America Through European Eyes

January 9, 2013 by  


On September 6, 2012 CSS hosted a conversation with Alan Levine (American University) who examined both historical and modern European views of America. What have Europeans gotten right—and wrong—and could modern Europeans learn from the classical liberal example of this still-young nation? Joshua Mitchell of Georgetown University responded as a discussant.

The idea of America has fascinated the European imagination ever since Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the centuries, European thinkers from Michel de Montaigne to Jean Baudrillard and Alexis de Tocqueville have cultivated different and often contradictory images of the continent and its inhabitants. Following the establishment of the United States, America stood for the great political experiment in liberty and natural law and served as an inspiration to many European nations. For some Europeans today, however, the U.S. has come to epitomize everything negative about modernity: rampant individual, materialism, and cultural poverty.


  • Alan Levine, Department of Government, American University
  • Joshua Mitchell (discussant), Department of Government, Georgetown University


Alan Levine, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political theory in the Department of Government and an affiliate associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at American University. He has held fellowships at Princeton’s James Madison Program; the Hoover Institution at Stanford; and the Institute of US Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. A specialist in the history of Western political thought, Professor Levine’s teaching and research interests include the theoretical principles of the United States, the concept of “America,” and ancient, renaissance, modern, and postmodern political theory. He has published on Montaigne, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Chinua Achebe, Judith Shklar, European views of America, and the origins of toleration. He has had fellowships from the NEH, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy to study counter terrorism in Israel, and to conduct archival research in France and the UK. He is the founder of The Washington, DC Political Theory Colloquium. He has received SPA’s Outstanding Teaching Award (2000 & 2001); SPA’s Outstanding Teaching in General Education Award (2000); and AU’s Award for Outstanding Teaching in the General Education Program (2008).

Joshua Mitchell, Ph.D., is professor of political theory in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. During the 2008-10 academic years, Professor Mitchell took leave from Georgetown and was the Acting Chancellor of The American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (see His research interest lies in the relationship between political thought and theology in the West. He has published articles in The Review of PoliticsThe Journal of PoliticsThe Journal of Religion,APSR, and Political Theory. In 1993 his book, Not by Reason Alone: Religion, History, and Identity in Early Modern Political Thought, was published by the University of Chicago Press. A second book, The Fragility of Freedom: Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy, and American Future, was published in 1995, also by the University of Chicago Press. His most recent book, Plato’s Fable: On the Mortal Condition in Shadowy Times, was published by Princeton University Press in 2006. He is currently working on two book manuscripts: Tocqueville in Arabia and Reinhold Niebuhr and the Politics of Hope.

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