Class-Conscious Patriot -- the Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution by Michael Lind

By Gerstle, Gary | Tikkun, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Class-Conscious Patriot -- the Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution by Michael Lind


Gerstle, Gary, Tikkun


The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution, by Michael Lind, The Free Press, 1995. 46 pp. $25.

Michael Lind has produced a remarkable book that offers a sweeping reinterpretation of American history and a bold, imaginative program to revive the promise of American life. This erudite and engrossing work is one that all Americans disturbed about the state of the country should read. Lind makes missteps, some of them serious. But the force of his intelligence and the sincerity of his commitment to a better future for all Americans--especially those disadvantaged by class and race--command our attention.

Lind sees the culture war between the multicultural Left and the conservative Right as a sideshow to the main event of our time--the "revolution of the rich." As poor and middle-class Americans fight each other over affirmative action, political correctness, abortion, and other cultural issues, a wealthy white elite--the "white overclass"--strips them all of wages, union protection, and public services. As a result, America faces the threat of Brazilianization "the increased withdrawal of the white American overclass into its own barricaded nation-within-a-nation, a world of private neighborhoods, private schools, private police, private health care, and even private roads, walled off from the spreading squalor beyond." Not only does this nightmare vision offend Lind's sense of what's fair, it also represents a tragic turn in the development of that which he holds most dear--the American nation.

Lind believes that virtually all Americans are nationalists, by which he means not flag-wavers or starry-eyed idealists preaching the virtues of 1776 but, more powerfully, loyal members of a broad community distinguished by its language and its folkways: "The patriotism of ordinary Americans is no different in kind from that of Italians or Indians or Russians; it has more to do with family, neighborhood, customs, and historical memories than with constitutions or political philosophies." Lind readily admits that American nationalism has periodically collapsed into a snarling nativism; but he insists that it harbors an alternative, if currently submerged, strain--one that welcomes people of all creeds, colors, and religions who want to be part of the American commonwealth.

It is this liberal nationalism, which he traces from George Washington and Alexander Hamilton through Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr., that Lind wants to reinvigorate. Not only is it a nationalism that refuses to countenance racial discrimination, affirmative action, or any other distinctions based on race or ethnicity; it is a nationalism that, through the agency of a strong state, seeks to limit the power of the wealthy and create economic opportunity for working- and middle-class Americans. Resurrection of this nationalism requires repudiating both the anti-patriotic, multicultural project of the Left and the anti-government, pro-corporate project of the Right. Once this is accomplished, Lind predicts that Americans will have an opportunity to re-establish the vigorously nationalist and social democratic regime that reigned in America during its glory days from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s.

There is currently a great deal of nostalgia for the New Deal era, a sentiment that will only increase as American liberalism continues its slide into oblivion. But Lind's interest in the New Deal is not sentimental. At thirty-three, he is too young to have had any first-hand experience of the order FDR built and has never been gripped by a blinding liberal faith. (In fact, until recently, he was a conservative wunderkind.) His esteem for the liberal heyday is based on a thoughtful and provocative analysis of American history.

For Lind, the New Deal represents the apogee of the "Second Republic," an order that emerged during the Civil War and proceeded to revolutionize the meaning of American national identity. …

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