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Cold War History


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The debate on ‘Americanization’ among


economic and cultural historians
a
Volker R. Berghahn
a
Colombia University, USA
Published online: 08 Mar 2010.

To cite this article: Volker R. Berghahn (2010) The debate on ‘Americanization’ among economic
and cultural historians, Cold War History, 10:1, 107-130

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14682740903388566

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Cold War History
Vol. 10, No. 1, February 2010, 107–130

Historiographical Review

The debate on ‘Americanization’


among economic and cultural
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historians
Volker R. Berghahn
Colombia University, USA

Beginning with an analysis of the debate on the usefulness of the concepts of


‘Americanization’ and ‘Westernization’, this essay reviews the recent research on
the European-American relationship during the Cold War that has dealt with the
cultural impact of the United States upon Europe. The second half is devoted to a
discussion of relevant work on this subject in the fields of economic and business
history. Overall, the article tries to bring out that those who have applied the
concept of ‘Americanization’ to their research on cultural and/or economic
history have been well aware of the complexities of trans-Atlantic relations in this
period, whether they were viewed as a two-way exchange or as a process of
circulation.

1. Wrestling with the meaning of ‘Americanization’


Among the Europeans who had travelled across the Atlantic in the early nineteenth
century, Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous book Democracy in America was among
the first to report in detail on the society, political system, and culture that he thought
had emerged in the United States since the late eighteenth century.1 But significantly
enough it was only later in the nineteenth century that his book became more widely
read by the educated elites of the Old Continent. This was the time when the New
World had transformed itself very rapidly from a society of settlers and agriculturalists
to an industrial and urban power that was now appearing on the world stage as a
commercial and military – political competitor of the Europeans and their global
empires. Accordingly, European perceptions began to change.

Correspondence to: Email: vrb7@columbia.edu

ISSN 1468-2745 print/ISSN 1743-7962 online


q 2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14682740903388566
http://www.informaworld.com
108 V. R. Berghahn
One manifestation of this was that by the turn of the century, if not before,
European entrepreneurs and intellectuals were travelling in larger numbers not only to
see the East Coast from Washington to Boston, but also the Midwest and especially the
booming centres of manufacturing in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. In 1900 they
also crowded into the American pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition to view the new
steel-cutting machinery on display there. Two years later, the British journalist William
Stead put the shifting perceptions of the United States into a catchy formula when he
entitled his book The Americanization of the World.2 His argument, subsequently taken
up by many other authors – mainly in Europe, but also in Asia – was that American
ideas on how to organize a modern society and economy would not only be discussed,
but also adopted, rejected, and transformed by other nations as they responded to the
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‘American Challenge’ (Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber).


Subsequently, journalistic and academic writing about ‘Americanization’ came in
three major waves. The first one was before 1914, the second during the inter-war
period when, despite political isolationism, the presence of the United States was very
tangible in Europe, the Far East, and Latin America in the spheres of finance and
industry as well as popular culture.3 The third wave came after 1945, when the societies
of Western Europe, but also those of the Second and Third Worlds, grappled with the
fact that the Americans, by virtue of their technological –military and industrial –
commercial prowess, had so clearly emerged from the Second World War as a
superpower that now found itself in an escalating conflict with the Soviet bloc. They
also had to deal with the no less important fact that this time, in contrast to 1918 –19,
this superpower had abandoned its erstwhile isolationism and was prepared to
commit itself to the post-war reconstruction of Western Europe and to waging a Cold
War against communism in the East as well as in the rest of the world.4
It is not possible in a review essay of this kind to discuss the illuminating and
valuable research that has been done over the past 30 years on the first two waves.
Rather the post-1945 problem of the ‘Americanization of the world’ is taken up here by
examining the most important research positions and debates on this topic with a
focus on the past two decades of scholarship, above all in the fields of culture and
economy. Of course, the Cold War consistently forms the backdrop to this scholarship.
However, this article is not concerned with the recent literature on the power –political
and military – strategic aspects of the American involvement in post-war Europe to
which historians of the Cold War have also made important contributions. In short,
this is not a conventional review article that discusses seriatim a half dozen or so books
in a chosen field. Rather the research is summarized and condensed in the text, while
the literature most recent literature relevant to cultural and economic ‘American-
ization’ is bundled together in the footnotes, including some important works in
languages other than English. All these studies also contain bibliographies with the
older literature that cannot be cited here.
That analysis is preceded by an attempt to clarify how ‘Americanization’ is
being defined today after many years of debate, connecting this article with one
that Holger Nehring published in this journal in 2004 to introduce the work of
Cold War History 109

