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 an homunculus 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 Eighteenth 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 Professor Ceaser calls the “degeneracy thesis” of America became as important to many European intellectuals in the Eighteenth Century as balmy Marxism became for their successors in the Twentieth 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. Nonetheless anti-Americanism merely picked up steam, claiming at first that the Founding Fathers’ notion of universal rights would lead to weak government, that American entrepreneurship would lead to bacchanal, and that commerce made people stupid. Today a review of the constituent elements of the anti-American rant reveals it as nothing more than a sour mixture of jealousy, stupidity, and fear of tomorrow. Here in Spain I have encountered little of it.
Yet, as I say, I have been with normal everyday Spaniards. They are a dignified people. Their language is elegant. They are honest and have a famous code of honor. Frankly, I, as an admirer of Italy, do not know why I did not come upon Spain sooner. The Costa del Sol, Spain’s southwest Mediterranean coast, certainly puts me in mind of Italy’s sunny coasts, and if the food is not quite up to Italian standards it is good enough. Yes, the Spaniard is more restrained than the Italian, but given the Italian’s incomparable exuberance what else could one expect? The Spanish character is sufficiently lively for me. The artifacts seen throughout Spain testify to its grandeur and momentous history.
As I said in the vestibule of this column, I have been pursuing the perfect bullfight. Actually that was a flight of rhetoric, for I would not recognize a perfect bullfight any more than I would recognize a perfect matzo ball, and I have read Papa Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon twice. It is a study of Spanish bullfighting, but sitting here in the bullrings of Spain I am still not really sure what makes the crowds applaud. The applause is not rowdy or bloodthirsty. In fact, compared to the crowds at a New York City baseball game, the Spanish bullfight aficionados are downright demure.
Many Americans are in attendance at these bullfights, a surprisingly large number of them young women. At least three of the types of participants in the fight are very gifted athletes, the banderilleros, the cuadrillas, and of course the matadors. The fat picadores sitting on their embattled horses and poking lances into the bull are to my mind repulsive, and Hemingway felt that of all the participants the ones most deserving of pity were the horses. The bulls are very handsome, have enormous strength, and accelerate like huge Mercedes sedans across the ring. I would not want to be in one’s path. Most end up on someone’s dinner table, often, I am told, at a shelter for the homeless.
Possibly this is just public relations fluff, provided by aficionados of the bullring but I have fallen for it. Now I too am an aficionado and I am returning to America to begin the Humanitarian Association for the Advancement of Bullfighting in Beverly Hills, California. It is time the Hollywood stars do something more for the homeless than merely harass Republican presidents.