American Narcissism: The Myth of National Superiority

American Narcissism: The Myth of National Superiority

American Narcissism: The Myth of National Superiority

American Narcissism: The Myth of National Superiority


Nationalism is unique in America. Our notions of superiority spring from visions of chosen-ness, mission and high destiny, frontier self-sufficiency and the triumph of the immigrant experience. Where is the line between benign patriotism and malignant nationalism, individual liberty and mass tyranny?


It would be futile to attempt to convince a North American,
although the contribution his nation has made to the evolu
tion of liberty and utility has undoubtedly been substantial,
and should rightfully qualify as a universal contribution,
indeed, as a contribution to humanity, it is not so great as to
cause the axis of the world to shift…

José Enrique Rodó in Ariel, 1900.

Ariel, the extraordinary work of Uruguayan author José Enrique Rodó, remains virtually unknown in the United States, but over a hundred years after its publication it is still widely read and quoted in Latin America. It is a book of seemingly timeless insight. Rodó’s generous turn-of-the-century praise of the best qualities of the United States still accurately describes our national strengths today. Likewise, his descriptions of our national self-congratulatory arrogance and blind evangelical nationalism remain every bit as apt at the beginning of the 21 century as they were a hundred years ago. While in one breath Rodó praises US ingenuity, in the next he wonders why we don’t simply presume to rewrite the Holy Bible, inserting ourselves on the very first page.

The sad fact is that the America of today is even more arrogant than the America that Rodó described in the days of Manifest Destiny and gunboat diplomacy that followed the blatantly jingoist raid that Americans euphemistically refer to as the Spanish American War. Indeed, the events of the 20 century have served to reinforce the national myth of superiority. The establishment of unparalleled industrial might, military victories in two world wars and on both sides of the globe, and the staggering economic defeat of Communism in the Cold War all have combined to cement America’s presumption of

1. Rodó, Ariel, trans. Paden, 121.

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