Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal

Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal

Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal

Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal

Synopsis

What is Americanism? The contributors to this volume recognize Americanism in all its complexity--as an ideology, an articulation of the nation's rightful place in the world, a set of traditions, a political language, and a cultural style imbued with political meaning. In response to the pervasive vision of Americanism as a battle cry or a smug assumption, this collection of essays stirs up new questions and debates that challenge us to rethink the model currently being exported, too often by force, to the rest of the world.

Crafted by a cast of both rising and renowned intellectuals from three continents, the twelve essays in this volume are divided into two sections. The first group of essays addresses the understanding of Americanism within the United States over the past two centuries, from the early republic to the war in Iraq. The second section provides perspectives from around the world in an effort to make sense of how the national creed and its critics have shaped diplomacy, war, and global culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Approaching a controversial ideology as both scholars and citizens, many of the essayists call for a revival of the ideals of Americanism in a new progressive politics that can bring together an increasingly polarized and fragmented citizenry.

Excerpt

Michael Kazin & Joseph A. McCartin

It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.
—Richard Hofstadter

Just because you’re in this country doesn’t make you an American. No,
you’ve got to go farther than that before you can become an American.
You’ve got to enjoy the fruits of Americanism.—Malcolm X

They also must understand that what took place in [Abu Ghraib]
prison does not represent the America I know. the America I know
is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. the America I
know cares about every individual.—George W. Bush

The topic of this book is vast, protean, and famously contested— and so a definition may be helpful. “Americanism” has two different meanings. It signifies both what is distinctive about the United States (and the colonies and territories that formed it) and loyalty to that nation, rooted in a defense of its political ideals. Those canonic ideals—self-government, equal opportunity, freedom of speech and association, a belief in progress—were first proclaimed during the era of the Revolution and the early republic and have developed more expansive meanings since then. Thanks to a powerful civil rights movement, full social equality, for example, finally entered the canon in the decades after World War ii. But the bundle of ideals we call Americanism has proved remarkably supple over time, which helps to account for its enduring appeal to people in other lands as well as at home.

Its shifting content is not the only thing that distinguishes Americanism from the patriotisms generated by other powerful nation-states. Love of any country requires attachment to its supposed virtues, past and present. Affection for “Holy Russia”—its fields and forests and Orthodox Church— long predated the Soviet Union and easily survived it. Traditional Japanese patriots revere the uniqueness of their national tongue and of Shinto, a pantheistic faith linked closely with an unbroken imperial house. Americanism, by contrast, has been rooted less in a shared culture than in shared political ideals.

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