American civilisation’s dominance over Europe – and what to do about it
‘Civilization’ — a hard term to define. But while every society has a distinctive culture, authentic civilizations must offer those they subjugate an attractive way of life. Their imprint outlasts their imperium.
A century ago, Debray argues, there was a European civilization of which America was an outlying culture; but today the relationship is reversed. ‘In 1900, an American of taste was a European in exile; in 2000, a trendy European is a frustrated American – or one waiting for a visa’. Characteristic of American civilization is its three overarching fetishes: space, image and happiness. America is a civilization of space and image, whereas Europe was one of time and writing. And its kitsch infantilism blinds itself to the tragic complexities of human life. A measure of America’s success is how its ‘globish’ jargon has so successfully infiltrated European languages.
For Debray, the dominance of American civilization is a historical fait accompli, yet he sees a model for Europe in Vienna after its exclusion from the German Reich. For decades to come, Europe can still offer a rich cultural seedbed. ‘Some will call it decadence, others liberation. Why not both?’
About the Author
Régis Debray is the author of many books, including Media Manifestos, Critique of Political Reason and God: An Itinerary.