections toward those countries, furnishing the quaint postcard images to which the American popular consciousness refers instead of facts. Ireland is reduced to a pastoral island of drunken pubs and leprechaun-lairs; Germany is a fairy-tale valley of beer-halls, cobblestone and sugar-dusted Christmas trees; and Norway remains a charmingly glacial backwater of beggar children and reindeer stables. Those countries, of course, capitalize fully upon these candied images within the American imagination.
Americans might intuitively expect Western Europeans to return this love in equal measure. This is not so: Western European public opinion, from France and Germany to the Nordic world, blasts a harsher light upon Americans, manipulated by images as grossly caricatured as those they lambast inside Americans’ heads. The story of West-European resentment towards the United States deserves to be scorned in a separate discourse, but its persistence renders any favorable impressions of America conditional. In this century, Pew Research has shown American favorability to fluctuate from the first quartile to the third quartile. Approval of America has rarely breached 60 percent except in Italy, disclosing an entrenched enmity absent in many other parts of the world.
Asian nations preserve their affinity for this country and its people even when they hold American functionaries in poor esteem. Favorability toward America in fact transcends the third and fourth quartiles in countries such as India, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. The Philippines, whose score was equal to that of Luxembourg among Americans, itself viewed America favorably with 83 percent of its population, a result which, not unironically, was only surpassed among the Vietnamese. Western Europe contains no comparable collective sympathy.
Such numbers betray a tragic duality of unrequited love, whether in the unreciprocated warmth of Americans toward Western Europeans, or in the extent of Indo-Pacific goodwill toward America. In conjunction with the economic and geopolitical ascendancy of the Indo-Pacific in the 21st century, Americans will someday recognize these affections and leave Western Europe to contemplate the ancient mystery of an animosity that differs among, and perhaps bewilders, their counterparts throughout Asia. Time may yet nurture goodwill, as demonstrated by American favorability toward Japan, yet most Americans remain heedless of their position in the hearts of Filipinos or Vietnamese. Americans should understand that an increased fraternity with the East does not constitute a withdrawal from America’s Western heritage; one would hardly regard the English and French as one another’s closest cultural relatives based upon the patterns of war and mutual enmity between them. There is also the question of whether Western European countries themselves are guilty of a retreat from the truths of their civilizational past. Let Americans therefore strengthen their bonds with the willing, whoever they are and wherever they lie in a fraternal world.