Anselm Doering-Manteuffel and his group of students at Tübingen University. They


had developed and applied to a number of studies the concept of ‘Westernization’. As
Nehring put it, ‘Westernization’ was said by them to be going ‘deeper than
“Americanization”’. It is ‘not merely the adoption of certain lifestyles and production
techniques like Fordism and Taylorism which originated in the United States’. Rather it
‘accords overriding importance to the cold war of ideologies between the Western and
Eastern bloc which was essentially a battle over the heritage of the Enlightenment,
more specifically Liberalism and Marxism’. Above all, it refers to the ‘cooperation of
Americans and non-Americans in creating a transatlantic community of values by
means of cultural transfer’. In other words, by concentrating on ideology and agencies
of transmission the Tübingen team proposed to study how a Westernized ‘community
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of values’ emerged during this period and how particular national traditions
influenced the experience of the Cold War, even if ‘Westernization’ did not ‘seek to
replace “Americanization”’ but merely aimed ‘to offer an important addition to it’.5
In 1999 Doering-Manteuffel presented a paper with his arguments at a conference at
the German Historical Institute in Washington that is still conveniently accessible on
the GHI website. That same year he also published a more detailed version in a book
with the title Wie westlich sind die Deutschen? (‘How Western are the Germans?’).6 The
problem is that although the book postulates the creation of an Atlanticist community
of values, most of it is in fact about how the Germans first diverged from the West in
the late nineteenth century and how, after a major detour that ended in 1945, they
integrated themselves after the Second World War into a community of nations that
was already ‘Westernized’. One wonders therefore if ‘Westernization’ is in fact a ‘new
paradigm’ (Nehring) for analysing the European– American relationship after 1945
and if it is correct to see ‘Americanization’ as merely useful for understanding post-war
economic– technological and political developments, where the American impact is
very tangible indeed. Certainly, ‘Americanization’ research has also been concerned
with deeper levels of ideology, values, and cultural – intellectual interaction.
‘Westernization’ has considerable explanatory power in terms of the German
experience and with regard to what Leonard Krieger once called the German
‘divergence from the West’. There clearly were strong currents in German society that
represented and promoted a Sonderbewusstsein (consciousness of being different) and
that launched the country on a path that was different from that of Western Europe
and North America – a path that ended in the Nazi dictatorship, the murder of
millions of Jews and other minorities, and finally in total defeat. It was only after 1945
that the Western parts of the divided nation adopted not only a parliamentary –
democratic system and a competitive ‘social market economy’ but also those values
that had kept the ‘West’ together in its struggle against the Germany.7 Now all of
Western Europe, including defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan, came under the
influence of the United States as the new hegemonic power of the West. In the Japanese
case, the United States became even more deeply and directly involved in this process
than in Germany where Britain and France were occupying powers in their own right
and with their own agendas.8
110 V. R. Berghahn
If ‘Americanization’ is therefore not merely related to the study of more ‘superficial’
phenomena but also concerned with profound underlying forces and ideas, it can be
applied not only to Western Europe during the Cold War but also to other continents
to see how societies interacted with the United States – the country that, in
competition with its antagonist, the Soviet bloc, had in the second half of the twentieth
century so clearly become the hegemonic power of the West. For if we have been
studying the ‘Sovietization’ of the East and have done so comprehensively, the parallel
‘Americanization’ of the Western parts of the world similarly promised to yield fresh
insights into the post-war world.9
There is yet another preliminary question that Nehring raised in his article. During
the early phases of research into ‘Americanization’, its protagonists, he writes, saw the
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Atlantic as a one-way lane running from West to East throughout the twentieth
century – resulting in a good deal of criticism that in turn led to a modification of
earlier positions. For some time now, the one-way image has therefore no longer been
used for the first half of the twentieth century when the system of trans-Atlantic
exchange was indeed much more mutual, even if some critics do not seem to have
noticed this shift in research. Secondly, the US was never seen as a steamroller that
came into Western Europe after 1945 and flattened all economic, political, and cultural
structures and traditions that appeared in its path. Instead the interrelationship was
always examined together with the opposition that some indigenous socio-political
and economic forces and institutions put up against ‘Americanization’. In some cases,
this resistance was so strong that the pressure to ‘Americanize’ came to a complete
halt.10 In most cases, though, there occurred a blending between indigenous ideas,
values, and practices and those that came from across the Atlantic (or in the case of
Japan from across the Pacific). These blendings, or ‘creolizations’ as they have also
been called, rarely achieved a perfect equilibrium between its foreign and indigenous
elements, but came out with either a stronger or weaker American ‘colouration’.11
More recently, two further metaphors have been put forward: that of the Atlantic as
a two-lane highway along which people, ideas, and goods were exchanged in both
directions and that of a ‘turn-table’ upon which an extensive exchange took place in a
circular fashion.12 We shall come back to these positions at the end. At this point, the
first task is to discuss the findings that have appeared in recent years concerning the
American presence in other societies. This discussion will focus on the cultural and
economic spheres, in both of which the United States projected its ‘soft power’ (Joseph
Nye), while the application of American ‘hard power’ occurred in the military –
political field. This is why ‘hegemony’ is used here in its original Gramscian sense,
remembering that the Italian communist intellectual defined it in cultural terms and
contrasted it with the coercion and repression that was also at the disposal of
dominant classes.13 This means that hegemony is not understood here in a wider
sense, often to be found in International Relations literature, as comprising both hard
as well as soft power or as overlapping with the notion of the United States as an
imperial and/or imperialist power. That different relationships tend to exist in the
power-political sphere is evidenced by the fact that all military alliances in which
Cold War History 111

Washington is involved are led by American generals. There is, it is true, cooperation
and compromise within these alliances. But ultimately and certainly during the Cold
War period, they were hierarchically organized, with rulings from the top. Here the
United States wielded its post-war power by cajoling and pushing its partners.14

