The American Century in Europe Unravels

Friday, January 7, 2011: 3:10 PM
Room 102 (Hynes Convention Center)
Mary Nolan , New York University, New York, NY
The American Century in Europe might more aptly be termed the American Quarter Century, for the heyday of U.S. military, economic, political and cultural influence over Western Europe lasted only from 1945 until the late 1960s.  Between the late 1960s and the mid 1970s there were several challenges to American preeminence in Europe that eroded the post World War II consensus built around Keynesianism,  the welfare state, and endorsement of America’s international role.  American influence in Europe by no means disappeared but was substantially diminished and altered.

Protest movements of the late 1960s in France, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy and the United States challenged not only their domestic political and cultural orders but also American (as well as Soviet) foreign policy and hegemony in their respective blocs. In complex ways détente stabilized and destabilized the Russian-American relationship while increasing Western European autonomy and criticism of America. This laid the basis for Western European and American conflicts over Euro missiles, relations with Eastern Europe and Afghanistan as well as over the relationship of North-South issues to East-West ones. American efforts to revive anti-Communism as the central dynamic of politics barely resonated in Europe.

Economics played as great a role as politics in the unraveling of the American Century. The collapse of the Bretton Woods system, the oil shock of 1973, stagflation, and the crisis of Fordism in the mid-1970s affected Western Europe, the Soviet Union and East Central Europe, and America differently and generated varied responses.  The United States and Britain abandoned Keynesianism, slashed social programs, allowed heavy industry and mass production to go under or abroad, and embraced neoliberal globalization. Meanwhile, Western European states moved toward greater integration, modified their economic structures, defended social policies, and remained skeptical of neoliberalism.