May 30, 2003

The Paradoxes of American Nationalism: As befits a nation of immigrants, American nationalism is defined not by notions of ethnic superiority, but by a belief in the supremacy of U.S. democratic ideals. This disdain for Old World nationalism creates a dual paradox in the American psyche: First, although the United States is highly nationalistic, it doesn’t see itself as such. Second, despite this nationalistic fervor, U.S. policymakers generally fail to appreciate the power of nationalism abroad. (Minxin Pei, Foreign Policy)

Nationalism is a dirty word in the United States, viewed with disdain and associated with Old World parochialism and imagined supremacy. Yet those who discount the idea of American nationalism may readily admit that Americans, as a whole, are extremely patriotic. When pushed to explain the difference between patriotism and nationalism, those same skeptics might concede, reluctantly, that there is a distinction, but no real difference. Political scientists have labored to prove such a difference, equating patriotism with allegiance to one’s country and defining nationalism as sentiments of ethno-national superiority. In reality, however, the psychological and behavioral manifestations of nationalism and patriotism are indistinguishable, as is the impact of such sentiments on policy. […]

American nationalism is hidden in plain sight. But even if Americans saw it, they wouldn’t recognize it as nationalism. That’s because American nationalism is a different breed from its foreign cousins and exhibits three unique characteristics.

First, American nationalism is based on political ideals, not those of cultural or ethnic superiority. That conception is entirely fitting for a society that still sees itself as a cultural and ethnic melting pot. As President George W. Bush said in his Fourth of July speech last year: "There is no American race; there’s only an American creed." And in American eyes, the superiority of that creed is self-evident. American political institutions and ideals, coupled with the practical achievements attributed to them, have firmly convinced Americans that their values ought to be universal. Conversely, when Americans are threatened, they see attacks on them as primarily attacks on their values. Consider how American elites and the public interpreted the September 11 terrorist attacks. Most readily embraced the notion that the attacks embodied an assault on U.S. democratic freedoms and institutions.

Second, American nationalism is triumphant rather than aggrieved. In most societies, nationalism is fueled by past grievances caused by external powers. Countries once subjected to colonial rule, such as India and Egypt, are among the most nationalistic societies. But American nationalism is the polar opposite of such aggrieved nationalism. American nationalism derives its meaning from victories in peace and war since the country?s founding. Triumphant nationalists celebrate the positive and have little empathy for the whining of aggrieved nationalists whose formative experience consisted of a succession of national humiliations and defeats.

Finally, American nationalism is forward looking, while nationalism in most other countries is the reverse. Those who believe in the superiority of American values and institutions do not dwell on their historical glories (though such glories constitute the core of American national identity). Instead, they look forward to even better times ahead, not just at home but also abroad. This dynamism imbues American nationalism with a missionary spirit and a short collective memory. Unavoidably, such forward-looking and universalistic perspectives clash with the backward-looking and particularistic perspectives of ethno-nationalism in other countries.

This is a fairly odd essay. It ignores what has always been understood as the difference between Nationalism and American patriotism–that the former is ethnicity-based while the latter is ideology-based–so that the author can then read the differences between the two into a sweeping definition of Nationalism and then castigate Americans for not recognizing that they fit this newly coined definition. Most bizarre of all, she does this even as she notes the signifigance of each difference.

One might just as well redefine vegetables as meat and then chide those who call themselves vegetarians for deluding themselves.



May 28, 2003

After Iraq, The Left Has A New Agenda: Contain America (Jonathan Rauch, May 23, 2003, National Journal)

Unless you live at the bottom of a well, you’ve probably noticed that 9/11 and Iraq have had a transforming effect on the American Right. The short formulation is that so-called neoconservatism has triumphed. In 1999, Republicans bitterly opposed U.S. action against a rogue state in Central Europe; in 2000, their presidential nominee ran on an inward-looking, reactive, "humble" foreign policy. All of that is history now. It is hard to find a conservative who does not believe, as the neocons do, in robust and pre-emptive American action against tyrants and terrorists.

That change is, I believe, a watershed, akin to Democrats’ side-switch on civil rights in the 1960s and Republicans’ switch on budget-balance in the 1980s. In the rush to notice neocons, however, another transformation has been overlooked. A new kind of leftist agenda has emerged from 9/11 and Iraq, one that both mirrors and inverts neoconservatism, and one whose implications seem just as profound.

To understand "neoleftism" (as I might as well call it), consider an ostensibly odd fact: Many neoleftists saw not failure for their side in the fight against the Iraq war, but success.

Success? Even though the Left’s street demonstrations around the world failed to stop the war? Even though the quick victory and Iraqi celebrations seemed to vindicate neocons’ predictions? Well, yes. Here is how The Nation, which is to the neoleftists something like what Commentary once was to the neocons, put it in an April 7 editorial:

"If we are present at the creation of a new American empire, we are also present at the creation of another superpower — the largest, most broadly based peace and justice movement in history, a movement that has engaged millions of people here and around the globe."