2. The projection of American ‘high’ culture during the Cold War


Against the background of these discussions about conceptualizations of ‘American-
ization’, what have been the research agendas and scholarly arguments in the first
sphere to be analysed here, that of culture? This field has seen an impressive expansion
that is no doubt related to the fact that socio-cultural approaches to historical writing
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have been booming during the past two decades or so. It is therefore not surprising
that after years of neglect in the early post-war period influences of ‘high’ and popular
culture have recently attracted much serious and detailed study. This has been
enhanced by the abandonment of older definitions of culture.15 Exceptions always
granted, in the early post-war years most academics, intellectuals and educated people
accepted as given that only ‘high’ culture was deserving of this term, with popular
culture deemed so inferior that it did not really qualify as ‘culture’. Today the culture of
a country is being defined comprehensively and includes not only ‘high’ and popular
culture but also the sciences, religious practice, and all levels of education. This is in
itself an important indicator of how far more democratic American notions of culture
have replaced elitist conceptions that were still prevalent in Europe after 1945.
However, recent historical research on the early post-war period has shown that the
kind of American culture that was projected abroad by the US government and also by
the big philanthropic foundations, such as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, was
primarily in the field of ‘high’ culture and was, moreover, coolly calculated as a Cold
War strategy and value investment.16 It did not include American popular culture and
especially not the feature films and popular music which soon after 1945 were also
flowing into other societies, satisfying an ever-growing demand especially among the
younger generation. In responding to this demand within the larger multilateral world
trading system that the post-war hegemonic power of the West had been working
persistently to establish, Hollywood and the American music industry did not have to
push their creations and products particularly hard. They were taken up
enthusiastically by non-American consumers, many of whom belonged to the
working or lower middle classes. By contrast, American ‘high’ culture, such as avant-
garde art, music, or literature that tended to be addressed to elite groups, encountered
more scepticism and open resistance and consequently gave rise to a more calculated
and organized American effort.
‘America Houses’ represent arguably the best examples of Washington’s official
attempts to make American books, visual images, newspapers, and high-brow
magazines available to interested audiences overseas.17 The same applies to the
offering of lectures, panel discussions, and workshops on a wide variety of topics.
However, by the early 1950s many of these official programmes ran into trouble in the
112 V. R. Berghahn
US Congress, which was responsible for the allocation of resources. With
McCarthyism at its height, library acquisitions and the selection of speakers became
suspected of being leftist or, worse, crypto-communist. McCarthyite journalists
scoured the shelves of America House libraries in search of ‘subversive’ literature.
Furthermore, in January 1953 the Republicans were returned to power with Dwight
D. Eisenhower as president. During the election campaign they had promised voters
tax cuts to be funded by reductions in public expenditures. In light of these
developments and the continuing confrontation with the Soviet bloc, which was after
all never merely a power-political one, the examination of Washington’s cultural
diplomacy became a focus of fresh scholarship once the shift toward socio-cultural
historical writing mentioned above had taken hold within the discipline.
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On the one hand, some scholars concentrated on this topic, as they discovered that
CIA chief Allen Dulles was unhappy with Congressional parsimony and willing to use
some of the Agency’s funds that were not subject to public scrutiny covertly to support
the ‘cultural Cold War’ in Europe and elsewhere. It was, as they learned, not just a
matter of combating communist cultural propaganda from the East, but also about the
anti-Americanism that was rampant among non-communist intellectuals, especially
in Western Europe and Latin America.18 There were also the serious reservations that
many laymen and the clergy harboured about the United States on religious grounds.
These Abendländler (‘Occidentalists’) viewed Western Europe not only as a bulwark
against ‘God-less’ communism, but also as one against ‘cold’ and soulless American
capitalist materialism. They did not see the United States as a cultural partner but at
most as an appendix to the value system of Western Europe which they claimed to have
recovered from the wreckage of the Second World War.19
On the other hand, a second avenue of research opening up in the 1990s related to
the funding strategies and to the perceptions of the world that the big American
foundations had begun to develop during the 1950s. Observing the withdrawal of
international support by Congress, these foundations came to see the projection of
American ‘high’ culture abroad as so important that they decided to fill the gap left by
the expenditure cuts of the Republicans. Accordingly, this ‘private sector’ devoted
considerable resources and efforts to supporting a wide range of international
educational and academic projects and institutions.20 The archives of the big
foundations, a hitherto rarely used treasure trove, were found to be full of most
interesting materials. Consequently, we now have a good number of studies on the
support given to universities and institutes, to conferences and exchange programmes.
They are complemented by work on foundation activities that promoted and
subsidised such organizations as the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an
influential outfit based in Paris with many branches in other countries and run by the
American Michael Josselson.21 It channelled funds to highly regarded intellectual and
scholarly journals in six continents and organized big international conferences as well
as workshops, which brought together the leading lights from the humanities, the
social and the natural sciences.
Cold War History 113

The foundations were encouraged in this effort by the State Department, which in
the late 1950s had again more money at its disposal to support the Fulbright
Commission and other agencies of international exchange.22 Western Europe was a
major focus, but after the upheavals in Hungary and Poland in 1956 the exchanges
were also extended to the Soviet bloc as part of the beginning of détente. When by the
early 1960s these programmes were deemed to be successful in helping to change the
images of American culture in Europe, the Kennedy Administration and the big
foundations began to turn their attention to the countries of the Third World. Here
the bulk of the resources went less into academic ventures than into efforts to improve
agriculture and to combat disease and poverty among the peoples of South Asia, Latin
America, and Africa – of course still in competition with the Soviet bloc.
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Given the resources that were allocated to all these projects, the scholars who were
opening up these fields also asked how successful these American efforts in fact were.
Did they improve the American image abroad? Did they provide practical help and
stimulate more continuous intellectual contact? Since these programmes were deeply
rooted in modernization theory, which had swept the American social sciences in the
1950s, were the partners in fact put on a path of socio-economic improvement and
political stability that were said to come if they took the United States as their societal
model?23 Relating this question to the fallout from the Vietnam War and the
significance of ‘1968’ as major shifts of perception in both the United States and in
Western Europe, many scholars came to a more pessimistic assessment of the question
of success. Others have pointed out that the changes in cultural behaviour and life-
styles, in gender relations, and in the position of minorities which had been part of the
shifts of the late 1960s and 1970s continued and ultimately did take hold. But it is
probably fair to say that they were not the result American cultural diplomacy and
even less of efforts to change images of American society and culture in Madison-
Avenue style media blitzes, as the Bush Administration undertook after the invasion of
Iraq. This was a lesson learned in the post-war period but forgotten again by
Washington later, i.e., that the project of changing perceptions of another society
toward one’s own country requires a persistent long-term engagement based on a deep
knowledge of the society that is to be exposed to the ideas and practices of another
culture.24

