The American Challenge
by J.J. Servan-Schreiber, translated by Ronald Steel
Atheneum, 320 pp., $6.95
When Le Défi Américain was published last year, it was immediately a bestseller all over Western Europe. One can see why. The subject it dealt with—America’s threatening technological hegemony—was important. The author was chief editor of an influential liberal weekly, L’Express. There was a ready-made audience in the shape of all those modern-minded youngish businessmen and managerial types who a decade earlier had briefly hearkened to the voice of Mendès-France. Moreover, M. Servan-Schreiber, while decidedly no Gaullist, could not be written off as a simple-minded anti-Gaullist either: he stood, and stands, for a greater degree of European independence from the United States. He also stands for that section of the Center-Left in France which backs M. Mitterand.
This is not to say that he is a political force in his own right. Arthur Schlesinger, who has contributed a brief and enthusiastic Preface to the American edition, seems a trifle short on reliable information about public opinion in France; otherwise he would not have suggested that “The American Challenge may do for European unity very much what Thomas Paine’s Common Sense did for American independence.” He is right in saying that the book has made an impact upon businessmen and civil servants hitherto unaware of the technological gap between the Old World and the new. It may also have helped the federalist gospel, according to which Western Europe can raise itself by its economic bootstraps only if it has the sense to federate politically. Unlike the General, M. Servan-Schreiber makes no fetish of the nation-state. This indeed is his chief quarrel with the Gaullists, as readers of his frequent editorials in L’Express must now be aware. On other topics—e.g., the election of the President by popular vote, and the consequent dethronement of Parliament—he has reluctantly come around to the Gaullist viewpoint. So, by the way, has M. Mitterand.
What then is The American Challenge principally about? Perhaps the easiest way to answer the question is to quote a somewhat lengthy passage which occurs at the close of the US edition (the French original also has some appendices—including a comment by Mr. Herman Kahn—which for some reason have not been translated):
The American expeditionary corps will leave Vietnam, where there is nothing more to gain and everything to lose. But American industry will not leave Europe, where it has made new conquests and increased its formidable power. Even if we were not faced with such a challenge by the Americans, we ought to find in ourselves the power and the desire to build a more intelligent and bountiful post-industrial society…. The American challenge really adds only an external pressure to what is an internal necessity….
The training, development, and exploitation of human intelligence—these are the real resources, and there are no others. The American challenge is not ruthless, like so many Europe has known in her history, but it may be more dramatic, for it embraces everything. Its weapons are …