How Nationalism Shaped America

Article excerpt


America: Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism by Anatol Lieven. Published by HarperCollins, London. pounds 18.99

THE American patriotism that is such a distinctive feature of life in the United States is largely synonymous with a nationalism which other nations very often fail to understand.

Washington-based journalist and former London Times correspondent Anatol Lieven in this fascinating book contends that United States foreign policy since the terrorist acts of 9/11 has been shaped by a special character of its nationalism.

This, he says critically in American Right or Wrong, embraces two contradictory features.

"The American thesis, which the United States presents about itself to the world, is a civic nationalism based on what has been called the 'American Creed' and its principles of democracy, individualism and the rule of law.

"But although these principles are of immense value to America and humanity, the almost religious nature of American belief in the 'Creed' creates certain grave dangers - a tendency towards messianism, a belief in America's right, duty and ability to extend American values and democracy to the whole world, irrespective of the needs and desires of others," says Lieven.

"American political culture, however, also embraces the 'American antitheses' - a chauvinist and bellicose nationalism based on a view of America as a closed cultural community at risk from a hostile and treacherous world.

"The nationalism has its roots in aggrieved and embittered sections of White America, particularly in the South," he adds.

Lievan closely examines American nationalism in relation to Israel and the Middle East, and the totally sympathetic attitude taken by Washington politicians, particularly in the Democratic Party, to the very strong Jewish lobby in the country.

Interestingly, he has a section on the Scots-Irish community, which he says is an especially frigid strata of old Anglo-Saxon and fundamentalist Protestantism. "Over the centuries, the socio-economic anxieties of the white middle classes and rural populations often have fused with ethnic and racial fears. …