3. The proliferation of American popular culture


If the United States made a major effort after 1945 to project its own ‘high’ culture into
other societies so that research into this field and especially into the visual arts, music,
literature, dance, architecture and theatre, but also the sciences is by now very rich,25
what about academic work in the field of American popular culture? Here it was first
of all jazz that attracted a good deal of attention. It had first come to Europe in a major
way during the inter-war years. On the whole it was viewed with disdain by the older
generation but greeted with enthusiasm by young people as well as by intellectuals who
appreciated its complexity.26 This development continued on an even larger scale after
114 V. R. Berghahn
1945, especially in Western Europe, without a major official input from Washington or
the foundations. We now have a crop of excellent research on some of the major
figures of jazz and their bands that performed in Europe and other parts of the world.
This was also the experience with rock ’n’ roll, once stars such as Elvis Presley and Bill
Haley began to arrive for their concerts in the big cities of Western Europe. It appears
that this music appealed most to young people of lower-class background, while jazz
was taken up, both actively and through listening to it in clubs and other places, by
middle-class enthusiasts. No less significant, the reception of American popular music
did not stop with rock ’n’ roll, but continued in the 1960s and 1970s as new styles were
invented all the way to rapping and hip-hop.
However, studies on these cultural interactions between the United States and the
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youth cultures of other countries have also shown that what emerged was not a mere
copy of the imports from across the Atlantic. Blendings with indigenous styles have
been widely observed. Indeed, the field of music is a good example of the
‘creolizations’ of sounds, rhythms, and lyrics that could be heard in different national
cultures. This applied to a concert or club in Paris, London, or Hamburg as much as it
did in Tokyo or Sydney. It has even been found to apply to the Soviet bloc. The Iron
Curtain may have been impermeable during the years of brutal Stalinist repression at
the height of the Cold War, but from the mid-1950s onwards not only ‘high-cultural’
ideas began to filter into Eastern Europe but also popular music; and the subsequent
arrival of the transistor radio made all Soviet bloc bans on listening to Western radio
stations impossible to police. Following Uta Poiger’s pioneering study of jazz and rock
in East Germany, this topic has been pursued with regard to other communist
countries.27 Again, the music produced there was a mix, as for example in Yugoslavia
where American as well as Italian elements became incorporated into indigenous
styles. If we also think of the contribution that the ‘Beatles’ made to popular music, it
becomes clearer why it has become more and more difficult to weigh various elements
in popular music, just as is true of American jazz, which merged African survivals and
European influences with the peculiarities of ‘white’ American Country & Western.
Such discoveries may explain the recent emergence of ‘circulation’ as a heuristic tool,
in which French historians have been particularly interested – a concept to which we
shall come back at the end.28
American movies became another major influence that has inspired research and
debate on ‘Americanization’ from the inter-war period onwards. This has not merely
been a question of the reception of Hollywood by film critics and audiences, but also
by governments. The latter became concerned about Hollywood’s dominance in
foreign markets and its destructive effects on domestic movie industries.29 This
protectionist impulse re-emerged after 1945. In West Germany, France, Britain, and
elsewhere it was not just the issue of blockbusters like ‘Gone with the Wind’ and actors
such as James Dean and Marlon Brando competing against indigenous stars and
products such as the West German Heimatfilm.30 There was also the question of
whether American-style self-censorship by the industry would prevail over the
European tradition of film boards made up of public figures such as clergymen, family
Cold War History 115

politicians, and academics. The point is that researchers also asked how and how far
such boards erected barriers that limited American influences. And yet they also came
up against the question of how strong the barriers that cultural protectionists were
trying to erect actually were. They were certainly never impenetrable in view of the fact
that, for example, as early as the 1920s millions of Britons went to the cinema at least
once a week to see movies, 70– 80% of which were made across the Atlantic. After 1945
Hollywood’s penetration of most of Western Europe was at least as deep and became
even more so with the proliferation of television. If for several decades after 1945 semi-
public organizations like the British Broadcasting Association dominated television,
their position was increasingly undermined by legislation to grant American-style
licences to ever larger numbers of private channels. Accordingly, popular programmes
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have been analysed, finding both straight imports like the ‘Dynasty’ series but also
domestically produced blendings such as the German crime series ‘Derrick’. While
‘Star Wars’ was screened in cinemas and on some channels, intriguing home-grown
imitations were also produced.31 If the Talk Show is an American invention, its usually
popular reincarnations in Europe and elsewhere are never exact copies of the original.
Three questions remain with respect to work on the rise of film and television as
expressions of popular culture. To begin with, some scholars have rightly been
interested in indigenous traditions that had been developed before the arrival of
Hollywood. Going back to the pre-1914 period, photography, radio and the movie had
after all also been developed in Europe. This was most clearly a period of technological
circulation between two continents. However, after 1945 cultural ‘traffic’ along the
trans-Atlantic highway was decidedly more from West to East. While European movies
also reached the United States, few of them became box office successes and most are
being screened to this day in small cinemas in New York, San Francisco, or other big
cities. The second question that has preoccupied researchers is the impact of
Hollywood’s images and stories on foreign audiences and how some of the characters
were interpreted by indigenous eyes and minds. Here the reception of ‘Godzilla’ by the
Japanese presents a particularly telling case in point.32
The third issue with which scholars have been grappling concerns the relationship
between popular culture and mass consumption. However, this raises not only the
question of the relationship between film and the commercial clout of Hollywood,
both at home and abroad, but also of that between culture and a capitalist economy at
large. In order to understand the evolution of this field of research and its connections
with the debates on ‘Americanization’ we have to leave, at least for the moment, the
territory of cultural history and look at the work that economic and business
historians have recently produced in the European –American field.

