MALAGA, Spain -- I have been tooling around the south of Spain in search of anti-Americanism and the perfect bullfight. The anti-Americanism does not seem to be much in evidence. There was a homuncule waiter in Seville who became unpleasantly abrupt when my tip did not live up to his expectations -- expectations that perhaps become a bit elevated when a yank swaggers in. Yet, that is about it.
Of course, I have been in the company of ordinary Spaniards, not university professors or parlor intellectuals, and those are the types that incubate such brilliant ideas as anti-Americanism.
In a very interesting article in this summer's issue of The Public Interest, James W. Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, reminds us that anti-Americanism began in the 18th century from the musings of such eggheads as the aptly named Count de Buffon, the leading biologist of his day and, I presume, a Frenchman.
According to Buffon and his associates, America was a dank continent where all life degenerated owing to the climate, particularly its humidity. Well, anyone living as I do in Washington would have to agree with the simple-minded count that the humidity in Washington is killing. Yet even in the count's day, intelligent life simply vacated Washington for more clement regions during the humid season. The only degenerate forms of life that remained were probably French spies and European freeloaders.
Nonetheless, what Ceaser calls the "degeneracy thesis" of America became as important to many European intellectuals in the 18th century as balmy Marxism became for their successors in the 20th century. European intellectuals (and, for that matter, many of their American equivalents) are easily enraptured by academic daydreams about reality. The superior intellectuals (European and American alike) seek to explain reality by empirical investigations, and three of America's best known empiricists -- A. Hamilton, T. Jefferson and B. Franklin -- slaughtered the "degeneracy thesis" with cool reason.
According to the Buffon theory, as Hamilton explained it in The Federalist Papers, "all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America ... even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere."
Well, it was no problem for the three Americans to summon up whole neighborhoods filled with barking dogs, and in Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia," the master of Monticello pointed out other thriving American phenomena that put the laugh to Buffon the buffoon. Franklin went beyond barking dogs and America's obviously vigorous commerce to demonstrate his own stupendous vigor in the very salons of Paris and London.