President Bush’s arrogance and aggression, in this view, have catalyzed the truly international sort of activist network that the Left has long dreamed of. At last the globalized economy faces a globalized Left, one that can come together at the speed of e-mail to oppose corporate power — and American power.

Where’d they go? We kept hearing about how the millions of marchers represented a new movement–where are they? What do they want? What’s next?

Aren’t they in fact just a reactionary force that can be mobilized once in awhile to try and stop something they don’t like? In what sense are they a constructive, forward-looking force?


May 20, 2003

We Need a Patriotic Assimilation Policy (John Fonte, 5/14/2003, American Outlook)

In America, today as in the past, immigration and assimilation are bound together like Siamese twins. It makes no sense to discuss immigration without talking about assimilation, nor does it make sense to develop an immigration policy without an assimilation policy. The United States has the most successful tradition of immigration in the history of the world for one basic reason: the triumph of what I have termed "patriotic assimilation"–the assimilation of immigrants as loyal members of the American body politic.

For more than two hundred years, immigrants to America and their children have been successfully assimilated into what has been called the American way of life. This civic or patriotic assimilation of immigrants into the American constitutional regime did not happen naturally. Patriotic assimilation was the end result of a sometimes explicit (and other times implicit) long-range vision formulated by America’s leaders. From the days of George Washington continuing through the era of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and supported in the past decade by such public figures as Barbara Jordan, this strategic vision has helped to define immigration-assimilation policy by articulating two interconnected ideas: (1) welcoming immigrants and (2) assimilating those immigrants into the mainstream of American civic life.

George Washington wrote John Adams that he envisioned immigrants becoming "assimilated to our customs, measures, laws," and because of this, he predicted, native-born citizens and immigrants would "soon become one people." In the same vein, more than a century later Theodore Roosevelt stated, "The immigrant who comes here in good faith [and] becomes an American and assimilates himself to us . . . shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birthplace or origin. But that is predicated upon the man’s becoming an American and nothing but an American. . . ."

In a similar manner, Roosevelt’s chief political rival, President Woodrow Wilson, told immigrants at a citizenship ceremony, "I certainly would not be one even to suggest that a man cease to love the home of his birth and the nation of his origin–these things are very sacred and ought not to be put out of our hearts–but it is one thing to love the place where you were born and it is another to dedicate yourself to the place to which you go. You cannot dedicate yourself to America unless you become . . . with every purpose of your will thorough Americans. . . ."

Closer to our own time, in a 1995 New York Times oped entitled "The Americanization Ideal," the late Texas Democratic congresswoman Barbara Jordan wrote, "Immigration imposes mutual obligations. Those who choose to come here must embrace the common core of American civic culture," but the native-born must "assist them" in learning about America, and, at the same time, must oppose prejudice and "vigorously enforce" laws against discrimination.

In different ways, Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, and Jordan all advocated what I have called patriotic assimilation. Clearly, there are different types of assimilation. Economic assimilation implies that immigrants are doing well financially and joining the middle class. Linguistic assimilation means that newcomers are learning to speak English. Cultural assimilation could mean that immigrants are becoming absorbed (for better or worse) into the mainstream popular culture of twenty-first century American life. Although economic, linguistic, and cultural forms of assimilation are clearly significant, nothing is more important to the health of American democracy than the patriotic assimilation of the millions of immigrants who have come to our shores.

Patriotic assimilation does not mean giving up all of one’s ethnic traditions, customs, cuisine, and birth language. It has nothing to do with the food one eats, the religion one practices, the affection one feels for the land of one’s birth, or the languages a person speaks. Multiethnicity and ethnic subcultures have enriched America and have always been part of our past. Historically, the immigration saga has involved "give and take" between immigrants and the native-born. That is to say, immigrants have helped shape America even as this nation has Americanized them.

Patriotic assimilation occurs when a newcomer essentially adopts American civic values and the American heritage as his or her own.

this is what we’d advocate too. The most important element being that immigration is a privilege not a right and imposes certain obligations on the immigrant himself. But we’d welcome every healthy non-criminal willing to accept the obligations.


May 8, 2003

Kirkpatrick Was Right (Richard Cohen, May 8, 2003, Washington Post)

At the 1984 Republican National Convention, Jeane Kirkpatrick, then the Reagan administration’s U.N. delegate, gave a speech on foreign policy that has stuck with me. She blasted the Democratic Party’s approach to foreign affairs, repeating the phrase "the blame America first crowd." I hated the speech at the time, but have recently reread it. It has aged better than I have.

Kirkpatrick’s mantra — blame America first — mostly applied to the Cold War and the United States’ attempt to contain and then roll back communism. But the appellation could just as aptly be applied to some of those — note the modifier "some" — who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and almost everything else the United States has done.

Rather than apologizing every twenty years or so for the damage they’ve done, maybe the Left could try not doing the damage in the first place?