4. The ‘Americanization’ debate in economic and business history


For a long time after the Second World War, a majority of economic historians did not
work with the concept of ‘Americanization’ at all. Mostly finding themselves in
economics rather than history departments, they veered towards the preoccupations
116 V. R. Berghahn
of their economist colleagues who were gathering national and international data and
evaluating quantitative materials provided by the statistical offices of governments and
various economic survey institutes in an effort to understand trends in national
economies and in the slowly reviving world trading system.33 This was undoubtedly an
important task, but it did not ask any questions of a less tangible and cultural kind.
Other economic historians focused their research on the international institutions that
had been created at the end of the Second World War. Inevitably perhaps, these latter
studies produced analyses that were primarily structuralist and tried to bring out the
interconnections between the different constitutional elements of such organizations
as the United Nations and its specialized agencies, of the Bretton Woods system, and
also the Marshall Plan.34
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Of course, both the quantifiers and the institutionalists knew that the United States
had taken a leading role in the building of the post-war economic order, but when the
statistics were put together to see how crucial all this was to understand the dynamics
of post-war European reconstruction, they put forward some hypotheses that caused
much controversy. A good example of this is the work of the German economic
historian Werner Abelshauser.35 He began to evaluate statistics that led him to assert
that the Marshall Plan had but a negligible impact on the revival of the economies of
the three Western zones of occupation in Germany. The dormant industrial capacities
of those three zones, he contended, were greater in 1945 –46 than they had been in
1936, thanks to the rapid expansion and modernization of German industry under the
Nazis. In other words, Allied bombing and the dismantling of machinery had been less
devastating than had been thought at the end of the war. The main problem was not
one of capacity but of transportation, especially in the hard winter of 1946 –47. But by
1947 the zonal economies were poised to generate a reconstruction boom by
themselves. American Marshall Plan aid, according to Abelshauser, therefore had no
more than a marginal effect on this revival. At about the same time, the British
economic historian Alan Milward put forward similar arguments with respect to the
significance of the American contribution to the integration of the West European
economies from 1949 onwards.36 He, too, stressed the internal dynamism.
While a number of critics of these views have contradicted Abelshauser and Milward
by presenting different sets of figures, others have pointed out that what is missing from
their work are the social– psychological factors and thus a consideration of the
qualitative dimensions of post-war reconstruction.37 It would be wrong to
underestimate, they argued, that the Marshall Plan and also the contribution of the
United States to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950/51
gave an enormous boost to the economies of Western Europe.38 It was because of these
policies that the United States did not repeat the post-1918 retreat into isolationism but
committed its hegemonic power to reconstruction. This was accelerated by the onset of
the Cold War and helped Western Europe overcome the gloom of the early post-war
years. At the same time, Washington’s visible commitment encouraged American
entrepreneurs to look for investment opportunities in European firms in support of the
technological modernization that the war-torn economies so desperately needed.39
Cold War History 117

Through the 1970s, most economic historians continued to work on the data
relating to the quantitative development of Western Europe as well as on the evolution
of its institutions. The temporary resurgence of Marxist political economy and the
study of power relations led some economic historians towards studying the role of the
United States in trans-Atlantic relations. Although they did not use the concept of
‘Americanization’, the revisionist Wisconsin School of foreign relations did take up the
problem of the Americans in Europe, identifying Washington and American
capitalism as the driving force behind the East –West conflict. While William
A. Williams and his students interpreted American international behaviour within a
larger framework of imperialism,40 by the 1980s a number of economic and business
historians appeared on the scene for whom statistics were merely a foundation from
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which much more interesting qualitative, though non-Marxist, questions could be


generated. Explicitly or implicitly, they distanced themselves from the imperialism
paradigm and worked with the notion of cultural hegemony. It was from this vantage-
point that they now examined the evolution of the American industrial system and its
perception by European intellectuals and businessmen.
Starting with the Sherman Act of 1890 and its fostering of a liberal capitalism that
criminalized the formation of cartels and monopolies and favoured market
competition, researchers reopened a debate on cartels and syndicates that had raged
in the 1920s among European lawyers and economists. Here was an American legal
system that did not primarily protect, as was the case in Europe, the producers to the
detriment of consumers by permitting restrictive practices such as price-fixing, sales
syndicates, and production quotas. Rather it was a capitalism that sided with the
consumer, who would benefit from vigorous market and price competition. These
developments in the New World attracted the attention of the West European business
community where some prominent industrialists, such as Fritz Thyssen, wanted to
move away from restrictive cartel practices towards American-style trustification and
oligopolistic competition long before 1945.41
Research on the European –American dialogue that developed before 1914 was
complemented by the renewed study of the rise of Taylorism and Fordism in the
United States.42 In this case, however, it was quite clear who was trying to learn from
whom. European entrepreneurs now travelled across the Atlantic to gain a better
understanding of Frederick Taylor’s ideas about modern factory and work
organization. They also discovered Henry Ford’s preachings of the advantages of the
assembly-line and rationalized mass production. This scholarship became extended
into the inter-war period and into Fordism. It was not merely about further
rationalization but included Henry Ford’s idea of passing some of the productivity
gains of mass production on to the consumer by lowering prices. These reductions in
the price of his car models put the automobile within the financial reach of ordinary
Americans and unleashed the first wave of mass motorization in the United States.
While there was some experimentation with this kind of Fordism in Europe during the
mid-1920s and also during the 1930s in Nazi Germany (e.g. Ferdinand Porsche’s
Volkswagen), it was really only after 1945 that Ford’s ideas began to be spread in
118 V. R. Berghahn
Western Europe, making them the object of detailed study by governments and
entrepreneurs and also by a new generation of economic and business historians.43
At one level this triggered discussions about the importation of more modern
American technologies. However, since the development of new technologies also
related to practices of human resource management and work organization, both at the
level of the shop floor and in the white-collar administration, new lines of scholarly
inquiry were opened up that were much less interested in post-1945 statistical data than
in mentalities and attitudes, in established traditions and new ideas imported from
abroad. By the 1980s and early 1990s, a number of economic and business historians
were making a ‘culturalist turn’.44 It was not that they were no longer interested in
quantification, but they wanted to move beyond the existing statistical methods of their
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discipline in a quest to gain an understanding of company cultures and hence of the


non-quantifiable complexities of the modern enterprise. While this research yielded
many fresh insights into the dynamics of a chosen firm, there was also the question of the
overall national business culture and its often very durable traditions. And once one
began to focus on this, it became very difficult to ignore the question of how the
industrial hegemon of the post-war West, the United States, came into the picture as the
industries of Western Europe and Japan were trying to rebuild themselves – the more so
since reconstruction often required a recasting of existing structures and practices to fit
them into the framework of a multilateral liberal– capitalist world trading system that
America’s political and economic elites were also pushing for.45
These influences came precisely in the shape of Fordism, which linked mass
production to the stimulation of mass consumption.46 Accordingly, American
methods of marketing and distribution also became a focus of attention. Department
stores and modern advertising had first emerged on both sides of the Atlantic before
1914.47 But as mass consumption revived in the US after 1945, the commercialization
of daily life unfolded not only with respect to film and music but also to spectator
sports and theme parks.48 Sport poses particularly intriguing questions for research, if
we ask why American football or baseball caught on in some countries but not in
others, while soccer hardly did in the US.
It is important to emphasize that few of the publications that appeared in the wake
of the ‘culturalist turn’ were starry-eyed about the effects of the American economic
presence in post-war Europe or Japan. Time and again, scholars also investigated the
limits of Americanization.49 Just as in the field of ‘high’ and popular culture, there has
been debate between those who concluded that the American input into other
industrial economies was insignificant in comparison with received and persistent
indigenous ways of management, on the one hand, and those, on the other, who
pointed to the deep traces that they insisted American business was leaving in Western
Europe and Japan. The debate continued after the collapse of the Soviet bloc with
regard to Eastern Europe and most recently to China.50 At times it looked as if the
disagreement was really about whether the glass was half-full or half-empty. Moreover,
the area of economic activity that was chosen tended to make a difference. Thus the
American impact in the field of labour relations was weak, as American ideas had to
Cold War History 119

contend not only with the mindsets and practices of conservative managers,
especially in heavy industry, but also with trade unionists who cleaved to their own
traditions of dealing with ‘the other side of industry’ and had more radical-reformist
notions of post-war relations between ‘capital’ and ‘labour’ than existed in the
United States.51

5. The concept of ‘Americanization’ at the beginning of the twenty-first century


If, starting from Stead’s book on The Americanization of the World, we look back over
100 years of research and argument about the concept of Americanization and grapple
with its usefulness, it seems best to return to the metaphors that we introduced at the
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beginning. Were the United States connected to other continents and their societies by
a two-lane highway across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, or it is more helpful for
an understanding of the processes of exchange to see the Atlantic and Pacific as turn-
tables on which ideas, people, and goods circulated? It seems that the highway image is
more plausible if we apply it primarily to developments in the first half of the
twentieth century because it allows us to calibrate exchanges more precisely and also to
differentiate between cultural and economic exchange. As far as culture is concerned,
the flows across the Atlantic were in both directions, but in the field of ‘high’ culture
they were moving more strongly from East to West up to the 1930s. In this respect
Jessica Gienow-Hecht provides not only an excellent case study of the influence of
European classical music in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries but also a particularly thoughtful broader consideration of the European –
American cultural relationship and the influence of cultural factors in international
relations.52 It was not that American works of art, literature, music, or architecture
were ignored in Europe before 1914 and during the inter-war period. Indeed
architecture is a particularly good example to study the complexities of the two-way
exchange. Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas generated a great deal of interest when he went to
Europe before 1914. The connections intensified during the 1920s with the rise of the
Bauhaus in Germany. Some of its leading figures moved to the United States as
refugees from fascism in the 1930s to set up, inter alia, the Chicago Bauhaus.
It returned in the 1950s when not only European but also Japanese architecture came
under the spell of the ‘international style’.53 The same may be said with respect to
modern dance.54
Overall, the balance of exports and imports was at first more from East to West. Just
as in the nineteenth century, Americans, insofar as they were interested in ‘high’
culture, continued to look towards Europe during the inter-war years. European
influences were reinforced in the 1930s when refugees from fascism arrived on the
shores of the United States, enormously enriching cultural life (now broadly
understood) not only in the arts, but also in the social and natural sciences.55 This
imbalance of flows of people and ideas from East to West was reversed after the Second
World War. Irritated by the continuing European perception that the Americans did
not have much of a ‘high’ culture, a conscious effort was made to undermine these
120 V. R. Berghahn
views with the help of a high-cultural offensive that was quite heavily funded by the
‘private sector’, i.e., the big foundations.
As for popular culture, the flow was more unidirectional from West to East as early
as the 1920s when jazz, Hollywood movies, but also the Tiller Girls and the Charleston
came to Europe and other parts of the world. American popular culture reached a
hegemonic position after 1945, deeply influencing not only the musical and filmic
tastes of a younger generation but also life-styles and value systems. By the 1970s, the
changes were tangible enough if one looks at how, for example, gender relations, dress
codes, sexuality and sociability had become transformed and democratized.
The dividing lines between ‘high’ and popular culture were disappearing.
Most intellectuals were no longer disdainful of popular culture. As Kaspar Maase
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has put it: ‘Among the upper echelons of business, politics, science, and technology,
among the academically trained professions, the right to enjoy the bliss of ordinary
culture is claimed extensively. Popular art and entertainment have become the culture
of all’.56 This process has continued since 1989 and has become a global phenomenon.
As a result it has become more difficult today to discern the evolution of culture in
terms of flows across highways. Cultural innovation seems to be taking place
simultaneously in many parts of the world, so that it is not easy to identify where
certain elements of modern culture were first born. This is why the notion of a turn-
table may be more applicable now than it was in earlier decades.57
When we consider the economic relationship and the influence of the industrial
culture of the United States upon Europe and other parts of the world, the exchanges
became more unidirectional from the beginning of the twentieth century. This was not
so much a matter of the flows of trade but of other business communities’ interest in
what was perceived to be the modernity of America, of which Taylorism and Fordism
were the most striking manifestations. While some American entrepreneurs travelled
to Europe to see what could be learned, for example, from the pre-1914 German
system of apprenticeship training, European industrialists clearly appeared in larger
numbers for visits along the American East Coast and to the centres of mass
production in the Midwest.58 It was a movement from West to East that expanded in
the 1920s and reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s when the hegemonic power of
the West was the constant reference point.
This did not mean that American practices were adopted hook, line, and sinker.
There was scepticism about the applicability of many methods, even downright
resistance to their introduction. But there was also a positive attitude, even
enthusiasm. As a result, what occurred in most cases were ‘creolizations’. When the
question was asked if and when American economic hegemony ended, it looked for a
while as if the 1980s were the turning point. This was the period when economic and
business historians began to examine the ‘Japanese Model’ and somewhat later also the
‘German Model’ of how to organize and run a modern industrial system.59 By the
1990s more and more economists began to talk about globalization as the key process
that had now set in. But on close inspection this globalization was in effect the further
‘Americanization of the world’. After all, it was from the North American continent
Cold War History 121

and especially its West Coast that the relentless innovations emanated that we have
seen in the fields of information technology and biotechnology. And most of the new
financial instruments and vehicles were also invented during that same period along
the East Coast and in New York in particular.60
It looks as if this continued hegemony is now coming to an end. Other countries,
especially in Europe, have involved themselves more deeply in science research and
innovation. But nothing has undermined the American position in the world as much
as the attempt to use Washington’s ‘hard power’ not only to reorganize the Middle
East but also to assert it unilaterally in other regions of the globe. This attempt now
appears to have failed. If the Cold War was won in 1989, it was lost again through the
inability to project American military power lastingly into one region, never mind all
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the others. The ‘Americanization of the world’ thus seems to have finally reached its
limits. The erstwhile hegemon can no longer assert itself single-handedly. It is
dependent on other powers as partners and on economic exchange.
The world is moving into a multi-polar state. In this sense, the turn-table metaphor
may also be said to have replaced that of the highway image in the economic sphere.61
The United States has been greatly weakened; and just as in the field of culture, it has
become more difficult to discern where the new developments in economic and
technological innovation originate that are now so instantly circulating the globe. This
means that the concept of ‘Americanization’ may no longer be as useful as it has been
when trying to understand American– European relations during the Cold War and in
the decade after 1990.

Notes
[1] Tocqueville, Democracy.
[2] Stead, Americanization of the World. This article is not concerned with the domestic
Americanization movement of the early twentieth century and the question of the
integration of immigrant populations into the United States.
[3] Westad, Global Cold War.
[4] Costigliola, Awkward Dominion.
[5] Nehring, ‘“Westernization”’.
[6] Visit http://www.ghi-dc.org/conpotweb/westernpapers/ for all conference papers. See also
Doering-Manteuffel, Wie westlich sind die Deutschen?
[7] Krieger, German Idea of Freedom. For recent expressions of this position see, e.g. Schildt,
Ankunft im Westen.
[8] Dower, Embracing Defeat; Ward and Yoshikazu, eds., Democratizing Japan; Schaller, The
American Occupation of Japan; Nishida, Wiederaufbau.
[9] Jarausch and Siegrist, eds., Amerikanisierung und Sowjetisierung; Markovits, Uncouth Nation;
Stephan, ed., Americanization and Anti-Americanism; Revel, Anti-Americanism; Hollander,
ed., Understanding Anti-Americanism; Roger, The American Enemy; Behrends, von Klimo,
and Poutrus, eds., Antiamerikanismus im 20. Jahrhundert (with articles on Eastern Europe
developments); Pells, Not Like Us; Barjot and Réveillard, eds., L’américanisation; Judt and
Lacorne, eds., With Us or Against Us; McPherson, ed., Anti-Americanism in Latin America
and the Caribbean.
[10] Bührer, ‘Auf eigenem Weg’.
122 V. R. Berghahn
[11] Buisscot and Reinhardt, eds., Creolization in the Americas; Matsuda, Age of Creolization in the
Pacific.
[12] Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings; Greene, Atlantic History; Rausch, ed., Transatlantischer
Kulturtransfer. For the circulation concept see Tournès, ‘La philanthropie américaine et
l’Europe’.
[13] Short summary of the concept in Joll, Gramsci, 88–104. Mention should be made here of the
concept, used by some scholars, of the ‘self-Americanization’ of the Europeans, but it seems to
me that it comes close to what Gramsci meant when he talked of the cultural hegemony of the
bourgeoisie and its power over the working class. The theme of culture in international relations
is also taken up by Gienow-Hecht and Schumacher, eds., Culture and International History.
[14] De Grazia, Irresistible Empire; Lundestad, ‘Empire’ by Integration; Schmidt, ‘Civil Empire by
Co-Optation’; Scott-Smith, Networks of Empire. This may also explain why the concept of
‘encounter’ (Begegnung), for a while also popular in a non-Western context, came under
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criticism because it underestimated the frequently very violent nature of the


European/Western expansion into other societies. For an application of Begegnung in a
European – American cultural context see Plé, Wissenschaft und säkulare Mission; Joseph
et al., eds, Close Encounters.
[15] Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture; Kroes, ed., High Brow Meets Low Brow.
[16] Berghahn, America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe.
[17] Schildt, ‘Die USA als “Kulturnation”’.
[18] Saunders, Cultural Cold War; Wilford, Mighty Wurlitzer. See also the studies cited in note 9;
Armstrong, ‘Cultural Cold War in Korea’; Hixson, Parting the Curtain; Corbin, L’image de
l’Europe; Richmond, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War; Richmond, Practicing Public
Diplomacy; Cull, Cold War and the United States Information Agency; Galle, RIAS Berlin;
Caute, Dancer Defects; Belmonte, Selling America; Mastrogregori, ed., Studi sul ‘Congress for
Cultural Freedom’; Scott-Smith, The Politics of Apolitical Culture.
[19] Schildt, Zwischen Abendland und Amerika; Gijswijt, European Integration and Atlantic
Cooperation.
[20] Lagemann, ed., Philanthropic Foundations.
[21] Scott-Smith and Krabbendam, eds., Cultural Cold War in Western Europe.
[22] Lucas, Freedom’s War.
[23] Gilman, Mandarins of the Future; Fleck, Transatlantische Bereicherungen.
[24] Wise, Arts and Minds.
[25] On visual arts: Lenz, ‘Refractions of Modernity’; Ruby, ‘Fascination, Ignorance and Rejection’;
Curiel et al., eds., Arte, Historia e Idenditad en America; Sandler, The Confusion Era. On
literature: Brockmann, German Literary Culture; on classical music: Monod, Settling Scores;
on science: Krige, American Hegemony; on architecture and design: see note 53 below; on
modern dance: see note 54 below.
[26] Von Eschen, Satchmo; Gabbard, Hotter Than That.
[27] Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels; Fenemore, Sex, Thugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll; Minganti, ‘Jukebox Boys’;
Tournès, New Orleans sur Seine; Condry, ‘Social Production of Difference’.
[28] Schildt and Siegfried, eds., Between Marx and Coca-Cola.
[29] Street, British National Cinema; Kniesche and Brockmann, eds., Dancing on the Volcano.
[30] Fehrenbach, Cinema in Democratizing Germany; Goldstein, Capturing the German Eye; Kuisel,
‘French Cinema and Hollywood’; Petterson, ‘No More Song and Dance’; Schwartz, It’s So
French!; Ellwood and Kroes, eds., Hollywood in Europe; Gundle, Between Hollywood and
Moscow; Hirano, Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo.
[31] Kniesche, ‘Germans to the Final Frontier’.
[32] Tatsumi, ‘Waiting for Godzilla’; Ivy, Discourses of the Vanishing.
[33] Pierenkemper, Unternehmensgeschichte.
Cold War History 123

[34] Ellwood, Rebuilding Europe.


[35] Abelshauser, Wirtschaft in Westdeutschland.
[36] Milward, Reconstruction of Western Europe.
[37] Schröder, ed., Marshallplan und westdeutscher Wiederaufstieg; McKenzie, Remaking France.
[38] Gillingham, Coal, Steel, and the Rebirth of Europe; Wiesen, West German Industry; Kipping,
Zwischen Kartellen und Konkurrenz; Eichengreen, European Economy.
[39] Neebe, Weichenstellung für die Globalisierung.
[40] Williams, Tragedy of American Diplomacy.
[41] Berghahn, Americanization of West German Industry.
[42] Brose, Technology and Science; Kanigel, The One Best Way; Bonin et al., eds., Ford, 1903 – 2003.
[43] Nolan, Visions of Modernity; Fridenson, Histoire des usines Renault; Billstein et al., Working for
the Enemy; Turner, General Motors and the Nazis; Gassert, Amerika im Dritten Reich.
[44] Kleinschmidt, ‘Kulturalistische Wende in der Unternehmensgeschichtsschreibung’.
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[45] Kipping and Bjarnar, eds., Americanisation of European Business; Gourvish and Tiratsoo, eds.,
Missionaries and Managers; McKenna, World’s Newest Profession; Djelic, Exporting the
American Model; Kipping and Engwall, eds., Management Consulting. Kudo, Kipping and
Schröter, eds., German and Japanese Business; Saito, ‘Americanization and Postwar Japanese
Management’. However, there was some technology transfer from East to West, i.e., from
occupied Germany to Western Europe and the US. See Judt and Ciesla, eds., Technology
Transfer out of Germany.
[46] Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic; Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed; Strasser et al., eds., Getting and
Spending; Rioux and Sirinelli, eds., La culture de masse; Berghoff, ed., Konsumpolitik; Walter,
ed., Geschichte des Konsums; Wildt, ‘Plurality of Taste’; Carter, How German Is She?; Siegrist
et al., eds., Europäische Konsumgeschichte; Crew, ed., Consuming Germany.
[47] Oldenziel and Zachmann, eds., Cold War Kitchen; Castillo, ‘Domesticating the Cold War’;
Schindelbeck, Marken, Moden und Kampagnen; Tiersten, Marianne in the Market; Veszelits,
Neckermanns; Kleinschmidt and Triebel, eds., Marketing; Wiesen, ‘Miracles for Sale’; Swett
et al., eds., Selling Modernity.
[48] Markovits, Offside; Sorkin, ed., Variations on a Theme Park; Kroes, If You’ve Seen One.
[49] Zeitlin and Herrigel, eds., Americanization and Its Limits; Abelshauser, Dynamics of German
Industry; Fehrenbach and Poiger, ‘Americanization Reconsidered’; Fehrenbach, ‘Persistent
Myths of Americanization’.
[50] Eyal and Bockman, ‘Eastern Europe as a Laboratory for Economic Knowledge’.
[51] Koch-Wegener, Apostle of the Free Market Economy, 221 ff.
[52] Gienow-Hecht, Sound Diplomacy.
[53] Zukowsky, ed., Chicago Architecture and Design; Grewe, ed., From Manhattan to Mainhattan;
Bognar, ‘Surface Above All?’
[54] Garafola, Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance.
[55] Krohn, Intellectuals in Exile.
[56] Maase, Grenzenloses Vergnügen, 274 f.
[57] Welters and Cunningham, Twentieth-Century American Fashion; Weinbaum et al., eds., Modern
Girl; Hill, As Seen in Vogue; True, ‘Expanding Markets and Marketing Gender’; Brubach,
‘A Luxury For All’.
[58] Berghahn, ‘Deutsche Industrie und amerikanische Geschäftswelt’.
[59] Sabel and Zeitlin, eds., World of Possibilities; Kleinschmidt, Der produktive Blick; Bergner,
The New Superpowers.
[60] Tett, Fool’s Gold.
[61] In a different way, Jessica Gienow-Hecht tried to move away from the United States as the
centre of gravity in her Decentering America. Mention should finally also be made of the
concept of a histoire croisée that Michael Werner and Bénédicte Zimmermann at EHESS in
124 V. R. Berghahn
Paris have put forward. Interested in processes of constant interaction and interrelation, they
stress the fluidity of national categories and advocate a transnational history that is multi-
perspectival – one that looks for the ‘crossings’ of dynamic and often contradictory
developments beyond a bilateralism.

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